Ths week NBC News published an article titled Sex Assault Victims on Cruise Ships Are Often Under 18. Over three months, NBC News spoke with ten victims of sexual assaults and/or members of their families. The news organization found that a significant number of victims of rape and molestation on cruise ships are under 18 years of age.

NBC reported:

"Of the 92 alleged on-board crimes reported by cruise lines in 2016, 62 were sexual assaults. When sexual assaults occur at sea, it may be hard for victims to get justice on land. Some assaults were barely investigated, according to the victims and families who spoke to NBC. Most were never prosecuted.

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."

NBC interviewed me during its investigation.  We have represented 100 women and children, including families of  boys, who were sexually assaulted on cruise ships; around 35 vcitims were teenages and children with many victims under the age of ten with some as young as three years old. 

You can read more about sexual assault of children on cruise ships here

Interested in this issue? Read the recent article Sexual assault victims on cruise ships are often minors.

NBC will be airing its special on TV this weekend on the NBC Nightly News. Below is a portion of the special. 

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Last fall, the Arizona Republic reported that cruise travelers for the first time can see what crimes are being reported aboard cruise ships operating in U.S. ports.

The newspaper commented on improvements once the Department of Transportation replaced the Coast Guard as the agency responsible for reporting crimes on cruise ships leaving US. ports. Consumers previously needed to check the websites of each cruise line to try and find out what crimes occur on which cruise line. Carnival Corporation bundled the crimes of its brands (Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Princess Cruises)  together under one name, HAl Veendamso that it was impossible for consumers to identify on which cruise line the reported crimes occurred.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act ("CVSSA") of 2010  was supposed to provide the public with reports of certain crimes aboard cruise ships, such as deaths, sexual assaults, thefts and missing-person reports.

But the cruise-friendly agencies responsible for disclosing the crime statistics requested changes to the wording in the CVSSA which rendered crime-reporting provisions useless.

Language added before its passage altered the CVSSA bill so that only crimes "no longer under investigation by the FBI" were reported on the website. An Arizona Republic investigation in 2012 revealed the language was altered at the request of the FBI and the Coast Guard, apparently with pressure from the cruise industry

The problem is that the FBI often refused to open files when crime occurred on cruise ships or, when it did, the FBI often kept its files open long after it has decided not to investigate the case. So any crime that the FBI didn’t investigate – or when it technically kept its investigation files open – was not included in the Coast Guard database.

The language of the statute was changed which resulted in far more crimes, particularly sexual assaults, being disclosed to to the public by the DOT. In the first six months of 2016 far more sexual assaults were disclosed (39) than during the same period in 2015 (6) when the reporting was disclosed on the Coast guard portal.  

You can see the DOT’s portal here.

But a major problem remains.  The cruise lines are the one which determine whether an incident constitutes "sexual assault." Many cases of sexual molestation of minors are mis-classified as "groping" or as "inappropriate touching," neither of which is a crime under the CVSSA .

The same is true regarding the sexual offense which the HAL waiter was arrested for on the Holland America Line Veendam last week. The CVSSA does not include "lewd and lascivious" conduct with a child as a reportable offense. 

Cruise expert Professor Dr. Ross Klein, who has testified regarding the issue of crime on cruise ships Gede Sukrantara, HAL Veendambefore the U.S. House of Representative and the U.S. Senate, pointed this problem out on his website last October. Dr. Klein has reviewed hundreds of incident reports submitted by cruise lines and has observed a tendency for cruise lines to report incidents of sexual assault as either "sexual contact" (which is not reportable under the CVSSA) or as "molestation" or as "groping" or "inappropriate touching" or "lewd and lascivious conduct" (none of which are reportable pursuant to the specific language of the statute). 

The cruise victim’s group, the International Cruise Victims, has tried to introduce legislation requiring the cruise industry to disclose when children are victims of crime.  Several years ago, Dr. Klein determined that between 17.5 and 30 percent of the sexual assault victims on cruise ships are minors. The cruise industry vigorously opposed the legislation and refuses to disclose when children are sexually assaulted on their ships.

The crime that occurred on the Veendam when a 26 year old Indonesian HAL waiter (photo right) locked himself in a bathroom on the cruise ship and engaged in oral sex with a fifteen year old girl is exactly the type of sexual misconduct that families need to understand happens all too often on family cruise vacations, no matter how hard the cruise industry tries to parse words to keep it secret.

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Photo credit: Top: Fletcher6 – CC BY 3.0, commons / wikimedia. ; bottom: Gede Sukrantara Facebook page.

Two weeks ago, the Royal Bahamian Police Force arrested a French-Canadian woman from Quebec who was on an unidentified cruise ship (cruise schedules indicate it was the Norwegian Sky) in Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas for engaging in sex with a 15-year-old boy, who cannot legally give consent to have sexual intercourse under the law of the Bahamas. 

