Sex, crime, and death on the high seas. A U.S. Senate investigation of the cruise ship industry

Senate 113–642. July 24, 2013. Cruise Industry Oversight: recent incidents show need for stronger focus on consumer protection. U.S. Senate hearing. 169 pages.

Since 2011, cruise lines voluntarily reported 959 alleged crimes to the FBI, and 130 crimes that must be reported to the FBI, but only 31 crimes were reported publicly, despite the requirement that crimes be reported.

2011 crimes reported to FBI/public (# of crimes/reported publicly):

  • Deaths 3/0
  • Missing 5/0
  • Theft > $10,000 15/0
  • Sexual assault 42/13
  • other crimes 487/0

2012 crimes:

  • Missing 7/0
  • assault with serious injury 10/3
  • theft > $10,000 15/2
  • Sexual assault 29 (10 were minors)/11,
  • other crimes 342/0

Also read:

The Dark side of Cruise ships. Garbage. Sewage. And more.

Klein, R.A. and J. Poulston. 2011. ‘‘Sex at Sea: Sexual Crimes Aboard Cruise Ships,’’ Journal of Tourism in Marine Environments, 7:2, pp. 67–80.

Cruise Junkie


  1. July 3, 2014. The CRUISE PASSENGER PROTECTION ACT (S. 1340): Improving CONSUMER PROTECTIONS FOR CRUISE PASSENGERS. U.S. Senate Hearing 113-488.
  2. March 1, 2012. Oversight of the Cruise Ship Industry: are current regulations sufficient to protect passengers and the environment. U.S. Senate Hearing.
  3. February 29, 2012. A REVIEW OF CRUISE SHIP SAFETY & LESSONS LEARNED from the COSTA CONCORDIA ACCIDENT. U.S. Senate Hearing 112-74.
  4. June 19, 2008. CRUISE SHIP SAFETY: Examining potential steps for keeping Americans safe at sea. U.S. Senate hearing 110-1223.
  5. March 27, 2007. CRIMES AGAINST AMERICANS ON CRUISE SHIPS. U.S. House of Representatives Hearing 110-21.


Millions of Americans enjoy taking cruises every year [for] a fun-filled, once- in-a-lifetime dream vacation. But, as we all know, sometimes cruises hit rough waters and that dream can turn into a nightmare. In March 2012, after several very troubling safety incidents occurred on cruise ships, I held a hearing in this room to get answers about why passengers sometimes find themselves in harm’s way. It was a serious attempt to get answers. The leader of the Cruise Industry Trade Association sat right there and told me, basically, to trust her that the industry was engaged in a rigorous review of safety procedures that would fix everything. I did not entirely believe her at the time, but I felt like the industry needed a fair chance to correct their course. It has now been 16 months since that hearing, and I have not seen much evidence that things have changed. Since that hearing, since those empty promises, serious incidents continue to plague cruise ships. This conduct should make us all very angry.

Consumers have the right to know what we have learned before they book their first or next dream vacation. For instance, if somebody steals your property or assaults you on a cruise ship, you cannot, obviously, call 911 and have the police there in a few minutes; you can only call the ship’s security officer, who, I think, predictably, happens to be an employee of the cruise line. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. The cruise industry has fought to limit when and where passengers can file lawsuits, so it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to right these wrongs.

Under current law, cruise ship crime report data is not available to the public. That’s crime data.

When a crime occurs on a cruise vessel, it can be an entirely different story for the victim. Victims generally report crimes to cruise vessel security officers, who are employees of the cruise company. These employees do an initial investigation and determine when and whether to report a crime to law enforcement. As employees of the cruise lines, these security officers do not have the same arm’s length relationship with the cruise lines as do local and Federal law enforcement officials. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) testified before the Commerce Committee about the inherent difficulties victims face when reporting a crime that occurred onboard to security officers who work for the cruise company: You won’t have any rape crisis personnel onboard to support you, let alone law enforcement officials to come to your aid. You might turn to cruise ship employees for help, only to later find that the cruise line has a vested interest in shielding themselves against negative publicity or legal jeopardy. And you might wonder how any security personnel hired by the cruise line will react if presented with any situation that might give rise to a potential conflict of interest between their employer and yourself.

