Human Resources FAIL: Cruise Lines Don't Conduct Background Checks of Their Crew Members

Following the horrific crime perpetrated by the Holland America Line crew member against the passenger on the Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship on Valentine's Day, the cruise industry is pulling out all of the stops to convince the public that the cruise lines carefully screens their employees.

But it's not true. 

Cruise lines don't vet their crew members.

The foreign flagged, foreign incorporated cruise industry delegates the obligation to third-party foreign hiring agents to try and screen the applicants. Countries like Indonesia, India, and the countries in the Cruise Ship CrimeCaribbean & Central America have no computerized electronic data-base base of criminals, perverts, sex offenders or pedophiles which can be carefully cross referenced with social security numbers, driver's license numbers, and passport numbers. There is no infrastructure in a place like Nicaragua or Goa to search to make certain that the prospective employees isn't a sociopath.  There are no U.S. human resource specialists involved. It's a random, unsophisticated, "hit-or-miss" task conducted (or not) by hiring agents far-far-away who make money when they place people from around the world on U.S. based cruise ships.  

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. The system is often based on bribery.

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 the official cruise line 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 state-of-the-art database tied to someone's criminal history.  If a pedophile shows up with a certificate from God-knows-who that he is not a criminal, he's welcome aboard.

The worst ones involved in this rotten system are not foreign countries but 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 in their own cruise ship's kid's centers or rapist-employees who molest teenage girls during cruises. They just fire them and hope they go away.

We have seen cases where a crew member who was fired after he drugged and raped our client ended up later on a Princess cruise ship, and another crew member who was fired after raping another one of our clients later join a NCL cruise ship.

Cruise lines tout that crew members are "vetted by the U.S. Government prior to issuance of a visa." Hogwash. All a crew member needs is a C1/D visa. That's called a "seaman's visa." There is no investigation or rigorous screening at all.  A "seaman's visa" is also called a "transit visa."  It permits a foreign crew member simply to transit through the airport and be taken to the ship.  It's easy to obtain and essentially just involves an administrative task to obtain one. There is no interview; it's just paper work.  It's completely different from a B1/B2 tourist visa which requires an interview and a strict review of a candidate's background. Most tourist via applicants are rejected; seaman transit visas are rarely turned down.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a former Eastern European who allegedly raped a child in California. He was on the "Most Wanted" list in a city in California. But he was hired to work on a Carnival cruise Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise Shipship which routinely sailed into and out of California. He previously worked on other cruise ships after he allegedly raped the child. Crew member Kaloyanov was a fugitive from justice for 8 years but was safe working in the cruise industry. 

U.S. Customs and Immigration officials in California, who are suppose to check the crew and passenger rosters every time a ship enters a U.S. port, failed to realize that Kaloyanov was a criminal suspect - even though he was on a "Most Wanted" database of a city in California!

The resourceful California police finally caught up with the crew member when they Googled his name and found photographs of him on line standing in front of a cruise ship. The police then determined that Kaloyanov had worked for Carnival Cruise Lines for four years, as a fitness instructor and the manager of a hair salon on a Carnival ship.

Its a shame that the cruise lines' "rigorous" pre-employment screening does not even include Googling the applicant's name.  You can read about this case: 

Most Wanted Rape Suspect Arrested On Carnival Cruise Ship - Worked As Manager Of On Board Hair Salon      

My view:  99% of crew members are honest, hard-working individuals trying to support their families back home. But there are perverts, predators and nut cakes everywhere. The problem is that cruise lines try and save money by sloughing their obligations off to mostly disinterested or sometimes corrupt far-away agents that they don't vet themselves. There is no way this doomed system will successfully weed out the criminals who will prey on unsuspecting cruise passengers and their children.

 

I suggest reading: USA TODAY's "Who's working on the cruise ships you're sailing aboard?"

Please leave a comment or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credits:

Top: Broward Country Sheriff's Office

Bottom: Wikipedia / Cybergoth

U.S. Department of Justice Investigating Whether Caribbean Princess Violated Pollution Laws

A number of news sources are reporting the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) joined an investigation by the U.K. whether Princess Cruises' Caribbean Princess cruise ship violated international pollution laws.

Bloomberg News states that Carnival Corporation announced that the DOJ joined an investigation being conducted by the U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency which had initiated an investigation last August. 