The case involved a rather bizarre situation where the 23 year old woman met an American, 15 year old boy in what a newspaper describes as a "casino and bar area" on the cruise ship. The boy reportedly told the woman, (falsely so) that he was 18 years old. He also reportedly is over 6 feet tall and he was wearing a beard, apparently giving her the impression that he was an adult.   

The two then allegedly engaged in sex in a bathroom on the ship. The boy’s mother learned of the alleged tryst and, over the protestations of her son, reported the alleged incident to the police in the Bahamas.

Section 11(1)(a) of the Bahamas’ Sexual Offences Act, Chapter 99 reads: “Any person who has unlawful sexual intercourse with any person being of or above 14 years of age and under 16 years of age, whether with or without the consent of the person with whom he had unlawful sexual intercourse Bahamas Sexual assaultis guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for life.”

In the U.S., this is called "statutory rape;" it is irrelevant that the defendant was unaware that the child is underage. In Quebec, where the woman is from, 15 year olds can legally consent to sex.

The newspapers in the Bahamas have reported repeatedly on the arrest of the woman. They have published numerous photographs of the young woman in the custody of Bahamian police officers being led from the jail where she is imprisoned to the courthouse where she has attended several hearings in her criminal case. The photographs depict a obviously haggard woman, who has been kept in the harsh conditions of Her Majesty’s Prison, being escorting to court by smiling police officers. 

The woman, who reportedly has three children aged 3, 4 and 5, had been given the cruise by her employer for her exemplary work performance. 

Grand Stirrup Cay is a private island in the Bahamas owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. 

The case, to me, appears to be, among other things, an indictment of the cruise line for allowing a unsupervised teenager into an area of the cruise ship limited to adults and apparently permitting him to drink alcohol. The Canadian woman’s Bahamian defense lawyer was quoted in the Tribune newspaper as saying that "this defendant has a very strong defence as it may be negligence on the part of the cruiseline for allowing the virtual complainant to have access to activities reserved for adults."

I don’t practice criminal law, but it seems highly relevant that the alleged victim apparently lied to the woman that he was an adult. It also seems relevant that due to the boy’s height and facial hair, the woman may have reasonably believed that he was an adult, as he claimed before having sex with her. 

The Bahamas, which has the highest number of reported rapes in the Caribbean, seems to have a double standard in dealing with the issue of sexual assault. I have represented several women, both passengers and crew members, who have been sexually assaulted by crew members on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships in Bahamian waters where the police showed little interest in arresting the perpetrators or where the Bahamian prosecutors quickly dropped the charges.  

The Bahamas also has a deplorable case of prosecuting cases where children are sexually assaulted by crew members on Bahamian-Flagged ships, such as this case where a Disney crew member sexually assaulted a young girl on the Disney Dream. The police in Nassau dropped the case and permitted the cruise line pedophile to leave the jurisdiction. 

The Bahamas’ interest in pursuing the case may also be, in part, political pay-back for Canada’s prior warnings against travel to the Bahamas’ due to its high violent crime rate.  

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January 20, 2017 Update: The family of the arrested woman, who is raising money for her legal defense via a Go-Fund-Me type of page, is denying that she ever left the casino/bar alone or that she engaged in sexual relations with the boy. 

February 3, 2017 UpdateBahamian police escorted Ms. Gagné back to Court again today where she learned that she will remain in jail. The French-Canadian newspaper Le Nouvelliste says (interpreted) that the defendant should learn later this month whether she will be released on bond and permitted to return to Canada pending the prosecution of the case pending against her.

March 23, 2017 Update: The Bahamas reportedly will abandon pursuing the charges of sexual assault against Ms. Gagné, according to a newspaper in Canada.

Photo credit:  Tribune

News 7 in Australia reports today that a cruise passenger on a Royal Caribbean ship arriving in Sydney, Australia alleges that she was a victim of sexual assault by another passenger during the cruise.    

The news account states that the Explorer of the Seas arrived in Sydney after a nine day cruise to Vanuatu and was met by police. Detectives reportedly spent several hours talking to witnesses, taking statements and collecting forensic evidence from what the news account described as a crime scene. 

The news station indicates that no arrests were made.  The cruise line reportedly provided support to the alleged victim.

MSC DivinaA lawsuit filed suit last week against MSC Cruises (USA) Inc., and MSC Crociere SA, alleges that a MSC crew member, identified as Rudy Samuel Santos Hernandez, sexually assaulted and battered a 12-year-old child on the MSC cruise ship.

