A criminologist for the cruise industry, Dr. James Alan Fox, published an article earlier this week which contains a great deal of unsubstantiated and misleading opinions about crime on cruise ships.
The cruise industry routinely hires Dr. Fox when Congress scrutinizes the cruise lines for not honestly reporting crimes. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) paid Dr. Fox to comment on select crime data to try and and stave off mandatory cruise reporting legislation proposed by Senator Rockefeller.
Dr. Fox's subsequent article, published in a Boston newspaper, is entitled "Safe at Sea." He cites five "factors" which he says support CLIA's claim that cruising is safe. You can read my criticisms below his comments:
1. "Cruise passengers are hardly a cross-section of be U.S. population," Dr. Fox says. He argues that the "age distribution" and "socio-economic standing" of the typical cruise line passenger tends "to limit the number of passengers with criminal intent."
Dr. Fox does not explain what specific types of U.S. citizens are more likely to board a cruise ship with "criminal intent." And I don't know how he could possibly know that. The limited crime data disclosed by the cruise lines doesn't provide the age, race, social status or economic standing of either the victim or the assailant such that anyone could determine who is the most likely person to commit a crime on a cruise ship.
Dr. Fox also does not identify any type of methodology or scientific analysis he conducted to arrive at his conclusions. The "factors" he cites are subjective opinions which mirror the press releases of the cruise industry which paid him in the first place.
In my experience representing in excess of a hundred cruise victims over the years, cruise passengers are victimized by a wide variety of criminals of all ages, races, ethnicities, social groups and economic backgrounds. They are no different than perverts ashore.
Carnival's $399-a-week for a "fun ship" cruise has opened up cruises to the masses which includes both good and bad people. Carnival's Micky Arison commented in an article I wrote about the problem of violence during cruises - Cruise Ship Brawls - A Problem that Will Get Bigger with Bigger Ships. Carnival's former CEO acknowledges that violence is a by-product of cheap cruise tickets which attract a more diverse group of passengers:
“Cruise ships are a microcosm of any city or any location and stuff happens . . . The negatives of discounting might be less commission for agents and less revenue for us but the positive is it opens up the product to a wider audience.”
From my perspective, the "wider audience" includes a large slice of perverts, porn addicts, pedophiles, molesters, rapists, drunken brawlers, murderers, serial rapists, and even serial killers from across the U.S. And don't forget that people on a cruise ship are not just a slice of U.S. citizens across the country, but a slice of people from all over the world.
Consider for the moment the disturbing number of passengers and crew members who bring graphic child pornography onto cruise ships on their iPhones, laptops, computers and thumb drives. Look here, here, here, here and here for a small example. Child perverts who attack children on cruise ships come in all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds, as you can see here, here, here and here. One child predator alone employed aboard Cunard cruise ships, Paul Trotter, a child counselor no less, molested at least 13 U.K. boys in the last few years. There are many other child victims. Rapists who target single women and girls come in all sizes and colors, some wearing cruise ship uniforms. Violence rare? You can watch YouTube videos all day long of drunken cruise passengers brawls which resemble gang fights that rival the meanest street in a major urban city. Yes, there are murders too, as you can see here, here, here, here and here. There are few arrests or convictions. A cruise ship seems to be the perfect place to commit the crime and get away with it.
Serial killers sailing on cruise ships too? There's no way, you say. But consider this headline from FOX News just last year: "FBI: Confessed Serial Killer Boarded Cruise Ship in New Orleans," and this sensational headline from ABC News "Serial Killer's Methodical Plan to Rape and Strangle Teen, Then Go on a Cruise." The articles involve serial killer Israel Keyes who abducted, robbed, raped, strangled, and mutilated a young woman in Alaska. The FBI says that he was involved in a number of similar crimes across the country. Following his last grisly crime, where did serial killer Keyes go on vacation? He went on two back-to-back cruises out of New Orleans.
The lesson to be learned is that when you cruise, you never know who you're cruising with. Don't be fooled for a second that there are any fewer criminals on cruise ships than anywhere else.
2. "In addition to passenger self-selection is the type of screening performed by the cruise lines themselves. While most vacation venues do background checks on prospective employees, cruise lines also submit passenger manifests to both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard for screening."
Cruise lines don't conduct background investigations on their employees. Hiring agents in countries like Jamaica and India are suppose to do that, but rarely do. Read our article: Do Cruise Lines Conduct Background Checks of Crew Members? Learn what the cruise industry's pre-employment vetting of cruise ship employees is really all about.
Yes, cruise lines send their passenger manifests to U.S. Customs & Border officials, but the federal government usually does not conduct a screening of the list until after the cruise ships sails. Lots of people with outstanding warrants get arrested, but only after the ship returns to port.
People who are on "no fly" lists on suspicion of terrorism can still board cruise ships and travel by ship when they can't fly for security reasons.
If you think that cruise line vetting and federal officials keep rapists off cruise ships, read this blockbuster article: Most Wanted Rape Suspect Arrested On Carnival Cruise Ship - Worked As Manager Of Onboard Hair Salon.
3. "Passengers and crew are searched for weapons and other contraband every time they board ship. In fact, except for only extraordinary circumstances (e.g., security details protecting certain dignitaries), passengers are not permitted to carry guns, even off-duty police personnel."
