Cruise Lines Reveal Crime Figures to the Public

In response to growing criticism and public demand, three of the world’s most prominent cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival Corporation have published criminal incidents allegedly committed on their North American based cruise ship brands on their websites. They have voluntarily released this information in compliance with the request from of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

The cruise industry has been on public relations thin ice since the Carnival Triumph debacle and the Concordia disaster. Since public funds and resources were used to come to the aid of the Carnival Triumph, Senator Jay Rockefeller has made strong demands for accountability to the public.

One of the major issues requiring full transparency is the fact that there are sizable differences between the number of crimes the cruise companies report to the FBI and the crime statistics that they choose to reveal to the public. Before the agreement reached in the Senate Committee hearings, consumers could only see the statistics that reflected cases that have been closed by the FBI.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a total of 70 cases were closed since the final quarter of 2010. Considering how many cruise ships are active in a given year, it would seem that cruise vacations are one of the safest options around. Norwegian Cruise Lines has reported 20 criminal incidents between October 2010 and June 2013, while Royal Caribbean reported 91 incidents during the same time frame.  Carnival Corporation reported 127 alleged crimes on its North America based brands between July 27, 2010 and June 30, 2013.

The recorded data includes all allegations (whether open or closed) of: homicide, missing persons, suspicious death, rape and sexual assault, kidnapping, assault and battery, vessel tampering, and thefts over $10,000. The majority of the reported incidents involved sexual assault and theft, with five reports from Carnival regarding murder or suspicious death allegations. An important note to remember is that these are allegations, which means that many cases have yet to be proven. Spokesman Roger Frizzell for Carnival Cruise Lines clarified the point in an email, stating that "the majority of these are never substantiated as actual crimes after the initial investigation". Furthermore, he added that the data should “remove all doubt about the relatively low level of crime on cruise ships, especially when compared with comparable land-based crimes".

While the caveats are indeed true, there are other factors that discourage the reporting of crimes. For example, if the crime occurred in international waters and the ship is registered under Liberia, the Bahamas, or some other flag state, the FBI has no jurisdiction over the case and cannot close the investigation. If that is the case, an allegation will simply remain an allegation, and the victim will be unable to seek any recourse through U.S. government agencies. The victim will have to depend on the mercies of the investigative agencies of the ship’s flag state. If the flag state fails to properly investigate, there is no governmental or regulatory body that can compel it to do otherwise. Given this reality, it could be said that the cruise industry fosters an inflated sense of safety for its passengers.

Still, that’s no reason to panic, even when adjusted for other factors, cruise ships are one of the safest vacation options anyone can choose. A good rule of thumb is to be around people you know, or at least people who care about your safety and will notice if you do not appear the next day. As long as you remain aware of your surroundings and take the proper precautions, it’s easy to avoid becoming the next statistic.

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