The news sources are reporting that last September, Carnival reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to spend $180 million to reduce sulfur emissions from its fleet of cruise ships. Carnival agreed to to install scrubbers and filters on its ships to reduce the toxic emissions of its cruise ships. 

This news account was posted on a Princess Cruises' message board but there has been no discussion yet.

It is not clear whether the joint U.S.-U.K. Caribbean Princess investigation is related to air emission issues or some other type of pollution violation. Princess Cruises' ships were often cited in the past for violating Alaska's waste-water regulations

The Caribbean Princess was last in the news when it returned to Houston after a norovirus outbreak.

Anyone with information exactly when and what the Caribbean Princess is accused of violating please leave a comment or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia / Yankeesman312

What Caused the Grandeur of the Seas Fire?

Its been a week since a fire erupted on the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas.  

There has been widespread praise for the actions of the crew in extinguishing the fire, and for the manner in which the cruise line's public relations representatives kept the public informed via Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

But there has been little focus on the facts and circumstances surrounding the fire. What caused it? Why did it take two hours before the fire was extinguished?  And what can be done to prevent a cruise ship fire like this in the future?  

Grandeur of the Seas FireFew people are expressing interest in these basic questions. Most discussions at cruise and travel sites address the cruise line's compensation of reimbursing the cruise fare, chartering flights back to Baltimore, and providing a discount on a future cruise.

The cruising public seems focused primarily on obtaining a fun and affordable vacation.  When things go wrong during cruises, the focus turns primarily on whether passengers are going to get their money back and obtain other reimbursements for the lost vacation.    

The few websites which have addressed the issue of why the fire occurred almost uniformly seem to conclude that the public should not speculate, and everyone should wait until the "official report" is released.

What a naive thought. There still is no official report released into the cause of the fire which disabled the Carnival Splendor off the coast of Mexico in November 2010.  That was two and one-half years ago. The investigation is the responsibility of the flag-of-convenience country, Panama. Although Panama permitted investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard to be involved, it is Panama which is running the investigation.

The Bahamas is the flag-of-convenience country for the Grandeur of the Seas and is responsible for the investigation into the cause of the fire.  Although the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were invited to be involved, the Bahamas will be calling the shots. The Bahamas is also the flag state for the fire-disabled Carnival Triumph and there is no "official report" yet about that fire four months ago,  

Will the Bahamas prepare an objective, thorough, honest and timely report into the cause of the Grandeur fire? Don't expect one anytime soon.  

Many people who have contacted us point out that the aft of the cruise ship where the fire started is a location where crew members catch a quick smoke.  There is also a crew bar on the stern of the ship. Did a crew member flick a cigarette which ignited the mooring lines?  If true, that would be an unpopular theory considering the great amount of praise that the crew members are receiving for extinguishing the fire.

If a cigarette was involved, was it flicked from an upper passenger balcony?  We will probably never know the culprit. A cigarette can cause a fire which smolders and then suddenly bursts into flames, like the deadly Star Princess fire in 2006.

Was it a fire of an electrical origin? Some have suggested that. Was it arson and intentionally set? I have heard that too.

Why was the fire not automatically extinguished?

Should the public be asking these questions? Is it appropriate to demand honest answers sooner than later?

Or should we avoid speculation and wait several years to see if an "official report" is finally issued by the Bahamas several years from now? 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment on our Facebook page about this case.

June 3 2013 Update: We received this interesting information from a experienced crew member who wishes to remain anonymous:

"If the fire initiated on deck 3 aft, this is the place where are located all the mooring ropes, and it is also the mooring deck. Now you know from the fire on the Ecstacy, how much are dangerous the polypropylene mooring ropes, once they are ignited. The mooring deck 4, is also officially a smoking area for crew, it seems strange, but it is what it is. All crew, specially from galleys goes in the aft mooring deck for smoking and mingling together, although this is nonsense, still Royal allows to do so. I personally think that a cigarette butts once again, started it all. I cannot conceive anything else. To be noted that in the aft mooring deck, there is also the CO2 station, with all the batteries of big CO2 cylinders that are deputed to extinguish fires in the engine rooms, if this area is compromised, CO2 will be affected as well. Also, I am sure Royal made all the possible moves to make disappear the 2 barbecue grills that are located there, mooring deck aft is also the place where once a month all crew gather together for a nice party, usually hosted by the deck department.......