Dr. Fox is correct on this one point. Your chance of being robbed at gunpoint on a cruise ship is extremely remote. But armed robbery on a ship is not a problem and has never been debated before Congress. The most likely crimes are rape and sexual assault. The most likely rapist is an employee of the cruise line. 18% of sexual assaults on cruise ships are against children. Plus, a significant number of passengers and crew go overboard without an explanation.
But as far as guns are concerned once you disembark a cruise ship into a port chosen by the cruise industry, the risk of being shot or robbed at gunpoint increases significantly. The risk is particularly high in Mexico and the Caribbean. 22 Carnival passengers from the Splendor were robbed at gunpoint in Mexico. 17 Celebrity passengers were robbed at gunpoint in St. Kitts. A total of 29 Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise passengers were robbed at gunpoint in two incidents in the Bahamas which you can read about here and here. 14 NCL passengers were robbed at gunpoint in St. Lucia. And to top it off a year later 55 cruise passengers and 2 crew members from the Celebrity Eclipse were robbed at gunpoint in St. Lucia. I'm sure that none of these 125 people expected to have a gun pointed at their face during their family cruise.
Cruise lines don't like to discuss the problem, but cruise lines are responsible for warning passengers of crime they know or should know about in ports where they take their guests. Courts consider excursions ashore to be an integral part of the cruise experience. You may never be shot on a cruise, but passengers and crew have been murdered in ports of call such as cases like this and this and this.
4. "Although cruise ships do not have immediate access to law enforcement while at sea, the level of security and surveillance provided by the cruise lines is relatively high compared to that of many other types of vacation destinations."
Dr. Fox does not explain what "relatively high" security and surveillance means. On a typical cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew members, there are only around ten security guards and a security chief and security supervisor. There are many hundreds of waiters, assistant waiters, bartenders, bar servers, cooks, cleaners, and stateroom attendants on a ship but relatively few guards. There are far more dancers, singers, beauticians and spa employees than security guards. At nighttime, there may be only one or two guards making rounds and a security supervisor in his office, which is grossly inadequate given the substantial amount of alcohol sold on cruise ships and potential for physical and sexual violence.
Most surveillance cameras on cruise ships are not actually manned by anyone. Some cruise lines staff the security cameras in the casinos in order to protect their money, but they don't monitor cameras positioned on the exterior decks and interior hallways. Virtually no cruise lines have state-of-the-art man overboard systems to detect passengers and crew who go overboard, as required by the 2010 Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act ("CVSSA").
The biggest problem with the absence of an independent police force on cruise ships is that the ship's security personnel have a conflict of interest when crimes are committed. Some crimes against women are committed by the ship's security personnel or officers who are far senior to the security guards. When a woman is sexually assaulted at a hotel ashore, the local police will arrive and preserve the scene and apprehend the criminals involved. On a cruise ship, the ship security will often begin to build a case against the victim to protect the crew member and the cruise line. Sometimes the cruise ship officers and staff negligently or intentionally destroy evidence making the victim's case impossible to prove.
5. "Last, and certainly not least important, the confined space on cruise ships limits the opportunity for would-be offenders to attempt a quick getaway. They certainly can't escape apprehension by jumping overboard or making off in a stolen lifeboat."
Crew members who commit crimes don't need to jump overboard or steal a lifeboat to escape. Cruise lines have been known to sail the cruise ship out of the jurisdiction where the crime occurs and then fly the criminal employee home from the next port of call in order to avoid prosecution. Just earlier this week, the Miami Herald wrote an editorial stating the following about an assault by a Disney employee against a girl on the Disney Dream:
"There’s another serious problem that lawmakers should address: Some cruise lines egregiously help crew members accused of sexual assault and other crimes elude prosecution. Unfortunately, it’s an old story being given new life in an awful case reported by WKMG-Channel 6 in Orlando. A crew member on a Disney cruise was caught on video molesting an 11-year-old girl while the ship still was in port. Ship authorities waited a full day before reporting the crime to the FBI. By that time the ship was on its way to the Bahamas, where the alleged perpetrator was allowed to disembark, out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Disney then did the guy a further favor and flew him home to India."
Final Thoughts: Crime statistics don't tell the whole story. The more important considerations are whether the cruise lines are being truly honest with the public about crimes which occur, whatever the statistics may be. True transparency by the cruise industry is the key. Unfortunately, it is sorely lacking. Cruise lines have never voluntarily released statistics of sexual crimes against children.
Cruise lines must be obligated to inform passengers about the specific types of dangers which exist on cruises. The cruise industry must be required by law to promptly report crimes when they occur. There must be penalties levied against cruise lines which delay reporting crimes or assist criminals who prey on women and children during cruises - especially if the criminals are their own employees.
Gary Lee Read - Child Pornography - Monarch of the Seas
Milton Braganza - Sexual assault / molestation of 11 year old girl - Disney Dream
Timothy Webb - Child Pornography - Grandeur of the Seas
Israel Keyes - Serial killer later vacationing on unknown cruise ship
Amado Nichols Hernandez - Child Pornography - Celebrity Constellation
Sherwood Stevenson - Sexual molestation of 6 year old girl - Liberty of the Seas
Casey Dickinson - Gang rape of 14 year old girl - Carnival Sensation
Lucas George - Sexual Assault of 13 year old girl - Disney Wonder
Paul Trotter - Sexual abuse of over 13 boys under age 14 - various Cunard cruise ships
Kris Herypiyanto - Rape of 14 year old girl - Carnival Freedom