Today CNN asked me to write an opinion piece regarding the state of affairs of the cruise industry following the fire aboard the Carnival Triumph. CNN permits only the first 150 words of the article to be published so here you go:
Editor's note: James M. Walker is a maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate involved in cruise ship law and maritime litigation with his law firm, Walker and O'Neill. He has represented crew members and passengers against cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Formerly, he worked as a lawyer for the cruise industry.
(CNN) -- A Carnival cruise ship was adrift 150 miles off the coast of Mexico after an engine room fire. Cruise passengers were complaining about the lack of air conditioning, hot cabins, cold food and toilets that wouldn't flush.
As I watched the news broadcast, I thought it was a documentary about the Carnival Splendor, which suffered a disabling engine room fire in November 2010 off Mexico. But the story was about the Carnival Triumph, which caught fire early Sunday after sailing from Galveston, Texas, with more than 3,100 passengers.
The cruise industry says cruise ship fires are rare, but they are not rare. They happen with alarming frequency . . .
The big news coming from the cruise industry is that the CEO of the Cruise Line International Association, Christine Duffy, launched a new blog. One of the primary purposes of Ms. Duffy's blog is to attack what CLIA is calling "sensationalist" and "misleading" news accounts of crimes on cruise ships.
Ms. Duffy recently sent an email to its travel agents together with an attachment called “The Truth About Crime and Crime Reporting. Several travel agent friends sent me copies.
The cruise line talking points are primarily in reaction to a cruise documentary which aired last month on CNN's Anderson Cooper's AC 360 called "Safe at Sea." CNN interviewed a 15 year old girl who was violently sexually assaulted by an uniformed crew member on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship. The crime involved a scenario we have warned about repeatedly, where a crew member uses a pass key to enter a cabin and rape a child who is alone.
You will hear no apologies to the girl from the cruise line, or the cruise industry, or Ms. Duffy during the program or in her blog. CLIA declined to participate in the program; instead, CLIA sent in an after-the-fact statement (as it always does) criticizing the little girl and two other individuals who CNN interviewed.
The CNN program interviewed a former U.S. Customs and Border agent and a former cruise ship security officer who stated that cruise ships are "magnets" for sexual predators. (Watch the video below).
CLIA attacked them as "irresponsibly" offering "inflammatory and unfounded accusations."
One thing to remember is that Ms. Duffy just joined CLIA as its CEO last year. She did not attend any of the five Congressional hearings into cruise ship crimes from 2005 through 2009. She was not present at the Congressional hearings to listen to first hand accounts of sexual assault and one expert testify that the chances of being raped on a cruise is twice that of being a victim on land. Professor Ross Klein’s study of cruise crimes indicated that the rate of sexual assault on cruise ships was 59 per 100,000 passengers. The rate of sexual assault in the United States was only 32 instances per 100,000 people.
Last year, in a landmark rape case against 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.
In the March 2007 hearing, a FBI representative testified before Congress 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 . . . 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 - that's 3 rapes every 2 month just on the Royal Caribbean fleet. However, in a subsequent civil case our firm handled against this cruise line, 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 (over 4 times the amount reported to Congress).
CLIA is banking on its travel agents having short memories and not being concerned with actual statistics. CLIA's talking points contain no statistics, only self-serving opinions like "crime is "remarkably low" or there are only a "handful" of crimes during cruises.
So far it seems like the travel writers and travel agents are responding to CLIA's call to arms.
Travel Agent Central was the first to publish articles about the cruise industry's crime talking points. One article is entitled "CLIA ARMS AGENTS TO REBUT REPORTS OF CRIME AT SEA" (caps in original), written by Andrew Sheivachman. It explains how CLIA is "arming" its agents to engage in a war against those who were victimized at sea.
The headline made me stop and shake my head - the cruise lines "arming" their agents to fight the victims? Sounds like the cruise industry is fighting a war. What an real insight into the cruise industry's thought process. Let's-re-victimize-the-women-and children-raped-during-cruises!
Other bloggers and travel writers are taking CLIA's bait.
