The Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act (CVSSA) of 2010 requires cruise ships calling on U.S. port to report certain shipboard crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The CVSSA was the result of the efforts of the International Cruise Victim (ICV) which is a grass-roots organization created in 2006. The IVC was successful in convincing Congress, for the first time in the history of the cruise industry, to require the mandatory reporting by the cruise lines of certain crimes which occur on ships, including homicides, suspicious deaths, physical assaults resulting in serious bodily injuries and sexual crimes outlined in 18 U.S.C. 2241, 2241, 2243 and 2244.
The cruise industry opposed the legislation and was able to water down certain parts of the legislation. For example, cruise line lobbyists opposed the reporting of shipboard thefts and was successful in having language inserted in the CVSSA requiring reporting only where the amount of the stolen items exceed $10,000. Of course, most people do not travel with precious jewelry or carry that much cash. Crew members are aware that they face no criminal accountability if they steal a passenger’s iPhone, camera or other items no totaling $10,000.
The cruise line lobbyists were also successful in deleting proposed language which would require the industry to disclose whether the sexual assault victim was a minor.
The CVSSA Requires The Mandatory Reporting of Certain Crimes on Cruise Ships to the DOT
After initially requiring the FBI to report the crimes to the United States Coast Guard, the CVSSA now requires cruise lines to report the crimes to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT was tasked with posting the crime data on a quarterly basis on a spreadsheet located on an internet portal which you can see here.
The purpose of the public disclosure of mandatory reporting of sexual assaults, assaults with serious bodily injuries, missing U.S. nationals and deaths on cruise ships is to educate and warn the traveling public of dangers on cruise ships.
The DOT Currently Refuses to Disclose Cruise Ship Crimes
But the goal of transparency in reporting shipboard rapes on cruise ships has become completely illusory given the fact that the DOT has failed to report any crimes since 2022. The last quarter of cruise crimes reported by the DOT was the last quarter of 2022 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2022) which was eventually posted on March 22, 2023.
No cruise ship crimes for any of 2023 have been disclosed.
Before the CVSSA came into effect, cruise lines were not legally required to report crimes against U.S. citizens which occured on cruise ships. The cruise industry developed a well deserved reputation of not only refusing to report shipboard crimes, particularly rapes, but taking steps to destroy the scene of the crime and fly crew members accused of the crime out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. and back to their home countries. Read: Carnival? Try Criminal – an article by the Miami New Times about Carnival Cruise Line’s questionable conduct following a crime aboard the Carnival Fascination where a Carnival steward pushed a guest down on her cabin bed and raped her.
Since January 1, 2010, the cruise crime database has been available for review by the public who have had the benefit of learning the extent of the danger of crime on cruise ships. The media has been able to report on the allegations and highlight trends which have developed over the years.
Cruise lines reported 82 alleged sexual assaults from 2018 to the DOT, more than any other crime, according to Business Insider. Reports of sexual assault on cruises in late summer of 2019 spiked 67 percent from the previous year, according to the Washington Post.
We reported in December 2019 that, for the preceding 12 months, there were over 100 sexual assaults on cruise ships, according to the DOT crime data which showed:
- Carnival Cruise Line: 43 sexual assault victims (37 passengers, 6 crew victims).
- Royal Caribbean: 31 sexual victims (20 passengers, 11 crew victims.)
Carnival Cruise Line Has a Higher Per Capita Rape Rate Higher Than Many States
In 2019, Carnival currently had the same number of cruise ships as Royal Caribbean (26 ships each). But Royal Caribbean had far more passengers than Carnival at any given time. Royal Caribbean had a maximum of around 125,000 passengers, and Carnival Cruise Line had a maximum of around 75,000 passengers. This resulted in a higher per capita rape rate on Carnival cruise ship than its competitor Royal Caribbean.
The sexual assault rate on a per capita basis for Carnival Cruise Line as of 2019 was nearly 40 (39.6) per 100,000. This number is calculated 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.
At several Congressional hearings on cruise ship crime, 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 people cruised in 2019) 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 only on the number of residents in a city, not the total amount of tourists who may visit the city for a short time.
CLIA’s misleading method of calculating crime substantially understated the rape rate on cruise ships.
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 particular time, not on the annual number of passengers over the course of a year.
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 C5VSSA 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 with Sun Online several years ago, 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 described as 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.
One-Third of the Rape Victims Are Minors
NBC News reported: “And perhaps most troubling, many of the sexual assaults on-board cruise ships involved minors. A congressional report (in 2013) found that minors were victims in a third of the assaults.” Cruise lines do not have to disclose when the victim is a child.
The CVSSA Is Concerned Only With Victims From the U.S.
The U.S. federal court has jurisdiction only when the assailant and/or victim is a U.S. national. There are few U.S. citizens working on cruise ships. Unless the victim is a U.S. national, the FBI will not investigate the crime. The FBI will not investigate when a foreign (i.e., non-U.S. citizens) crew member rapes another non-U.S. crew member. The DOJ will not prosecute crimes involving victims who are not from the U.S.
Cruise lines, FBI, and DOT Have Made a Mockery of the Goal of Transparency
Thirteen years ago, the U.S. Congress enacted the CVSSA with the laudable goals of educating the traveling public and making them aware of the substantial risks of sexual violence on certain cruise ships.
The FBI has demonstrated little true interest in investigating crimes on cruise ships. The Department of Justice prosecutes only a small minority of the crimes alleged on cruise ships. The DOT has no real interest in the issue of crime and is, at best, a federal agency tasked only with the administrative duty (and thankless task) of posting the crime data provided by an industry which does not want the truth disclosed in the first place. It’s a recipe for a continued lack of transparency.
The result is the public is now being kept in the dark again.
Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.
September 13, 2023 Update:
It seems impossible to communicate with the DOT regarding this issue. Emails sent to an email address, listed on the DOT’s crime incident report website, are returned as “undeliverable.” When you speak to a representative, they claim there is no email address.