Are the FBI and Coast Guard Underreporting Cruise Ship Crimes?

One of the key provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 is that crimes on cruise ships are suppose to be posted on the internet in order to provide a warning to the U.S. public. 

After listening to testimony over the course of the last five Congressional hearings, Congress concluded that cruise ship crime in general, and sexual assaults in particular, were such a problem that the U.S. public needed to be warned. 

Just last month, in the case of Jane Doe v. Princess Cruises, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal held that " .  .  . if congressional reports are to be believed, sexual assaults and other violent crimes on cruise ships are a serious problem."  The Eleventh Circuit cited the testimony from cruise line executives from the March 2006 Congressional hearing that 178 passengers on North American cruises reported being sexually assaulted between 2003 and 2005.  During that same period, 24 people were reported missing and four others reported being robbed. 

In the March 2007 hearing, a FBI representative testified that from 2000 through June 2005, the FBI opened 305 case files involving “crime on the high seas.”   During those five years about 45% of the crimes that occurred on cruise ships involved sexual assaults.

In September 2007, a Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI testified before Congress that “sexual assault and physical assaults on cruise ships were the leading crime reported to and investigated by the FBI on the high seas over the last five years, 55 percent and 22 percent respectively . . . . Employees were identified as suspects in 37 percent of the cases, and 65 percent of those employees were not U.S. citizens.”  The FBI representative also testified that the majority of cruise ship sexual assault cases are not prosecuted.

Although these numbers are significant, I have always thought that the crime statistics reported to Congress are probably just a fraction of the actual number of crimes which occur during cruises.  For example, in 2006, Royal Caribbean told Congress that 66 rapes and sexual assaults reportedly occurred over the course of the preceding three years.  However, in a subsequent civil case we handled, a trial court here in Miami ordered the cruise line to produce its raw crime data to us.  The reports revealed that the total number of sex-related crimes were actually around 273, including allegations of sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching during a shorter time period.

The Los Angeles Times covered the story in an article entitled "Cruise Industry's Dark Waters."   

With the new cruise safety law, cruise lines were finally required to report incidents of homicides, suspicious deaths, missing U.S. passengers, assaults, sexual assaults and thefts over $1,000 to the FBI.  The U.S. Coast Guard, in turn, is responsible for posting the FBI cruise ship crime statistics on the internet for the public to view. 

So what do the crime statistics the Coast Guard posted on the internet reveal?

According to the United States Coast Guard Investigative Services' quarterly report from July 1, 2011 through September 30, 2011, not a single reportable crime occurred.    

Let me repeat that.  According to the just released FBI / Coast Guard report - not a single reportable crime occurred during the third quarter of 2011.

According to the FBI / Coast Guard's first quarter and second quarter reports, only a total of ten sexual assaults occurred in the first six months of this year. 

For 2010, the FBI / Coast Guard report disclosed only 28 sexual assaults on cruise ships.  For the first nine months of this year, the number has dropped to only 10 sexual assaults.

These numbers are not only far less than in any of the prior years, but they are even less than the number of crimes the cruise lines will admit occurred.  For example, last month a newspaper in New Zealand reported on a study which concluded that the risk of being sexually assaulted was twice as high on a cruise ship than ashore.  Royal Caribbean responded to the article by stating that it had 24 incidents of rape or sexual assaults last year.  Yet, in their 2010 report, the FBI / Coast Guard disclosed that Royal Caribbean had only 6 such incidents in all of 2010.    

The FBI does not inform the public of alleged crimes which are under investigation (this is permitted by the cruise safety law) and this may partially account for such low numbers.  But the reality is that the FBI investigations rarely lead to a prosecution.  Not disclosing crimes because they are allegedly "under investigation" by an agency whose investigations rarely lead to a prosecution does the public a real disservice.  

Also, the numbers which the FBI and Coat Guard chose to disclose to the public do not include incidents which the FBI determines lacks sufficient evidence of a federal crime or the FBI deems unworthy of conducting a full investigation.  This is the rather amazing part of these statistics.  The cruise safety law was passed in large part because of an incident where a passenger was clearly sexually assaulted, yet the FBI prematurely closed its investigation the same day that the cruise ship returned to Los Angeles after the crime occurred.  I am talking about the case of Laurie Dishman whose Congresswoman in California, Doris Matsui, was instrumental is passing the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act in the first place.

Based on the FBI and Coast Guard's current method of responding to the cruise safety law, these agencies would probably not even disclose the cruise ship crime against Ms. Dishman if it occurred today.    

There is something very wrong here.  What should the U.S. public conclude by reading the recent third quarter FBI / Coast Guard statistics suggesting that not a single crime occurred on a cruise ship over the past three months?   Around 3,500,000 passengers sailed on cruise ships over the past ninety days, millions out of U.S. ports, and not a single crime occurred?

What a joke.

The FBI and Coat Guard are making a mockery of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act  - a law victims of crime worked hard to enact in order to protect future cruise passengers.

Its time for Congress to take another look at the way the cruise lines, FBI and Coast Guard are reporting - or in this case - not reporting cruise ship crimes.  

 

For an insight into the actual number of incidents of sexual assaults and crimes on cruise ships, we suggest following sites:

Sun Sentinel Data Base

Professor Ross Klein Cruise Crime Analysis October 30 2007 - September 1, 2008

Professor Ross Klein's Analysis  of Reports of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault on Royal Caribbean International, 1998 - 2005

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