A Canadian travel agent, Robert Mackie, recently blogged about the CLIA talking points and adopted all of Ms. Duffy's talking points verbatim in his article Truth in Television Travel Reports.
Travel writer Theresa Norton Masek is the latest one to swallow the cruise lines' bait - hook, line and sinker. Writing for Travel Pulse, Ms. Masek penned CLIA Takes Steps to Battle Sensationalist Reports on Cruise Ship Crime which pitches all of CLIA's points. The article offers no view other than the cruise lines' and might as well as been written by Ms. Duffy herself.
These articles are entirely disrespectful to actual crime victims. What did the the 15 year old girl raped on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas do to deserve such scorn? CLIA has chosen not only to "deny and defend," but to "attack the victim" and anyone who will stand with her.
The question posed to travel agents is simple. Do you stand with your cruise trade organization when it embarks on a war to regain its reputation where victims are re-traumatized in the process?
Such a question poses not only a philosophical dilemma, but a pragmatic problem as well. Do you really want to risk embedding CLIA's talking points into your sales pitch to your clients - only to expose yourself to a lawsuit for fraud if your client's daughter is raped on a cruise you sell based on such false information?
Instead of walking lock-step with CLIA, do something not contemplated by CLIA's cult-like talking points - tell your clients the truth. Refer them to a reliable source of information.
The Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale has an online data base for one year of cruise ships crimes. There are hundreds of assaults, rapes, thefts and other disturbing stuff - no different than any major city. Take a look here.
Last night, CNN Anderson Cooper's program AC 360 took a look at the safety of women and children on cruise ships.
The program began with an interview with a girl who alleges that at age 15 she was sexually assaulted by who she describes as a uniformed Royal Caribbean crew member aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship. The crime occurred after the cruise employee let himself into the child's cabin while her parents were at a different part of the cruise ship. Like most cruise ship crime cases, the FBI did not arrest anyone and the crime remains unsolved.
A former U.S. Customs and Border agent and a former cruise ship security officer were interviewed. They stated that there is a 85% to 100% chance that a cruise ship leaving a port in Florida has a sexual predator aboard. Cruise ships are "magnets" for sexual predators and criminals know that cruise crimes are rarely reported and rarely investigated by the FBI.
The cruise industry, predictably, released its talking points and stated that the safety of its guests is its highest priority. The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), also stated that ship crime is rare. It went as far as to state that there are only a "handful" of crimes which occur during cruises based on the database required by a new cruise safety law.
Tonight CNN will broadcast "Cruise to Disaster," a documentary into the Costa Concordia disaster. Here is the lead in to the CNN special program:
"What we found will be unsettling for anyone who has taken or is thinking of taking a cruise: allegations of inadequate safety briefings and chaos in the minutes after the collision; a captain who failed to sound a general alarm for almost an hour, meaning vital, lifesaving assemblies at lifeboat stations did not take place; and a crew that felt unable to act without clear orders from their captain.
In some cases, lifeboats were not able to be launched because by the time the general alarm finally sounded at 10:48 p.m., the ship was leaning over too far to allow the lifeboats to launch. Thirty-two people died in the Concordia disaster.
We learned that 6,000 tons of water entered the Concordia in just 20 minutes. For a ship three times the weight of the Titanic, it was fatal. Almost immediately, key equipment in the engine room was knocked out. The ship's backup generators were flooded.
Computers that monitor the ship's stability were also compromised. CNN's documentary team obtained remarkable footage from the ship's bridge that revealed Captain Francesco Schettino grappling with a situation that was already out of control. His ship had a hole below the waterline the width of a football field.
We also found compelling evidence that Schettino's decision to "salute" the island of Giglio by sailing perilously close caused the accident, but also that this wasn't the first time the Costa Concordia had sailed within a few hundred yards of the rocks.
Schettino is still awaiting trial on multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Schettino escaped the ship on a lifeboat while the ship was capsizing. A transcript of his tense exchange with Port Authority officials can be read here, including their order to him to "Get on board, damn it!"
Here is the video introduction to the program tonight which airs at 8:00 PM EST:
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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