Since the fire on the Ecstasy, SOLASs wanted to install a sprinkler system also in the mooring deck, but this system is manually activated then is not activated automatically. If the sprinkler were automatic, fire would be extinguished more quickly. In the aft mooring deck, is located also the paint locker, a source also of a lot of things that can get easily fire.

One deck above the mooring deck, there is the crew bar area, where it is possible to smoke as well. It is also the place where a lot of crew get trashed with alcohol. I don't exclude also, that someone might throw a cigarette overboard, and this returning back on board, ignited the mooring ropes,,,,very easy, again happened in the past, with Princess and the fire in the balconies. The crew bar is open deck, one deck above the mooring deck, on this level there is also the emergency diesel generator. One deck above, on level 5, there are the spare life rafts and the crew muster stations.

This time they were lucky, because a massive fire, could have the ship totally impaired, CO2 stations, emergency generator, crew muster stations, spare life rafts might all getting burned......."

      

Photo Credit: Reuters

Manslaughter Investigation Underway Following Death of Costa Serena Crew Member

Chief Prosecutor Michele DiLecceEarlier this week, we reported on the death of a 47-year-old Indonesian crew member, identified as Sahid Bin Fauzi, who worked as a mechanic on the Costa Serena cruise ship. He died after falling into a ventilation duct of one of the ship's engines.

Today we learn that a criminal prosecutor in Genoa, Italy, where Costa is headquartered and where the cruise ship is flagged, has opened a criminal investigation into the incident.  An Italian newspaper reports that chief prosecutor Michele DiLecce has initiated an investigation under the theory that the death involved a case of involuntary manslaughter.   

The cruise ship was sailing between Buenos Aires, Argentina and Angra Ries, Brazil at the time of the crew member's death.

Criminal investigations of crew member deaths are unusual. It appears that there must be an indication of egregious conduct by the cruise line to prompt a criminal prosecutor to initiate such an investigation.

Are there any crew members out there with information to share?  

 

Photo credit: ilsecoloxix.it

Citing Tight Cruise Itinerary and Jurisdictional Issues, New Zealand Police Decline to Arrest Crew Member in Alleged Cruise Ship Sexual Assault

Millinnium 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 Jim Walker - Dr. Henry Less - Cruise Crime Scene Investigationdeferential 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.    

 

Photo:

Top: Bay of Plenty Times

Bottom: MSNBC

Cruise Industry Friends Rally to Support Celebrity Cruises Following "Cruises Undercover" Investigation

Last night in Britain, Channel 4 Television's "Dispatches" program aired its undercover investigation, "Cruises Undercover," into the hours and working conditions on Celebrity Cruises' Eclipse cruise ship sailing out of Southampton. 

The Twitter feed for "#cruisesundercover" and comments to the Channel 4 website page seems to show the general public's disgust for the long hours and low pay revealed on the Celebrity cruise ship, which some are calling a "slave ship," while many in the travel industry are dismissing the program as biased. 

The usual cruise apologists have rushed to the industry's defense.

We have the perpetually-on-a-cruise expert regarding cruise ships and cruise holidays and blogger for the U.K. Mirror John Honeywell who writes that the investigation was "under-researched and underwhelming" but then again three days before the show aired he wrote "I will have to watch this, but . . . it will be a complete and utter waste of my time."  

Cruises Undercover - Cruise Ship InvestigationWe have my favorite shill for the cruise lines, Paul Motter, editor for CruiseMates, who assures us that although "there are a lot of ways of doing business in the third world, which is where most of these workers come from, that we in the U.S. may not understand," most of the crew members are "ecstatically happy with their jobs."  And those crew members complaining about working conditions? Mr. Motter assures us that the waiters are telling us "lies" wanting to get "money at the end of every cruise."  

Can you believe the nerve of these liars from third world countries who work over 12 hours a day and expect tips?       

And then we have the cruise industry cheerleader publication Travel Weekly who tells us that before the program aired Celebrity Cruises expected a “biased and unbalanced” investigation.

Nonetheless, Travel Weekly promises us that the cruise line "is taking immediate steps to investigate all of the allegations made by the undercover reporter" and if anyone "violated our procedures and requirements, or the European and international labour regulations to which we adhere to, then we will take swift and corrective actions."

Pray tell, what exactly are these wonderful sounding "European and international regulations" which apply to Indian citizens working on a Maltese flagged ship?  

