Night ops

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cruise ship crimes


Crimes on cruise ships do occur, as set out here. The question is what can be done to make sure they are handled properly. The problem is enhanced because the cruise ships are, for the most part, not U.S. flagged nor U.S. crewed.

Naturally, there is Congressional concern and a hearing:
Other hearing witnesses said crimes committed aboard cruise ships raise complex questions.

Most cruise lines are foreign owned and operate with foreign crews. While they sail freely in and out of U.S. ports, they typically spend little time in U.S. waters. Rarely, if ever, do they have law enforcement officials on board, and security guards often are not properly trained in investigations or evidence handling.

The FBI puts on cruise line training programs to teach things like evidence preservation, said the Deputy Assistant Director Salvador Hernandez. "It's difficult to do more than we've done," he said. "It's a huge industry."

While the Justice Department and the FBI hailed the new reporting agreement with the cruise industry at the hearing, witnesses for crime victims said they don't trust the industry to self-report information that might discourage vacationers. "I don't think voluntary is good enough," said Miami lawyer John Hickey.

In 1999 the cruise industry responded to reports of shipboard crimes with a "zero-tolerance" policy, but there are doubts about how forthcoming it's been.

At a hearing last year, for example, the industry said there were 178 reports of sexual assaults during a three-year period. But the Los Angles Times, citing court records, reported in January that four times as many Royal Caribbean passengers had reported sexual crimes or unwanted contact as had been revealed for the company at the hearing.

It's not just sexual crimes, either. Cruise passengers disappear — sometimes because they get drunk and fall overboard but also because they get into arguments and fights and are tossed into the sea.
The cruise ship industry is trying to be self-regulating in this, but there probably needs to be an industry "czar" in charge of getting a handle on offshore crimes and investigations.

Some hints on cruise safety here, with this warning:
Although you boarded a ship in a US port doesn’t mean that you are protected by our justice system. Most ships are registered in non-US countries and travel in territorial waters where US laws might not apply. The cruise industry does not report crime data consistently, if at all, to the FBI or have a database of ships with the most crime problems. Shipboard crimes sometimes fall into a "no man's land" of law enforcement. A crime can occur between two people of different nationalities, on a ship from a third country, and in the territorial waters of a fourth country. The governing law is the International Maritime Law and is not as well developed as US law. Reporting a crime on board a cruise ship doesn't mean anything will be done or that the crime will ever be investigated. The FBI is the only US law enforcement agency that can investigate a major crime but only if it occurs in International waters, otherwise crimes are reported to the jurisdiction of the closest foreign country and to the embassies of the parties involved. Prosecution of crime, in many cases, will be left in the hands of the local port authority where no one can predict the outcome.
NPR coverage here.

Remember that there is crime everywhere, and cruise ships are not immune to it.

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