Since law enforcement generally is not immediately present when a crime occurs on a cruise ship, the cruise ship security officers and sometimes the victims themselves are responsible for preserving the scene of the crime and any evidence. According to Congressional testimony, cruise lines have taken the position that they have no duty to investigate crimes. Victims groups and others have raised concerns that cruise lines have omitted basic steps such as taking witness statements and have lost, destroyed, or mishandled evidence.

Because of complex jurisdictional rules governing cruise line activities, in some cases passengers may not have the same legal protections on cruise vessels as they do in the United States. U.S. laws and protections only govern in certain circumstances and there are instances where U.S. law enforcement has limited juris diction over crimes. For example, a U.S. citizen can report a cruise crime to the FBI, but if the ship has left U.S. port the FBI is not typically in a position to act as an onboard police force immediately after the crime happens. Law enforcement may be located thousands of miles away and may have to work through a myriad of jurisdictional issues with other countries that share jurisdiction over the incident. Further, only certain crimes meet the threshold for the FBI to intervene. Theft of items valued under a certain amount or lack of evidence may result in the FBI declining to investigate an alleged crime. Even if the FBI does investigate, another country’s law enforcement agency may play the lead role in investigating and prosecuting the crime.

Ticket Contracts Limit Passenger Rights. Passengers may also find their ability to pursue legal action limited by clauses in the passenger contract that provides the terms and conditions of a cruise. For example, ticket contracts may require that a passenger has to file a lawsuit in a much shorter period than if the crime had occurred on land. Contracts also may include restrictions on the location of where an aggrieved passenger can file a lawsuit—typically requiring actions to be brought in Florida, where the major cruise lines are based. Further, cruise contracts often require mandatory arbitration or limit class action lawsuits.

The vast majority of cruise passengers are not victims of onboard crime. However, where a crime does occur, the difference between passenger resources and recourse available on a cruise vessel versus on land can be the difference between justice and injustice for a crime victim. A case in point is the account of Laurie Dishman, who testified to Congress that while she was traveling on a cruise to Mexico, a janitor who was ‘‘filling in’’ for a security guard raped her, leaving ligature marks on her neck and other physical evidence. According to Ms. Dishman’s testimony, following this incident, the cruise line personnel contaminated the scene, mishandled evidence, destroyed or ‘‘re-used’’ closed circuit television camera tapes, delayed notifying the FBI, delayed providing medical treatment, did not immediately seal the crime scene, and provided limited information to Ms. Dishman. Further, she stated that the FBI was not able to access the crime scene for several days. At the time, the FBI indicated they did not have enough evidence to further investigate the crime. The accused crew member was not arrested, and he was allowed to return to his home country.

In 2007, the FBI, Coast Guard, and the cruise lines agreed that cruise lines would voluntarily report to the FBI incidents involving serious violations of U.S. law: homicide, suspicious death, missing U.S. nationals, kidnapping, assault with bodily injury, sexual assaults, firing or tampering with vessels, and theft greater than $10,000. According to U.S. Coast Guard testimony, under this agreement, the FBI would annually compile this data and prepare a comprehensive report to share with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The Coast Guard encouraged CLIA to disclose this information to potential cruise ship passengers.

A victims group indicated it had been able to obtain these statistics through FOIA requests. However, this information was not readily available to the public. One of the ways Congress sought in the CVSSA to improve the safety of cruise passengers was to provide for greater transparency in reporting crimes that occur on cruise ships. In most major U.S. localities and foreign countries, the public can view local crime statistics based on crimes reported. The FBI views these crime statistics as an important and helpful tool. The public can use information regarding the occurrence of crimes to make more informed decisions about their travel and actions. The CVSSA includes language providing for public access to crime reports for cruise lines similar to reports the public can access regarding communities across the country.

