Cruise ships reportedly experienced an “unprecedented crime wave” this summer, with 35 sexual assaults involving 27 passengers. The majority of such sexual crimes occurred on Carnival Cruise Line ships, according to the New York Post which reviewed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest cruise crime statistical compilation published last week.

Carnival Cruise Line has More Sexual Assaults than any other Cruise Line with a Comparable Fleet

When compared to Royal Caribbean, the only other cruise line with a comparable sized fleet, Carnival Cruise Line led the cruise industry in sexual assaults against passengers.  According to the DOT cruise crime statistics the breakdown of sexual assaults for the last quarter is as follows:

  • Carnival: 20 sexual assault victims (17 passengers).
  • Royal Caribbean: 8 sexual assault victims (4 passengers).

Carnival currently has the same number of cruise ships as Royal Caribbean (26 ships each). But Royal Caribbean has far more passengers than Carnival at any given time. Royal Caribbean has a maximum of around 125,000 passengers. Carnival Cruise Line has a maximum of around 75,000 passengers.

There have been over 100 sexual assaults on cruise ships in the last 12 months, according to the DOT crime data which breaks down as follows:

  • Carnival Cruise Line: 43 sexual assault victims (37 passengers).
  • Royal Caribbean: 31 sexual victims (20 passengers).

Given the higher number of sexual assaults on Carnival ships and the lower average of total passengers on that brand (compared to Royal Caribbean), passengers are statistically more likely to be the victim of a sexual assault on a Carnival ship than any other cruise line.

Carnival Cruise Ships Have a Higher Per Capita Sexual Assault Rate than California and New York

Cruise line crime statistics first became public after Congress passed the 2010 Cruise Security and Safety Act into law. In the Congressional hearings leading up to the new law, cruise industry representatives from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) tried to water down the per capita crime rates by presenting data to Congress based on the total number of passengers who had sailed on cruise ships over the course of a year.

CLIA argued that per capita cruise ship crime rates should be based on the total number of people cruising in any year (around 30,000,000 cruised this year) rather than the average number of people populating cruise ships on any given day.  By analogy, the per capita crime statistics for U.S. cities are calculated based on the number of residents in a city. Tourists who visit the city during the year are not counted as residents. Imagine how the crime statistics for New York City would be diluted if instead of calculating crime rates based on the number of residents in the city (approximately 8 million), this number was inflated to include each of the more than 60 million people who visit the city annually.

Congress rejected CLIA’s argument and concluded that per capita cruise crime statistics should be calculated based on the average number of passengers sailing at a particlar time, not on the annual number of passengers.

Using Congress’ methodology to determine sexual assault rate results in a per capita rate for Carnival Cruise Line of nearly 40 (39.6) per 100,000.  This number is calculted by taking the number of sexual assaults on Carnival ships reported to the FBI in the last 12 months (43), and dividing it by the total number of people on Carnival’s fleet of ships (around 75,000 passengers and approximately 33,500 crew members for a total of 108,500).

The per capita rate of sexual assaults on Carnival ships of 40 per 100,000 is significant. It is a higher per capita rate than twenty states, including California, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia (and over a dozen other states).

The per capita sexual assault rate of 40 per 100,000 on Carnival ships may actually be higher than this. These calculations assume that Carnival cruise ships are sailing at maximum capacity. Additionally, the definition of sexual assault under the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act is very restrictive and includes only a relatively small portion of the acts which would be deemed to constitute a sexual assault ashore. There has also been widespread criticism that the cruise lines often under-report the crimes which occur on their ships.

And of course, Carnival’s high sexual assault rate on its ships is not occurring in a state with high crime areas where there are gangs and “bad areas of town” but is occurring during what should be a relaxing, vacation get-away.

Too Much Booze on the “Fun Ships” and No Independent Law Enforcement

During an interview earlier this year with Sun Online, I stated that “we see a direct correlation between excessive alcohol served on cruises and violence, in general, and sexual violence against women, in particular.  Bartenders and waiters on cruise ships often receive tips and gratuities and are motivated to sell excessive amounts of alcohol in order to earn a living. There is no independent police force on these increasingly huge cruise ships. Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse in what is often a lawless environment.”

Few Prosecutions in Federal Court

A small percentage of sexual crimes against women at sea are prosecuted by the U.S. federal government. I attended a hearing in 2007 before Congress regarding cruise ship crime where a senior FBI official testified that only 7% of sexual assaults on cruise ships are prosecuted in federal court.

The U.S. federal court has jurisdiction only when the assailant and/or victim is a U.S. national. Given the fact that there are few U.S. citizens working on cruise ships, unless the victim is a U.S. national the FBI will not become involved.

The state of Florida also has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes at sea on cruise ships which depart from ports in Florida. Florida is the only state which has such jurisdiction.  A sexual assault which takes place on a ship leaving from a port in Florida and is investigated by various police agencies in Florida has a higher likelihood of being prosecuted compared to a similar crime investigated by the FBI.

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Photo credits: Carnival Liberty, Carnival Sunshine – Jim Walker

We suggest reading – Business Insider Sexual Assault is the Most Common Crime Reported on Cruise Ships.