Taking a cruise conjures up images of moonlit romance and high adventure—far from the worry of daily life. Yet cruise ships are no strangers to crime. In fact, executives of the cruise industry told Congress that of the 26 million cruise ship passengers from 2003 to 2005, 178 in North America reported sexual assaults. In addition, 24 passengers were reported missing.
Of all cruise-ship incidents reported to the FBI, the odds the crime is a sexual assault are 1 in 5.05. There were two highly publicized incidents of alleged sexual assault at sea in 2009: in March, a 42-year-old woman on the Coral Princess, a member of the Princess line, reported being assaulted by a crew member who was later acquitted, and in October a juvenile was alledgedly assaulted while onboard the Pacific Sun, a member of the P&O line. Organizations have sprung up to draw attention to the issue, including the International Cruise Victims Organization and the Cruise Rape and Sexual Assault Support Center. The odds a reported crime is a simple assault are 1 in 5.75; and the odds a reported crime is a rape are 1 in 10.89.
Muddying the picture is the fact that many cruise ships fail to report crimes—in which case they wouldn’t show up in these statistics—or choose to document crimes well after the fact. Take the case of Kendall Carver’s daughter, Merrian, who disappeared from the Celebrity Cruise ship Mercury on August 27, 2004. The cruise line filed a missing persons report with the FBI five weeks after she was found to be missing. This delayed response prompted Kendall Carver to dig for clues on his own. He learned that his daughter had been romantically involved with a crewmember, and that her cabin steward who had noted her absence was advised by a senior staff member to remain quiet.
The lack of cooperation on the part of the cruise line spurred Carver to campaign for legislation that would force cruise ships to report disappearances as well as any onboard criminal activity. If passed into law, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act will require cruise ships operating in US ports to report all crimes, disappearances, and sexual assaults. Cruise lines would also have to implement security measures, including latches on cabin doors and cabin door peepholes. Since sexual assault is one of the most common crimes on cruise ships (crew members are often the alleged perpetrators), each ship would also be forced to carry a rape kit and train an employee in the practice of preserving criminal evidence.
According to the Seattle Times, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) now supports the bill. The paper quotes the CLIA: ‘”Millions of passengers each year enjoy a safe cruise vacation, and while serious incidents are rare, even one incident is one too many. As an industry, we are fully committed to the safety and security of our passengers and crew.”