Toward that end, the law requires cruise lines to report a specific set of crimes to the FBI that (1) occur on a vessel owned by a U.S. person, (2) involve a U.S. national, (3) that occur in U.S. waters, or (4) will depart from or arrive at a U.S. port. Additionally, the Coast Guard must make these crime statistics publicly available online. However, unlike crime reporting on land in the United States, the FBI interprets the CVSSA to require public reporting of only those incidents that are no longer under investigation by the FBI. The CVSSA also requires cruise lines to keep logs of all complaints of crimes committed on any voyage that embarks or disembarks passengers in the United States. This requirement covers a broader range of crimes than those required to be reported to the FBI. Under the CVSSA, cruise lines may voluntarily report any of the alleged incidents that do not fall under the category of incidents required to be reported, and many cruise lines have voluntarily provided this information to the FBI.

Analysis of Cruise Crime Statistics. Since CVSSA Cruise crime data reviewed by Commerce Committee staff shows that since enactment of CVSSA, the public has not been able to access complete information regarding reported crimes aboard cruise vessels. Since passage of the CVSSA, the total number of alleged crimes cruise lines reported to the FBI—including both incidents reported voluntarily and those required to be reported to the FBI by cruise lines—is 30 times higher than the number of alleged crimes reported publicly. Since 2011, cruise lines have reported 959 alleged crimes to the FBI, while the Coast Guard reported only 31 alleged crimes publicly.

HON. BILL NELSON, U.S. SENATOR FROM FLORIDA. The cruise industry is of concern to us, in my state. They have a major presence in Florida. They employ over 130,000 people. In my state, cruising accounted for $6.7 billion in total economic impact in Florida, and, last year, nearly 6 million cruise passengers departed from ports in Florida.


The cruise industry has received considerable attention in the media in recent years. In 2013 alone, the media has reported these problems with cruise ships: three running aground; five with fires; two collisions; 19 mechanical problems, including power loss, propulsion problems, and generator problems; 10 canceled port calls and/or changes in itinerary; cruises with delayed embarkation and/or debarkation; two cruises where passengers have been bumped; and eight ships that have failed U.S. health inspection.

In response to the negative publicity from these events and Senator Schumer’s call for greater consumer protection, the Cruise Lines International Association, in late May, issued its Passenger Bill of Rights, an obvious public relations initiative. A systematic evaluation reveals that, while many of the promises, on their face, are reassuring to cruise passengers, a deeper look indicates the Passenger Bill of Rights is filled with empty promises.

For example, the right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures. There is a huge chasm between being properly trained and those same crew members demonstrating, through behavior, competence in executing emergency and evacuation procedures.  Or the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation of the fire and power loss of Carnival Splendor which found a number of instances of human error. I doubt that crew members were not properly trained, but what assurances does a CLIA Passenger Bill of Rights provide that training will be reflected in behavior, and what recourse does a passenger have when this, or any right, is not realized? Also take for example the right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions cannot be adequately provided. What cruise passenger would not be reassured by this? But, how is this right fulfilled when a ship is dead in the water for 3 or 4 days, and being towed to port? And once the ship returns to port, who decides how quickly the disembarkation will begin, and does the passenger have any rights if it takes longer than they think is fair? Coming up with a list of rights is easy. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Perhaps more troubling are contradictions between CLIA’s Passenger Bill of Rights and the typical cruise passenger contract. There’s no indication which takes precedence, especially given the restrictiveness of the passenger cruise contract with regard to rights held by a cruise passenger, particularly in comparison to the rights of the cruise line, and the extreme limitations on the cruise line’s liability for almost anything that happens on a cruise ship.

My written testimony systematically analyzes CLIA’s Bill of Rights and a typical cruise passenger contract. This analysis points to the need for better consumer protection of cruise passengers, much like the protections that are available to passengers on other modes of commercial transportation, including air carriers. My written testimony also provides systematic analysis of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. I look at the implications of differences between the Act, as initially introduced, and the final Act that was passed. I also look at issues that are not adequately addressed by the current Act.

One major issue is the reporting of statistics on crime on cruise ships. The original intent was that the Act would make available all reported crimes on cruise ships. In practice, there are many crimes that are neither—that are either not being reported to the FBI or which the FBI chooses not to make available to the American public. Take as just one example the fact that, for a 15-month period, the FBI reports a single case of sexual assault on Norwegian Cruise Line, but, in the legal case, in discovery, they disclosed that there were 23 sexual assaults for that same time period.