If the actions of Carnival U.K. and P & O Cruises (which earlier this year terminated 150 Indian waiters who protested low wages and the withholding of tips), are any lesson, "swift and corrective action" is exactly what I would be worried about if I were a crew member complaining about what the Channel 4 investigation revealed last night.   

 

Chart Credit: Channel 4 Dispatches "Cruise Undercover"

Panama Opens Criminal Investigation Into Princess Cruises - Captain Perrin to Face Homicide & Failure to Rescue Inquiries

A reader of Cruise law News in Panama brought an article in the Panamanian newspaper Prensa, entitled "MP Abre Sumario a Capitán de Crucero" to my attention this morning.    

As I predicted last week, Panama has decided to proceed with a criminal investigation into the conduct of the Master of the Princess Cruises cruise ship Star Princess, for failing to assist three young Panamanian men who were adrift 100 miles out to sea aboard the Panamanian fishing boat Fifty Cents.  

Several passengers observed the fishing boat in distress and tried to convince the cruise ship to assist. Initial reports indicate that officers aboard claim that they were avoiding fishing nets and allegedly were thanked Princess Cruises - Star Princess - Panama Fifty Centsby the fishing boat. Princess Cruises later claimed that the captain of the cruise ship was never informed of the people in distress.     

The article explains that the Public Ministry (MP) of Panama launched an investigation into the deaths of two Panamanian fishermen, who went adrift in their fishing boat on February 24, 2012. 

The investigation was initiated by a Panamanian lawyer who filed a complaint on April 18, 2012. The aunt of one of the dead fishermen, Fernando Osorio, was quoted by a newspaper in Panama, My Diary, "I ask that you drop the full weight of the law" on the captain. She referred to her 16 year old nephew as a human being, not an animal to be left in the sea.

The General Secretariat of the MP referred the investigation to the Homicide Division of the Judicial Investigation Department.

Last week, I wrote about the duties owed to persons in distress at sea and the rights of the cruise ship flag state, Bermuda, and the  government of Panama to pursue criminal charges: Duty of Cruise Lines to Assist Persons In Distress: Moral, Legal & Practical Considerations On The High Seas

My prediction?  Bermuda will do a favor for its cruise line customer, Princess Cruises, and exonerate Captain Perrin. Panama will issue an arrest warrant for the captain and a writ of attachment to seize the next Princess cruise ship sailing through the Panama Canal . . .    

 

Read our first article about this case: Two Dead Fishermen: Did Star Princess Cruise Ship Ignore Mariners in Distress?

Photo credit: MY DIARY | Roca Gonzalez Edilsa

Rally for Rebecca Coriam

The Rebecca Coriam Search Foundation is holding a fundraiser and rally to help raise money to continue the search and investigation into the disappearance of Disney crew member, Rebecca Coriam.

The rally is being held on July 23, 2011, from 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. at the Chester Race Course Pavillion. For more information visit the event web page at: A Night for Rebecca Coriam.

Additional information can be found on Rebecca Coriam’s Twitter and Web Page.

Rebecca went missing on March 22, 2011 while working in the youth activity center aboard the M/S Disney Wonder. Cruise Law News (CLN) has previously reported on the disappearance and investigation of Ms. Coriam.

To read more about Rebecca Coriam’s disappearance click on the following:

What Happened to Youth Counselor Rebecca Coriam on Disney’s Wonder Cruise Ship?

Parents of Missing Disney Crew Member Return to England with Daughter’s Belongings, But No Answers

After Quick Investigation, Bahamian Police Proclaim "No Foul Play" in Disappearance of Disney Crew Member

Update on Missing Disney Crewmember Rebecca Coriam

Will Twitter Help Family of Missing Disney Crew Member Find Answers?

Today a newspaper in the U.K., the Chester Chronicle, contains an interesting article "Family Demand Answers as Investigation into Chester Disney Cruise Ship Worker Continues."   Although the article is a bit of a rehash of events since last week about the disappearance of youth counselor Rebecca Coriam from Disney Cruise Line's Wonder cruise ship, the newspaper reports that: 

" ... cousin Kerry Gaffney has been using the social networking website Twitter in a desperate bid for information on Rebecca’s whereabouts.  Her post read: 'My cousin, Rebecca Coriam, is missing and Disney is not as helpful as it makes out.  Please help put the pressure on them.'  Another post said the family are getting conflicting reports about what was seen and what went on."

