One of the proposals recommended by the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization is having "sea marshals" on cruise ships in order to protect passengers and respond to shipboard crimes.
Since 9-11 the Federal government has placed "air marshals" on airplanes. The ICV has attempted to ensure that cruise ships have the same level of security by supporting legislation in California requiring "sea marshals" on all cruise ships entering and departing cruise ports in that state.
Unfortunately, the cruise industry fought against an independent police force on cruise ships. The typical argument is that state law enforcement have no jurisdiction over foreign flag cruise ships on international waters. However, there is no question that states like California have jurisdiction to place sea marshals on cruise ships once the ships reach state waters to act as a police presence and to monitor environmental activities. Alaska has a very effective sea marshal program designed to monitor cruise ship waste water dumping.
The port of Los Angeles already has a sea marshal program. By all accounts it is successful and serves the valuable purpose of protecting passengers. As explained in an article today "Marshals Defend Port of L.A." in the Contra Costa Times, the port of Los Angeles has six sea marshals, as well as an additional eight to 10 port police officers who are trained to join the team. The L.A. sea marshal program is seperate from the sea marshal program operated by the U.S. Coast Guard which board vessels up to 12 miles offshore.
The sea marshal program in L.A. is geared toward addressing vulnerabilities as cruise ships and cargo vessel head into and out of the harbor. Sea marshals board cruise ships 3 miles from port. They are armed. They make sure that no one forces their way into the bridge to hijack the ship and uses it as a floating bomb or a battering ram, just as al-Qaida terrorists forced their way into the cockpits of jetliners on 9-11.
Sea marshals also inspect various areas of the cruise ship, look for explosives, drugs, suspicious activities, and coordinate underwater inspections by port police divers once the cruise ships reach port. They remain on the bridge, where they keep watch as the cruise ships sail out of the Port of Los Angeles. They return to port once the vessels reach 3 miles offshore.
The newspaper interviewed John Holmes, the deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who said: "Our most precious cargo at the port are our cruise passengers . . . Anytime you get on a ship in Los Angeles and these guys come on board, I think it really gives people a sense of security."
It remains less than clear whether the sea marshals in Los Angeles have responsibility to handle reports of crime which occur at sea as the cruise ships sail back to California. Undoubtedly, the local sea marshals can liason with the Los Angeles Port Police and the FBI.
Los Angeles has proven that a sea marshal program on a state level can work. More ports and states need to follow Los Angeles’s lead.