Thirteen years ago I represented a young woman from St. Augustine, Florida. She was employed as a cook on a private yacht owned by a multi-millionaire tycoon. She went ashore to Cabo San Lucas with a group of fellow crew members. They ended up leaving her in a nightclub and returned to the yacht. When she tried to walk back to the marina late that evening, four Mexican men abducted her in their car. They drove her outside of the city to a remote area. They then raped her and burnt her naked body with cigarettes. When the men passed out after drinking tequila and smoking weed, she ran to a highway, flagged down a car, and escaped from her hell in the Mexican desert.
Her maritime employer, asshole as he was, not only refused to provide her with medical treatment but fired her from her job. He blamed her for staying out late and drinking at the club. The kindest thing I can say about the local police in Mexico is that they were indifferent to the young woman’s plight.
When I traveled to Cabo San Lucas, I found the surroundings hostile. The area surrounding the marina and cruise port seemed menacing. I have lived outside of the U.S., including in North Africa, but Mexico seemed utterly lawless to me. The police authorities seemed no different than the banditos.
My client’s situation ended up in litigation based on the yacht owner’s failure to warn her of the dangers ashore in Mexico and his refusal to provide her with medical treatment after she was victimized. After a long protracted battle, she obtained a settlement and tried to move on with her life.
Her ordeal has always haunted me.
Ever since then, I have been hyper-sensitive to the vulnerability of women employed on ships sailing around the world. I am apprehensive of the dangers which await young women as they unsuspectingly walk down the gangplanks into the tropical ports of call which seem so appealing but – in truth – are so, so dangerous.
The recent story about the Royal Caribbean crew member, Monika Markiewicz, from the Allure of the Seas, who disembarked her cruise ship in Cozumel and never returned, brings me back to my client’s tortuous ordeal over a decade ago.
There is no indication that Ms. Markiewicz was sexually assaulted, but her employer has publicly stated that she was a "victim of a violent crime while ashore in a remote area in Cozumel." Did the cruise line warn her and other crew members of dangers ashore in Mexico? What did the cruise line do once they realized that she did not return to the cruise ship last Friday afternoon? Did they abandon her as my client was abandoned 13 years ago? Did they notify the young woman’s family in Poland when the cruise ship set sail and left her in Mexico? Did they contact the Polish Embassy or Consulate? While heading back to Miami, did the cruise line call the emergency contact telephone numbers which all crew members provide when they join Royal Caribbean?
Is Royal Caribbean going to do anything now? Its PR spokesperson stated yesterday that the cruise line has no intention of suspending its trips to Cozumel. Full steam ahead, they say. When the disastrous earthquake struck Haiti and killed 100,000 people a year ago, Royal Caribbean said that sailing back into the Haitian destination of Labadee was a "no brainer." So the loss of one of its crew members due to a violent crime in Cozumel is not going to slow it down one bit.
Royal Caribbean is directing all inquiries regarding the crime to the Mexican police authorities. But the police have a reputation for incompetence at best and corruption at worst. I have never heard of anyone in Mexico being tried or convicted of a crime against a tourist or a ship employee on shore leave. There are several web sites discussing the reluctance of Mexican police to get involved in investigations in cases like this, such as Mexican Vacation Awareness. And some of the local police in Mexico have even been accused of participating in crimes against tourists.
Many naysayers reading this blog will say "it could happen anywhere." Others will say "what is a cruise line to do?" Well we know what Royal Caribbean is doing – sailing to Mexico as if nothing happened. And pretending the Mexican police will solve a crime against a young woman from Poland victimized in a remote location in a dangerous country.