III. Consumer Rights and Cruise Ship Liability CLIA Bill of Rights

  1. The Right to Disembark a Docked Ship
  2. The Right to a Full Refund
  3. The Right to Medical Care
  4. The Right to Timely Information
  5. The Right to Trained Crew
  6. The Right to an Emergency Power Source
  7. The Right to Transportation
  8. The Right to Lodging
  9. The Right to a Toll-Free Number
  10. The Right to Have Published CLIA Passenger Bill of Rights and the Cruise Contract

What the CLIA Passenger Bill of Rights Does Not Include: Passenger Rights , Cruise Line Rights, Issues of Liability, Illness Outbreaks, Independent Contractors, Medical Care Shore excursions, Sexual Assaults, Limit of Liability

Appendix 2 lists cruise ships having two or more incidents between January 2009 and June 2013 (withs 353 incidents involving mechanical problems and accidents). The obvious question is how such events can be so common. A February 2013 in Newsweek gives the perspective of Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration: [He] says the industry is watched over by ‘‘paper tigers’’ like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from ‘‘bad actors’’ . . . ‘‘The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,’’ says Hall. Ships may seem and feel American but are mostly ‘‘flagged’’ in countries like the Bahamas or Panama in order to operate outside of what he says are reasonable safety standards. ‘‘It is, and has been, an outlaw industry,’’ says Hall. ‘‘People who book cruises should be aware of that.’’ (Conant, E. 2013. ‘‘Carnival from Hell: The Warning Signs Before the Triumph Disaster,’’ Newsweek)

The Relative Absence of Reliable Data

‘‘No one is systematically collecting data of collisions, fires, evacuations, groundings, sinkings,’’ says Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer, to the New York Times. The article goes on to say: ‘‘The reason for the lack of data is that cruise lines, while based in the United States, typically incorporate and register their ships overseas. Industry experts say the only place cruise lines are obligated to report anything is to the state under whose laws the ship operates’’ (Rosenbloom, S. 2013. ‘‘How normal are cruise mishaps,’’ New York Times). As the article points out, there remains no comprehensive public database of events at sea like fires, power failures, and evacuations except the data available at my website, Cruise Junkie dot Com.

While I take this acknowledgement as a compliment, it identifies a major gap in available information. My data is based on reports available in the public media and, on occasion, reports from passengers and/or crewmembers. There are many incidents occurring that never reach the public domain. Consequently, there is no way for passengers to know the track record of an individual cruise line or the ships comprising the line. The data I have benefits greatly from the efforts of Senator Rockefeller who made public a list of casualty investigations by the U.S. Coast Guard for 2008–2012 and the Sun-Sentinel, which posted online U.S. Coast Guard data received through a Freedom of Information request. While the two datasets have considerable overlap, there are incidents on one list not appearing on the other, and incidents in my dataset that appear on neither. Making data available is more important

Persons Overboard

The number of people going overboard from cruise ships is significant: between 20 and 25 a year since 2009. It is known that in 9.5% of cases the person fell overboard, however if we trust cruise industry claims—they often say a passenger has fallen or jumped even if the assertion cannot be independently corroborated—then the percentage is much higher. With that in mind, it is curious that the original version of the CVSSA stated, ‘‘The vessel shall be equipped with ship rails that are located not less than 41/2 feet above the deck’’ (§ 3507 (a)(1)(A)). However the legislation passed set the height one foot lower at 42 inches. In retrospect, it would appear the original provision of 54 inches (41/2 feet) may be more reasonable as an impediment to passengers falling overboard.

Data also indicates there is sufficient number of cases of persons going overboard when they are intoxicated. In two known cases the person was bending over the railing while throwing-up over the side of the ship. This is further reason for raising railing height, but also reinforces the need for stringent rules for the responsible service of alcohol; not just training, but practice. One other

Another concern is the way the FBI interprets the CVSSA. International Cruise Victims Association reports they have been told by the FBI that a person overboard is not necessarily a crime and thus will not be investigated and not included in the FBI’s official statistics. It is difficult to understand how a determination can be made about whether a case of a person overboard is not a crime without a proper investigation. Even if CCTV videotapes show a person falling overboard, an investigation may be warranted to determine the conditions surrounding the incident, for example whether intoxication is an issue and whether the cruise ship was responsible in serving alcohol. Current wording of the CVSSA does not classify a person overboard as a crime.