Kerry Gaffney's witter name is @kerrymg and the tweet asked those on Twitter to "RT" (re-tweet) her message.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are useful tools to obtain information from the public about mysteries on the high seas.  Cruise lines maintain exclusive control of the scene of disappearances, and access to witnesses and evidence on cruise ships.  When the Disney Wonder returned to port in Los Angeles last Sunday, over 1,700 passengers scattered across the U.S., Canada and other countries without being interviewed by anyone.  This is fine with the cruise Disney Cruise Twitter - @DisneyCruiselines, who want this public spectacle to end sooner than later irrespective of whether the family finds answers to this latest mystery.

So how can you appeal to potential witnesses scattered around the country?  One way is Twitter.

Disney's Twitter page for its cruise line is @DisneyCruise.  It has 26,000 followers.  

Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs can help level the playing field with cruise lines and their we-just-want-the-media-to-go-away attitude.   If you are reading this and have a Twitter page, send a message:

"What is @DisneyCruise doing to find information for the Coriam family about the #cruise disappearance of their daughter on the Wonder?" 

Ask your followers to re-tweet your question.

Parents of Missing Disney Crew Member Return to England with Daughter's Belongings, But No Answers

Michael and Ann Coriam returned to the U.K. with their younger daughter's belongings but no answers regarding the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.  Sky News released a video today of the Coriam family's interview with the media in Los Angeles before their return home. 

 

 

Credit:  Sky News via The Sun Newspaper  

Read our other stories about this case:

What Happened to Youth Counselor Rebecca Coriam on Disney's Wonder Cruise Ship? 

Who Investigates Disappearances on Cruise Ships? 

Parents of Missing Disney Cruise Line Youth Counselor Arrive in Los Angeles Seeking Answers 

Mystery Regarding Missing Crew Member Remains as Disney Wonder Cruise Ship Returns to Sea

Who Investigates Disappearances on Cruise Ships?

The disappearance of a youth counselor from the Disney Wonder cruise ship this week raises the issue of who is responsible for conducting investigations when crew members disappear at sea.

Disney released the following statement to us yesterday:

"The Mexican Navy has been conducting searches since Tuesday, and we immediately contacted the FBI and the Bahamian Maritime Authority, which is leading the investigation on this matter.  We have also conducted a thorough and comprehensive inspection of the ship and spoken with the crew member’s colleagues to gather as much information as possible.”   Disney also told us that Mexican Navy - Cruise Overboards - Crew Passenger Disappearancesthe cruise line notified the U.S. Coast Guard. 

But what is the reality of who does what in cases like this?  What is the true involvement of the Mexican government, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, the Bahamas Maritime Authority, and the cruise line in these type of circumstances? 

The Mexican Navy:  Because the incident appears to have occurred off of the coast of Mexico, the Mexican Navy is involved.  Now, some people will say that the "Mexican Navy" conjures up an image of "three men in a row boat."  Such criticism, although disrespectful, may accurately characterize the small scale of the Mexican maritime operations.  When you think of dramatic search and rescue operations, the "Mexican Navy" does not come to mind.  Rather, one would hope that the U.S. Coast Guard, with its quick deployment of cutters, jets and helicopters, is involved.  

Mexico is a country of limited resources.  Its is questionable what motivation Mexico has to expend money and resources searching for a citizen of another country who went overboard from a ship registered registered in the Bahamas.  Once its navy ends its search (which it has probably already done), the country of Mexico will have no further involvement.  

The U.S. Coast Guard:  CNN's article "Disney Cruise Employee Missing Off Mexico" indicates that while the Mexican navy is leading the search, it asked for the U.S. Coast Guard's help early in the effort.  The Coast Guard provided long-range search aircraft but was not now actively involved in the search as of yesterday.  The U.S. Coast Guard is an impressive and highly experienced group of men and women, but there is only so much it can do when cruise overboards occur around the FBI - Cruise Disappearances - Passenger Crew Overboardsworld.

The FBI:  CNN's article contains a revealing quote from a spokesperson from the FBI. "The FBI is not involved because it does not have jurisdiction, as the ship was off the coast of Mexico flying under a foreign flag," said spokeswoman Laura Eimiller of the agency's Los Angeles office. 

