The recent news from the Bahamas where two young U.S. women from a Carnival ship were drugged and raped involved a foreseeable, horrific crime at a Bahamian resort promoted by the cruise line, according to the victims.  Earlier this week, the two young women, who are from the state of Kentucky, sailed on the Carnival Elation from Jacksonville to Freeport in the Bahamas and went to a resort promoted by Carnival (Pirate’s Cove Resort) after paying the cruise line shore excursion fee of $56.99. Carnival claims that the excursion was an independent shore excursion although it appears clear that Carnival promoted this particular resort to its passengers and characterized it as a “picturesque” beach with “experienced, hospitable and cordial staff (who) will ensure you have a memorial visit.” Before they were able to return to the cruise ship, two men believed to be employees of the Bahamian resort reportedly drugged and raped them.

Above: a portion of Carnival Cruise Line’s promotional information selling excursions to Pirate’s Cove before the cruise line scrubbed it from its website.

Cruise passengers Dongayla Dobson and Amber Shearer, who have used their real names in media interviews, are both 31 years of age. They report being served alcohol by uniformed staff members at the Pirate’s Cove beach resort during an excursion recommended and sold by Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival’s promotional information for the excursion has been scrubbed from Carnival’s website). Their drinks were reportedly spiked with drugs, later determined to include opiates and benzodiazepines. Security footage from the resort reportedly shows that shortly after receiving the drinks, the women were barely able to stand as they were led away to a bathroom by the two resort employees and both raped by the two men. (In an interview with the Nassau Guardian, the resort claims that the surveillance footage does not support their claims but provides no explanation for the alleged discrepancy). The Bahamian press has not named the two suspects, reporting only that a “54-year-old man from Eight Mile Rock and a 40-year-old male from South Bahamia” were arrested.

Ms. Dobson and Ms. Shearer both are now taking anti-retoviral HIV medication, after they were examined and treated on the Carnival cruise ship. The women told a media outlet in Kentucky that they have “bruises up and down” their legs which are confirmed by photographs taken after the rapes.

Both women complained that the Royal Bahamian Police officers allegedly “treated them like criminals” and “refused to give them rape kits.”

Carnival, Pirates Cove and the Royal Bahamas Police Force Push Back

It appears that the cruise line, excursion resort and local police are all disputing some of the facts surrounding the crime. Carnival disputes that this crime occurred during a cruise-sponsored excursion (although the cruise line faces the same legal exposure for not warning its guests of the heightened danger of rape in the Bahamas regardless of whether the excursion was sponsored or a private venture). Pirate’s Cove claims that the women “refused to be transported to the hospital” and the local police were quoted in the Bahamian press stating that the women allegedly declined emergency medical treatment. However, the women informed U.S. media outlets that they were informed that if they went to the local hospital, their return to the cruise ship would not be guaranteed and they were both concerned that they were not traveling with passports. The medical team on the Carnival cruise ship eventually examined the two victims and performed testing which revealed the presence of drugs and the absence of alcohol in the women.

The fact that the cruise line, excursion vendor and police are trying to raise doubts about these horrific crimes is consistent with Bahamian governmental officials who have worked overtime to protect the Bahamas’s reputation and image as a carefree, enjoyable and safe tourist destination. The Bahamas began to push back against U.S. travel warnings as soon as they were issued. Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis responded to the crime advisories about travel to his country, stressing that the government “is alert, attentive and proactive to ensure that The Bahamas remains a safe and welcoming destination.”

Crime Advisories for the Bahamas

Shortly before the women’s cruise, the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 2 travel advisory for the Bahamas due to an increase in violent crime, specifically recommending increased caution on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama. The warning mentioned not only violent crime like burglaries and armed robberies, but “sexual assaults in both tourist and non-tourist areas” as well. Before the State Department warning, the United States Embassy in the Bahamas issued a “security alert” on January 24th. It urged travelers to “exercise extreme caution” in Nassau in the wake of 18 murders in the city since January 1st.

Neither woman state that they were aware of the U.S. crime warnings for the Bahamas and they did not receive any warnings from Carnival before or during their arrival in the Bahamas.

Cruise Lines Have A Legal Duty to Warn Passengers of Dangers in Ports of Call

Cruise lines, or course, have a legal duty to warn passengers of dangers which exist not only on their ships but in ports in which they call on.

Did Carnival Warn Its Guests of the Heightened Risk of Sexual Assault and Other Violent Crime in the Bahamas?

Over the years, we have seen some cruise lines issue warnings to passengers about crime in some ports of call. Royal Caribbean, for example, issued letters to passengers several years ago warning about the danger of crime in Nassau. But many cruise lines, like Carnival, do not issue warnings yet continue to promote shore excursion, for financial reasons, into dangerous ports of call.

As we will discuss in our next blog, cruise lines have an absolute duty to warn its passengers of crime dangers in the ports of call where they visit. This is true whether the cruise guests are on an excursion promoted and sold by the cruise line or an independant excursion unrelated to the cruise line. Carlisle v. Ulysses Line Ltd., S.A.,475 So. 2d 248, 251 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1985), Chaparro v. Carnival, 693 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 2012).

The Most Dangerous Cruise Destination in the World?

Ten years ago, we published “Ten Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World.” We chose the Bahamas as the number one most dangerous cruise destination because of armed robberies and numerous sexual assaults against cruise tourists in Nassau and Freeport. The Bahamas has been subject to a crime (level 2) advisory for years. There have been a number of crime warnings issued by the U.S Embassy of the danger of sexual assault at local beach resorts.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Image Credit: Photos from the Carnival Elation – Dongayla Dobson Facebook via Daily Mail; victims – interview with Dongayla Dobson and Amber Shearer.; Carnival ElationJersyko, CC BY-SA 3.0 commons / wikimedia.