Do Cruise Lines Conduct Background Checks of Crew Members?

The Florida Today newspaper published two articles today about the issue of sexual assault of passengers and whether cruise lines conduct background checks of their cruise ship employees

The issue of background checks is a rather interesting topic. But it's an issue the cruise lines hate to talk about.

Six weeks ago, I attended a workshop in Washington D.C. about sexual assault on cruise ships and on vacations outside of the U.S. A cruise line spokesman, Bud Darr, Director of the environmental and health program of the cruise industry's trade group, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), Bud Darr - Cruise Line International Association attended.  

One of the participants asked Mr. Darr (photo right) a simple question: Do the cruise lines conduct background checks of their crew members?

Mr. Darr began to stutter. He didn't answer the question. He spun his response around & around & around saying that crime is rare and other gobbledygook until the participant couldn't remember the question.

But the answer is as simple as the question: No.

Cruise lines don't vet their employees. They rely on third-party hiring agents to try and screen the applicants. In places like India and the Caribbean, the hiring agents often accept (require) money from the applicant in order to get a job on a cruise ship. There is no incentive for a hiring agent to turn down a crew member who's willing to pay a little extra to get a job.

In places like Jamaica, the applicant has to obtain a certificate from a constable certifying that the applicant has no criminal record. But there is no computerized data-base for the local police in Ocho Rios, for example, to check whether a Jamaican has committed a crime in Negril or Kingston or other places in Jamaica. After a favor from an uncle or a little pay-o-la to a policeman who's making only $250 a month, anyone can appear with a stamped I'm-not-a-crook certificate and hop aboard a cruise ship.   

We have seen hiring agents in India tell the applicants that unless they list the Four Seasons, or the Hyatt, or the Hilton as a prior job, they would not be hired as a waiter on a Celebrity cruise ship. Falsification of a resume is not only a common practice, it's often required by the cruise lines' hiring agents. 

There's no chance of screening out pedophiles or child molesters. Think your cabin attendant is carefully screened and vetted?  No country in Central America or the Far East has a social-security-type database or a drivers license number system or a sexual criminal record collection practice. If a pedophile shows up with a certificate from God-knows-who that he not a criminal, he's welcome aboard. 

The worse though is not a country like India or Nicaragua. Its the cruise lines themselves. If a crew member aboard Disney has been fired on suspicion of molesting a child, Disney won't tell Carnival or Royal Caribbean. The security personnel of the cruise lines meet every 60 days. They may discuss the risk of a jihadist terrorist attack, but they don't tell each other about pedophiles on their own cruise ship's kid's centers or rapist-employees who molest teenage girls during cruises.  

We have seen cases where a Royal Caribbean rapist who was fired after a passenger alleged rape go to work for Princess, and a Princess rapist who was fired after raping an unconscious woman later join a NCL cruise ship.

99% of crew members are honest and hard-working individuals. But there are perverts, predators and sociopaths everywhere. The problem is that cruise lines have not invested the money necessary for an effective system to weed out the criminals who will prey on unsuspecting passengers and their children. The cruise industry would rather deny that there is an issue and avoid answering honest questions about the problem. 

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mark Gaouette - June 10, 2013 7:04 AM

I think you hit the nail on the head on this topic Jim. Cruise lines have to use third party agents in foreign countries like India, Jamaica and Nicaragua to name a few because there is nothing like the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database in these countries. As a former Regional Security Officer with the U.S. State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, our Consular officers would frequently refer visa applicants with fraudulent documents ranging from falsified business references, to counterfeit documents attesting to financial stability. Do the Consular officers catch all these false and bogus applications? Most, but not all. So please don’t listen to the cruise lines explain how the responsibility of background checks falls into the hands of U.S. State Department. The problem usually starts with the “third party” hiring agents motivated to fill the cruise line's hiring lists. And the national police are also a problem. The so-called “police certificates” which give the prospective cruise ship employee a “clean” criminal record are easily obtained. Bribery in this part of the world is practically an art form and an accepted way of doing business. And what about more developed “Western” counties like the U.K.? Even though there are computerized crime databases in these countries, wasn’t the convicted Cunard child molester Paul Trotter, who served aboard the Queen Mary 2 and other Cunard ships, a British National? Trotter escaped scrutiny by law enforcement and the cruise lines’ security departments for over four years while he carried out unspeakable acts with children in the ship’s youth center. While some form of background checks are mandatory for all cruise line employees prior to hiring, (which Mr. Bud Darr should be able to at least be able to answer a simple “yes” to), follow-up suitability investigations after the employee finishes a contract or two, should be mandatory. These on-ship and corporate investigations would have turned up suspicious behavior (in the case of Trotter) which could have sparred an innocent child. In the case of Paul Trotter, because he was able to pass an initial background investigation and without any further assessment of his performance, he was able to bounce from one Cunard ship to another, free to commit his criminal activities against children. Mark Gaouette, Former RSO, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security

AT - July 23, 2013 12:38 PM

"In places like Jamaica, the applicant has to obtain a certificate from a constable certifying that the applicant has no criminal record. But there is no computerized data-base for the local police in Ocho Rios, for example, to check whether a Jamaican has committed a crime in Negril or Kingston or other places in Jamaica. After a favor from an uncle or a little pay-o-la to a policeman who's making only $250 a month, anyone can appear with a stamped I'm-not-crook certificate and hop aboard a cruise ship.

We have seen hiring agents in India tell the applicants that unless they list the Four Seasons, or the Hyatt, or the Hilton as a prior job, they would not be hired as a waiter on a Celebrity cruise ship. "

I learnt a lot from this article.

Jeff S - October 9, 2013 1:32 PM

What about passengers? Can cruise lines be doing more with regards to backgrounds of passengers sailing?

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