This is a typical comment from the Los Angeles office of the FBI which, unlike the U.S. Coast Guard, is filled with bureaucrats with little motivation to leave their desks and head over to the port when the cruise ship returns to L.A.  The fact of the matter is that the FBI has special maritime jurisdiction to investigate incidents which occur on U.S. based cruise ships around the world, especially when a U.S. citizen is involved, even though the ships fly flags of convenience.

The statement of the FBI spokesperson that the FBI has no jurisdiction because the ship was in Mexican waters is preposterous.  Last month, the FBI investigated the murder of a Polish crew member from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship calling on Cozumel which was allegedly committed by a Mexican citizen, even thought the victim was employed on a foreign flagged ship and the crime occurred ashore in Mexico.

The Bahamas Maritime Authority:  Under the Bahamas Merchant Shipping Act 1976, the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) is supposedly responsible for investigating incidents involving Bahamas-registered ships worldwide.  The BMA has been criticized for being being beholden to large shipping companies like Disney and Royal Caribbean which register their cruise ships there to escape U.S. safety rules and regulations and U.S. taxes.  

Bahamas Maritime Authority - Cruise DisappearancesThe BMA has a deplorable record responding to serious injuries, deaths or crimes involving passengers passengers and crew members on cruise ships flying the Bahamian flag.  Often no real investigation is performed.  Often the "investigation" will consist of a representative or two from the BMA appearing at the next port of call, sometimes working with the cruise line's defense lawyers or risk management team.  No BMA report concluding malfeasance of the cruise line in a passenger or crew death will ever see the light of day.

If foul play is involved, the BMA will do nothing.  As the BMA concedes on its website, "in fact, reports and documents may not be used as evidence in the event of any subsequent criminal proceedings. If a criminal investigation proves necessary, the entire incident should be investigated by a body independent of the original investigating authority."

So if foul play is involved (and there is no indication of that one way or the other), then who will be involved?  The FBI has already declined to get involved.  No police detectives from Nassau will fly to California to investigate.  No police or sheriff agencies in California (where the vessel is ported) will become involved.  No police agency from Florida (where the cruise line is located) or the United Kingdom (where the cruise line is incorporated) will investigate a disappearance at sea involving a cruise ship sailing between California and Mexico. 

The Cruise Line:  The Wonder cruise ship is operated by the Magical Cruise Company, Limited, d/b/a Disney Cruise Line, which is incorporated in the United Kingdom for tax purposes.  Although Disney is saying that it is speaking with its crew member’s colleagues "to gather as much information as possible," these statements and reports will never become public knowledge and will usually be kept away from the crew member's family.  Cruises line have exclusive control of the scene of the incident, witnesses, and evidence such as CCTV tapes.  Cruise lines consider their own Disney Cruise Wonder - Passenger Crew Disappearancesinvestigation to be privileged "work product," conducted for the purpose of defending them from potential law suits.  Disney usually hires some of the top maritime defense firms here in Miami to defend their legal interests. 

The Crew Member's Country: An issue remains of the nationality of the crew member.  Most youth counselors on cruise ships are American, Canadian, or English.  If you are from the U.S. and it was your child who went overboard, who would you want investigating the disappearance?  The FBI or the Bahamas Maritime Authority?   If a Canadian or English citizen is involved, no one from these countries will be actively involved with an investigation. 

The Bottom Line:  Disappearances at sea like this fall into "no man's land."   The FBI takes the "not my problem" approach.  The flag state's investigation will end up in a file cabinet in an old building in Nassau.  Disney's investigation files will never leave the cruise line's risk management and legal departments.  

According to cruise expert Ross Klein's website, 157 people have gone overboard from cruise ships in the last decade.   Many appear to be due to intoxication, negligence, suicide, and sometimes foul play, but many remain unsolved mysteries.  Often there is a delay in reporting the Rebecca Coriam - Disney Crew Member - Chester England disappearances to the authorities and the crew member's family.  Uncertainly, confusion and a lack of closure are the usual outcomes.   Certainly there must be a better way to investigate disappearances from cruise ships than this.  The families of loved ones lost at sea deserve better.    

 

March 25th Update:  BBC News identifies the crew member as Rebecca Coriam of Chester England.  The BBC article states that England's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been "in touch with the relevant organisations and authorities" and identifies the Bahamas Maritime Authority and Interpol.  

Photo credit:     BBC News