Today, the Miami News Times published an article titled: Sexual Assault Is the Most Publicly Reported Crime on Cruises, but Companies Say It’s Rare.

Written by Meg O’Connor, the article begins by reporting on a sexual assault committed against a nineteen-year-old passenger by a fitness instructor on the Celebrity Summit while docked in Bermuda. The crew member was employed by a Celebrity Cruises concessionaire, Canyon Ranch. The instructor was identified in the lawsuit papers as Carlos Roberto Castro Tadeo.

Approximately nine months earlier, the same instructor, working for Carnival at the time, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old passenger on the Carnival Breeze. He sexually assaulted the girl “under the pretense of taking her measurements for a complimentary consultation/fitness analysis.” A civil lawsuit was filed (Smith v. Carnival Corp., et al. Case No. 17-CV-23630-CMA, S.D. 2017) after the FBI/DOJ declined to prosecute. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in a confidential settlement. The incident was featured in a special report titled Sex Assault Victims on Cruise Ships Are Often Under 18 by NBC News.

Carnival fired the crew member, but a year later, the fitness center operated by a company called Canyon Ranch (a/k/a Canyon Ranch At Sea) hired him. (Several years ago, Celebrity Cruises and Canyon Ranch announced their partnership in a comprehensive SpaClub at Sea offering, including beauty salons and fitness areas on Celebrity ships). Canyon Ranch assigned the fitness instructor to work aboard the Celebrity Summit where he assaulted the nineteen-year-old cruise guest, after “calling himself a masseuse and spa director and under the pretense of providing  . . .  a complimentary massage.” After he molested the young woman on the Celebrity Summit, Bermuda declined to prosecute.

Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen said, when asked by the Miami New Times about the fitness instructor, “he was terminated following an investigation with the FBI and was repatriated to his native country of Mexico.”

Asked how the Canyon Ranch fitness instructor was employed aboard the Celebrity Summit after being fired by Carnival, a Canyon Ranch representative said that the company “does not comment on matters in litigation.”

And a spokesperson for Celebrity also declined to comment to the New Times on the lawsuit but added “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of our guests and crew, and we believe that even one accusation of sexual assault onboard our ships is one too many.”

The case demonstrates a fundamental danger to cruise passengers caused by weak cruise line employment screening practices, including refusing to share information when one of their employees sexually assaults a guest (which is the most common criminal offense on a cruise) or commits some other crime during a cruise.

Cruise lines do, in fact, share information when a passenger commits a crime during a cruise. For example, if a guest on a Royal Caribbean ship commits credit card fraud, or cheats the ship’s casino, or violates the cruise line’s guest conduct policy, Royal Caribbean will tell its competitors (like Carnival and NCL).  The cruise lines also share information regarding which guests have filed a claim against a cruise company.

It seems that cruise lines are quick to share information in order to protect their money and legal interests from their customers, particularly litigious ones, but they never share information if they have hired a sexual predator who has preyed on their customers.

Our firm has handled several cases where a crew member accused of assaulting a passenger was fired from one cruise line only to end up working on another line. One case involved a bartender, who Royal Caribbean fired after he sexually assaulted a guest, who subsequently ended up working on a Princess cruise ship sailing out of Miami. He was later fired from Princess only after I informed Princess’ in-house counsel of his history.

Another problem is that many cruise lines do not conduct their own pre-employment vetting, but rely on their hiring agents to perform the background checks. The problem is particularly acute when the hiring agency is an unsophisticated high volume labor supplier which routinely staff cruise ships with cabin attendants, bartenders and waiters.  Some hiring agents are eager to place applicants on ships and require only a certificate from a local constable that the local police station has no information that the prospective hire has been arrested. There is no semblance of a national, computerized criminal database in countries like India, Mexico or the Caribbean. That’s why a sexual predator with a proclivity for girls / young women found his way onto Carnival and Celebrity cruise ships.

Carnival and Celebrity routinely state that “the safety and security of our guests is our highest priority.” But if that were true, then a do-not-hire warning to cross-town rival lines would be a natural part of the screening  process.

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Photo credit: Celebrity Summit – Yankeesman312 – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons/ wikimedia.