Sexual Assaults

Contrary to cruise industry claims, sexual assaults are an ongoing problem on cruise ships. Just in the past couple of months there have been media reports of a 12-year-old girl groped on Celebrity Century by a 30-year-old male passenger, and an 11-year-old girl molested by a crew member on Disney Dream. In neither case was the perpetrator arrested or prosecuted; in the latter, the crewmember was offloaded by the cruise line in the Bahamas and flown home to India at the cruise line’s expense. Data from the FBI for October 2007 through September 2008 reveals that at least 18% of sexual assault victims are younger than age 18. The data was secured through a freedom of information request. Reliable data is hard to come by. No comprehensive FBI data has been available since 2008. The only other data available for analysis was provided in the discovery phase of lawsuits, yielding incident reports from 1998 through 2002 for one cruise line; 1998 through 2005 for another. In a recent lawsuit involving the sexual assault of a minor a cruise line was ordered by the judge to disclose to the plaintiff’s attorney all reported cases of sexual assault for the previous five years. The cruise line settled the case out of court in order to avoid complying with the court order. There is much to be learned from incident reports of sexual assault. We know that the most frequent perpetrator among crewmembers (between 50% and 77% of sexual assaults on passengers are perpetrated by a crew member) is a room steward (34.8%) followed by dining room waiter (25%) and bar worker (13.2%). We also know that the most frequent location for the assault is a passenger cabin (36.4%) and that alcohol is a factor in 36% of incidents involving minors.

Prevention. The best way to deal with sexual assault is to have methods of primary prevention. One of the most effective methods is for passengers to know the risk. That is why the initial version of the CVSSA not only required all sexual assaults to be reported to the FBI but that ‘‘The Secretary shall maintain, on an Internet site of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating, a numerical accounting of the missing persons and alleged crimes . . .’’

The number of publicly reported sexual assaults on cruise ships is grossly under-reported. The one-year data for 2007–08 reported 154 sex-related incidents. In stark contrast, the FBI dataset on the U.S. Coast Guard website (which is difficult to find) reports 11 incidents in 2012 (data for 2010 and 2011 was not accessible).

More illuminating is a recent case I was involved with. The FBI indicated that the cruise line (NCL) had one case of sexual assault in 15 months, but records disclosed in discovery indicated the cruise line had received (and we assume reported to the FBI in compliance with the CVSSA) 23 complaints. The change in the language of the Act effectively makes

Recommendation: The CVSSA should require passengers to be advised of the hours during which crewmembers may access their cabin without specific permission from the passenger. Another strategy for prevention, as well as useful for investigation, is CCTV cameras. There are two issues. One is that cruise ships often have real cameras and dummy cameras around the ship. Consequently, a crewmember may take a passenger to an area with no camera or a dummy camera and then assault them. This was the case when an 8-year-old girl was molested on a cruise ship: a cleaner led her down a hallway with the promise he would help her find her way back to her family’s cabin. He knew where there were active cameras and where there were dummy cameras.

Other Crimes

There are two crimes for which the FBI collected data in 2007–08, but that are not required to be reported under the CVSSA. One is a theft of less than $10,000— there were 89 in the one year period 2007–08. The other is simple assault—there were 115 in the same one year period. It doesn’t seem right that these crimes are not recorded and that victim rights are apparently truncated. As regards theft, there is the obvious fact that crew members know that a theft of less than $10,000 will not only not be prosecuted, but will not be recorded. This seems like an open door for a permissible level of crime. Why $10,000 rather than $9,800? The amount appears arbitrary. However, more importantly, by not collecting data there is no ability for analysis to discern patterns or trends that might inform interdiction or prevention. As well, there is no way to know whether the problem is increasing or decreasing, and whether the problem on cruise ships is greater or lesser than on land. Judge Thomas A. Dickerson

Recommendation: The CVSSA should require reporting to the FBI of all onboard crime, including thefts less than $10,000 and simple assaults.

