Citing Tight Cruise Itinerary and Jurisdictional Issues, New Zealand Police Decline to Arrest Crew Member in Alleged Cruise Ship Sexual Assault
Last Friday, I wrote an article about a cruise ship incident where a passenger reported that a Celebrity Cruises crew member "indecently assaulted" her aboard the Celebrity Cruises' Millennium cruise ship as it sailed from Fiji to New Zealand.
The cruise ship arrived early in the morning on Friday and was scheduled to depart later the afternoon of the same day.
In my article, I mentioned that in our experience, rape cases involving women and children by cruise employees are rarely prosecuted in the criminal courts.
One of the problems is that crimes on the high seas fall into a jurisdictional "no-man's land." The Celebrity cruise ship flies the flag of Malta, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The alleged rape reportedly occurred in the waters of Fiji. The nationality of the alleged perpetrator and victim are unknown, but they are probably not citizens of New Zealand which was conducting the investigation.
Today, we learn that the local police in New Zealand declined to arrest anyone. A newspaper in New Zealand states that a police detective involved in the investigation cited, as one of other factors, "jurisdiction" as one factor in declining the case for prosecution. Unless the cruise ship was flagged in New Zealand, or the assailant or victim were a citizen of New Zealand, or the alleged crime occurred in its waters, New Zealand would have no jurisdiction over the incident.
The police detective said that there was "insufficient evidence" for a prosecution which is the usual type of comment we hear in cases like this. The detective did not cite exactly what other factors may have played a part in declining the case, but he made disturbing comments about making certain that the cruise ship kept its scheduled itinerary.
Recognizing that the the Millennium was due to sail to at 4:15 PM last Friday afternoon, the detective pointed out that the cruise ship sailed on time: “We were aware of those tight time lines and our team got right into it from the first opportunity, and it wasn’t held up at all.” This is interesting because an earlier account of the story said that the cruise ship captain didn't notify the local police of the alleged sexual assault until after the cruise ship arrived in port. How do you assemble a forensic team, conduct multiple interviews, administer polygraph tests, look for trace evidence, review video tape surveillance, conduct medical and laboratory tests and get your team off the ship for a timely 4:15 PM departure?
Why should a professional law enforcement care about boat schedules when the vessel contains an alleged crime scene?
One of the criticism of cruise ship crimes investigations is that the investigating law authorities are deferential to the cruise ship schedule and rush their investigations. Some suggest that local ports are afraid to jeopardize their relationship with large cruise lines by delaying a cruise ship's departure from port. Anger a large cruise line and you run the risk that it will drop your port like a hot potato. Unfortunately, crimes on cruise ships literally involve a moving crime scene that is often compromised due to the cruise line's business interests.
In the infamous case of honeymoon groom George Smith who "disappeared" from the Brilliance of the Seas under disturbing circumstances (we represented his widow in litigation against the cruise line), the local police investigation was so rushed that the Royal Caribbean cruise ship actually left the Turkish port of Kusadasi 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
Later, I hired Dr. Henry Lee who assembled a team of nine forensic investigators, video and photography experts and detectives. When we boarded the cruise ship to inspect the Smith's cabin and balcony, the cruise line placed us under substantial time pressure not to interrupt the cruise ship's scheduled itinerary.
Top: Bay of Plenty Times