According to the Florida Record, which reports on filing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the lawsuit against MSC and its crew member alleges:

"that on Feb. 14, 2016, [plaintiff] and his 12-year-old granddaughter were aboard MSC Cruises for a seven-night Caribbean cruise. Defendant Hernandez allegedly took advantage of the situation as he observed the minor enter the empty cabin, which she shared with her grandfather, legal guardian and plaintiff."

According to the lawsuit, the crew member used his service key to "enter the room where he sexually assaulted and physically battered the minor." The incident is alleged to have occurred aboard the MSC Divina.

The family is represented by Jason Margulies and Carol Finklehoffe here in Miami.

Sexual crimes against children on cruises are hardly rare. I have written about it here many times. 

Over six years ago, I wrote:

"The number one crime we see on cruise ships is when the parents stay out late at the disco or casino, and they leave their 12 year old son or 14 year old daughter alone in the cabin. Many kids get tired after a fun day at the pool or after an excursion ashore, and they don’t want to go to the second seating at dinner. There are far too many cases where the cabin attendants will use their key card to access the cabin when the parents are away."

We have recommended that the cruise lines deactivate the key cards of crew members after hours so they can’t use them to get into the passenger cabins, using female cabin attendants rather than 25 year old males, or assigning supervisors to monitor the passenger cabins. Most cruise lines have ignored these recommendations.

Cruise lines like MSC Cruises typically do not perform independent background checks on their housekeeping and wait staff before they are hired. Read: Perverts, Child Predators and Cruise Ships

Photo credit: By Mllturro – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bahamas Paradisw CruiseWTSP Channel 10 reports on a cruise aboard the Bahamas Paradise Cruise taken by a woman with her friends to celebrate a bachelorette party.

Last Friday, a crew member appeared at her cabin after knocking on the door.  When she opened the door, the crew member reportedly grabbed her hands and then said “I want to rape you.” She slammed the door when he repeated the threats several times.

When she complained of the crew member’s behavior on the cruise ship, a manager came to her cabin with the accused employee. Her friend recorded the crew member admitted saying: “I called you outside the cabin door and I said I want to rape you, but I promise I was playing.”

The woman returned from the cruise. She contacted local law enforcement and the Coast Guard. She then went to the media after no one would take her complaints seriously.

WTSP called the cruise line. Shortly after that call, the cruise line’s executive vice president called the woman and told her that the cruise line fired the employee and sent him back home to South America.

It is unknown whether the cruise line reported the incident to law enforcement or informed anyone that it was flying its ship employee out of the jurisdiction, which happens more often than cruise lines want the public to know.

You can watch the video here.

Photo credit: WTSP

A newspaper in Italy reports that two days ago police arrested a 51 year old crew member, who had gone ashore in Livorno, on charges of sexual assaulting a child believed to be around 7 to 8 years old.

The crew member is identified as a Filipino bar tender who arrived in Livorno on an unidentified cruise ship in port. He took a bus into the city and come across a group of school children when, according to an eye witness, he allegedly sexually molested the child.  The witness who observed the incident immediately alerted the teachers who accompanied the student group, while the 51 year old man attempted to get away. The witness followed at a distance without losing sight of the man and reported the alleged incident to the police who arrested him. Other bystanders were threatening to attack the man. 

According to the Crew Center website which reported on the alleged crime, there were five cruise ships in the port of Livorno that day: the Azamara Quest, Holland America Line Eurodam, Norwegian Epic, and Pullmantur Sovereign

Livorno is a major port called on by many cruise lines where passengers can take excursions to Pisa, Florence, or the Cinque Terre region.

Although this incident, if true, took off of the cruise ship, it should act as a reminder that pedophiles, both crew members and passengers, exist on cruises just like in your home town.  One of the first articles I wrote when I started this blog several years ago dealt with this issue – Perverts, Child Predators and Cruise Ships.

May 29 2016 Update:  The bartender, I have learned, was reportedly employed aboard HAL’s Eurodam.

Photo Credit: Luca Aless – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia

Nassau BahamasThe Nassau Tribune reports that a U.S. woman alleges that she was a victim of rape over the weekend. The Tribune article today reports that the local police in Nassau said that it has arrested a man for the “alleged rape of an American tourist early Sunday morning.”

Royal Bahamian police officers were reportedly “on patrol on Charles Saint Vincent Street when they came upon a vehicle with an man and a woman visitor inside. The woman told police that the man had just sexually assaulted her.”

As we reported in February, the Tribune newspaper in Nassau reports that the Bahamas leads the Caribbean in the number of recorded rapes, according to a report by the National Task Force for Gender Based Violence.

The Tribune says that “over a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013, there were 1,109 reported rapes, according to police statistics. In addition, from 2008 to 2012, annual police reports documented 9,045 incidents where females were the victims of assault in the country. These reports also alluded to there being numerous cases of domestic violence of a non-sexual nature.”