III. Consumer Rights and Cruise Ship Liability

The issue of consumer rights was directly addressed by CLIA’s recent announcement of its Passenger Bill of Rights. This will be discussed first. I will then shift to the broader issue of liability as it applies to cruise ships and cruise lines. The CLIA Bill of Rights is as interesting for what it includes as for what it does not include. It was announced May 22, 2013 just five days before a fire on Grandeur of the Sea; probably motivated in large part by a series of problems before and following the media-focused fire on the Carnival Triumph and by Senator Schumer’s stated intent to develop a passenger bill of rights. In the month before the Carnival Triumph fire, five ships experienced propulsion problems causing delay and/or requiring itinerary changes: Carnival Splendor, Carnival Destiny, Carnival Legend, Carnival Triumph, and P&O Cruises’ Aurora (all ships operated by Carnival Corporation).

The right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures. Again, the Right is straightforward and sounds reasonable. If a product paid for is not delivered there will be a refund. But the Right does not indicate whether the refund is in cash and how long it will take for the refund to be processed—the passenger paid for their cruise 60–90 days in advance of the cruise so shouldn’t they be entitled to the income generated by the cruise line for the period of time it held the money on deposit? As well, how is a partial refund calculated and what mechanism is in place for a passenger to challenge the entitlement offered by the cruise line. But there is a larger issue. What is a passenger’s Right when they fly to a distant port and learn upon arrival that their ship will not depart? Will the cruise line reimburse their travel costs to the port on top of refunding the cruise fare? This is not clear from the Passenger Bill of Rights.

While the Passenger Bill of Rights appears to address canceled cruises, albeit without sufficient clarity, it does not address the much more common occurrence of port calls that are canceled. What rights do passengers have in these cases?

Baggage and Personal Effects

Even when legal action may be initiated, there are other limits. Many passenger cruise contracts limit the liability of the cruise line for lost or damaged luggage and personal effects. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines’ passenger contract states ‘‘. . . that the aggregate value of Guest’s property does not exceed $50 USD per guest or bag with a maximum value of $100 USD per stateroom regardless of the number of occupants or bags.’’ Consequently, a family of four whose luggage is lost by the cruise line is due only $100—this doesn’t even cover the cost of the luggage, much less the contents. A passenger can increase these limits by declaring a higher value and paying 5 percent of the declared value to the cruise line. In contrast, the passenger contract for an air carrier limits liability to approximately $1,500 per passenger.24 A family of four on a cruise would have to pay $280 to the cruise line for the same level of coverage provided automatically by an air carrier. Illness Outbreaks Cruise lines operating out of U.S. ports and serving U.S. ports have successfully avoided liability for illness outbreaks. This has not consistently been the case in the U.K. where there are stronger consumer protection laws. Part of the cruise industry’s defense is their mantra that ‘‘passengers bring the illness with them,’’ thereby coloring itself as an unwilling victim. As Rose Abello, vice president of Public Relations of Holland America Line stated, ‘‘The ship is not sick. There are sick people getting on the ship.’’ (LaMendola B. and T. Steighorst. 2002. ‘‘Cruise Lines Blame Passengers for 3rd Viral Outbreak on Ship,’’ Sun Sentinel). This mantra was first used in late-2002 when there was a wave of very visible norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, and it proved effective. In 24 Coverage under the Warsaw Convention is approximately US$1,663; under the Montreal Convention US$20 per kg for loss of or damage or delay to checked baggage, and US$400 for unchecked package.

When an outbreak does happen ill passengers often are quarantined in their cabin for days; whether they receive any compensation is wholly at the cruise line’s discretion. However, cruise lines are not as innocent or defenseless as they would like to appear. In 2005 and again in 2008 I argued in my books, in response to claims by the industry that the low incidence among prove that norovirus is largely a passenger problem, that there are systemic disadvantages for crewmembers to report when they are ill. This position appears to be supported by recent CDC health inspections that have identified cases where crewmembers have continued to report to work despite being ill, including in positions of food handling and food service. The problem for passengers is that cruise lines have effectively escaped liability for illness among passengers. To my knowledge there have been no successful lawsuits in the U.S. for these outbreaks even though similar lawsuits have been successful under consumer protection laws in the U.K.

