California Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D – West Covina) has introduced legislation that will protect the rights of cruise ship passengers when a crime is committed against them during cruises. If passed into law, Assembly Bill 1060 will permit the State of California to prosecute criminals on cruise ships during cruises which start and end in California ports.
Cruise passengers have faced difficulty obtaining justice after they become a victim of a crime. Historically cruise lines refused to report crimes to law authorities. Crimes victims, particularly women who were raped during cruises, were left to report the crime themselves. Trying to figure out who to contact when you have been victimized in the middle of international waters was a daunting task. When cruise ships reported shipboard crimes, the reports were often late, incomplete and misleading. When passengers complained about the non-reporting or shoddy reporting, the cruise lines’ response was to say "hey, we don’t to report crimes in the first place."
Due to the efforts of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, cruise lines are now required to report shipboard crimes which occur on cruise ships which call on a U.S. port. Last year, President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act which requires cruise lines report crimes during cruises to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard.
The problem remains, however, with investigating and prosecuting the crimes once they are reported. The FBI’s track record over the past decade of investigating cruise crimes in unimpressive. During Congressional hearings over the past five years, it has been revealed that only a very small percentage of crimes investigated by the FBI lead to arrests and prosecutions. Many victims who contact our office complain about the FBI’s reluctance to investigate cruise ship sexual and physical assaults.
California Assemblyman Hernández’s new bill will address this problem. In instances where the FBI decline to become involved or the federal government chooses not to prosecute a crime, the State Attorney’s office may elect to prosecute the case. The state of Florida has a similar statute, although it is the only state which has taken steps to address the problem of crimes on cruises going unprosecuted.
"Cruises are intended to be a vacation at sea, and when crimes are committed on cruise ships, victims are basically held captive with their perpetrator until the ship docks," said Assembly Member Hernández. "AB 1060 provides relief for cruise ship victims who may otherwise not be able to find justice today."
Jamie Barnett, President of the ICV, issues a statement:
"ICV commends the leadership of Assembly Member Roger Hernández with the introduction of historic legislation to further protect the passengers arriving in California ports that have been a victim of a crime on a cruise ship. In addition to the new federal legislation passed last year, this important legislation will provide even greater protection and options for passengers to make sure that justice takes place when they are a victim of a crime on a cruise ship. ICV sees this legislation as being a guide to other states to better protect their passengers who arrive in their states on cruise ships."
Credit: California map Jacques Liozu