The report stated that “the Bahamas has the highest incidence of rape per capita in the Caribbean. The UN Woman narrative on gender-based violence in the Caribbean cites ‘while the worldwide average for rape was 15 per 100,000, The Bahamas has an average of 133 (per 100,000).”

The rate in the U.S. Is somewhere around 28.6 per 100,000. There are almost 5 times as many rapes in the Bahamas as in the U.S. per capita.

A recent report from the U.S. State Department warns U.S. tourists of the the fact that there have been sexual assaults on American tourists by jet ski operators in Nassau. The U.S. Embassy in Nassau reported that jet ski operators sexually assaulted 5 U.S. tourists in just 18 months.

The Bahamas also had a record number of murders last year, which were primarily in Nassau (New Providence). The murder rate in the Bahamas is far more than 30 per 100,00, compared to the U,S, per capita rate or around 4.5 per 100,000.

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April 8, 2016 Update: It turns out that the Bahamian man who allegedly raped a U.S. tourist was a taxi cab drier, according to the Nassau Guardian newspaper in Nassau.

Photo credit: Jpatokal at wts wikivoyage, GFDL, commons / wikimedia.

The Tribune newspaper reports that the Royal Bahamas Police Department arrested a U.S. passenger from Missouri over the weekend for allegedly raping another passenger on an unidentified cruise ship.

The Bahamian police is holding the U,S, citizen for "indecent assault" of the cruise passenger of a female on Saturday morning.

The newspaper says that "shortly after 9am a female visitor on a cruise ship moored at Prince George Wharf reported to police that she was indecently assaulted on board by the suspect, who is also a Nassau Bahamaspassenger on the ship." 

We have seen cruise ship sexual assault cases prosecuted in Bahamian courts before, but we have never seen a Bahamian jury convict anyone for sexually assaulting a woman at sea before. Sexual assaults, in our view, should always be reported by the cruise line to the FBI or the police departments of the U.S. port where the cruise ship is home ported. The FBI / DOJ and Florida prosecutors have jurisdiction to prosecute U.S. citizens on cruise ships even thought the crimes occur on the high seas or the territorial waters of a foreign country.  

The Bahamanian newspapers often do nor identify the name of the cruise ship or cruise line to avoid embarrassing them.  Many cruise lines are flagged in Nassau to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations. 

Photo Credit: "Prince George Wharf in Nassau Harbor" by TampAGS, for AGS Media – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons / Wikipedia

The AP reports that the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas yesterday has singled out operators of jet skis following the latest sexual assault of a U.S. citizen by a man on a jet ski on Cabbage Beach. We reported that the police in Nassau arrested a Bahamian on January 2nd following the rape.

According to the AP account, the embassy reported there had been five sexual assaults of U.S. citizens by jet-ski operators in Nassau since July. The actual warning refers to July of 2014.  In addition, the embassy "banned its staff from using jet-ski rental companies because of insufficient regulation. It recommended U.S. citizens not use them either."  The recommended ban applies to Cabbage Beach and Miami Cruise Ship Crime - NassauCable Beach.

You can read the warning from the embassy here.

In 2014, the New York Times published an article about the high crime rate in Nassau, in general, and watercraft operators there in particular after the embassy issued a similar crime warning last year. The Times interviewed me in the article, after jet ski operators sexually assaulted at least three American tourists. The embassy warned of "increasingly brazen" crimes sweeping the Bahamas. 

The article said that the prime minister convened a special national security meeting last year after allegedly devising "several crime-fighting strategies." The Bahamas never disclosed these so-called new strategies to the public. The long-standing problem with rogues associated with jet ski operators assaulting tourists seems to have continued until today. Many in the Bahamas are critical of Prime Minister Cristie who has repeatedly told the press throughout the year that his government would roll out new policies to counteract the rise in crime but such plans never materialized. 

The Tribune news paper in Nassau said yesterday that the Bahamian arrested for the alleged rape was was not a water sports operator but “just a man with a Jet Ski and a boat hanging on the beach."

The newspaper also said that Bahamian officials are discussing using police and Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers to assist her ministry in patrolling the beaches to address the problem. 

One person commenting on the article said: "This is just what our tourists come here to see, machine gun toting cops and marines on the beach fraternizing with the jet-ski operators. What a scene of tropical paradise."

The recent warning from the U.S. Embassy is one of over ten crime warnings from various government agencies about Nassau in a little over two years.

Many cruise ship passengers still don’t know that when they get on a ship here in Miami heading for the Bahamas, they are heading to a country with a national crime rate many times higher than the U.S. rate. The cruise lines don’t issue warnings before selling cruises to Nassau but typically warm their guests of the high crime rate there during the cruise.