Independent Contractors

A cruise ship is populated with many independent contractors whose behavior and practice the cruise line assumes no liability. Most visibly these include medical services (physician(s) and nurse(s)), but spa and personal care services (including health and beauty staff), photographers and video diary staff, retail shop personnel, casino workers, art auctioneers, and all other concessionaires. Even though many of these people wear clothing with the cruise line’s logo, and in the case of medical personnel officer uniforms, they are not considered cruise line employees. Unbeknownst to most passengers, the cruise ship has no liability for services provided and billed to the passenger’s onboard account. The status of these groups as independent service providers over whom the cruise line has no authority, control, or responsibility (even though tacitly endorsed by the cruise line) needs to be more clearly visible to passengers. At the very least, there should be signage or formal notification to passengers of this fact.

Shore excursions are a major source of income for a cruise ship—the cruise ship retains 50—70 percent or more of what a passenger pays for the tour. These tours are sold onboard at a Shore Excursion Desk by staff members wearing the cruise line’s uniform. But when something goes wrong on a shore excursion, the cruise line is quick to remind the passenger that they are not liable; shore excursions are provided by independent contractors. Appendix 1 indicates 14 known deaths on shore excursions (these are only incidents that have been reported in the media; there are many more than this) and five robberies ashore (some at knife or gun point) on shore excursions affecting dozens of passengers—these again are only those that have been reported in the media so they underrepresent the true number. If there is an injury or death on a shore excursion, the cruise passenger’s options are limited in U.S. courts. Their options in a court in the country where the shore excursion was offered may also offer few options. The problem is that shore excursions are largely unregulated, except by the cruise line itself, and some can be quite dangerous. While the cruise line has no liability for shore excursions, they tend to dissuade passengers from taking tours that are independently available. They may talk about safety concerns for a tour that is not approved, and will often warn passengers that the advantage of the ship-sponsored tour is that if they are delayed the ship will wait for them. In contrast, the ship will not wait for a passenger delayed on an independent tour. While more and more passengers are choosing to make private arrangements for land-based tours, those who make advance plans may find they are out money when a ship alters its itinerary or cancels a port call.

The owner of a cruise vessel is required to keep logs of all allegations of crime but is only required to report certain types of crime incidents to the FBI. The owner of a cruise vessel may voluntary report other alleged crimes to the FBI. CVSSA provides that only the crimes that are required to be reported to the FBI must be reported publicly. These crimes include all homicide, Science and Transportation obtained from Coast Guard and the FBI shows that, since passage of the CVSSA, the number of alleged crimes cruise lines reported to the FBI—including crimes reported voluntarily by cruise lines—is 30 times higher than the number of alleged crimes reported publicly.


Congress found that ‘‘Passengers on cruise vessels have an inadequate appreciation of their potential vulnerability to crime while on ocean voyages, and those who may be victimized lack the information they need to understand their legal rights or to know whom to contact for help in the immediate aftermath of the crime.’’ Pub. L. No. 111–207, Sec. 2, (2010). Cruise Line I A, CLIA Statement: Congressional Hearing (Mar. 27, 2001) (online at http://

CVSSA classifies as crimes required to be reported to the FBI as all homicide, suspicious death, a missing United States national, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, any offense to which section 2241, 2242, 2243, or 2244(a) or (c) of title 18 applies, firing or tampering with the vessel, or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000. Pub. L. No. 111–207.

Further, with respect to the categories of crimes for which the CVSSA specifically requires cruise lines to report alleged incidents to the FBI, the number of alleged crimes that cruise lines reported is over four times higher than the number of alleged crimes reported publicly. Since 2011, cruise lines have reported 130 of such alleged crimes to the FBI, while only 31 alleged crimes were reported publicly.

Calling for Help

In the United States, when a crime occurs, a victim or a witness to the crime generally can call 911 to access police, medical, and other services. Often, within minutes, law enforcement trained to investigate and eventually help prosecute criminals is on the scene Law enforcement called to the scene is an impartial party to the investigation; they must protect the scene, take statements, and collect and preserve evidence in accordance with the law.


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