Sexual assaults and rapes do happen to cruise passengers. In fact, there are several claims of rape and sexual assaults aboard cruise ships each year. This problem was so prolific that in 2010 Congress enacted the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. This law is designed to enhance passenger safety aboard cruise ship and require cruise lines to report any rape or sexual assault of an American to the FBI.
American courts hold cruise lines strictly liable for sexual assaults and rapes perpetrated by crew members against passengers. This means a cruise lines are responsible for its passenger who are raped by a crew member despite a having a company no fraternization policy and even if the crew member was a model employee before the attack. It is easy to understand the cruise lines do not like this law and have attempted to find loopholes.
One such loophole cruise lines have attempted to avoid strict liability in sexual assault and rape cases is by applying an international treaty called the Athens Convention. In simple terms, the Athens Convention limits a cruise line’s liability for a passenger’s injury or death to approximately $71,000. This little known limitation is buried in the back of the passenger cruise tickets.
The good news is this international convention only applies where the ship does not touch a U.S. port for the entire cruise. Cruise lines cannot apply the Athens Convention to sexual assaults and rapes or any other type of claim occurring on cruises leaving from, returning to, or calling upon, United States ports. This leaves the convention theoretically applying to cruises purely touching foreign ports such as Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Asian cruises.
The limitation provisions of the Athens Convention, however, do not apply to what are known as intentional torts. An intentional tort is an action which was meant to cause harm. Specifically the Athens Convention states:
The carrier shall not be entitled to the benefit of the limits of liability [in the Convention], if it is proved that the damage resulted from an act or omission of the carrier done with the intent to cause such damage, or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably result. Obviously, passenger sexual assaults and rapes can be only intentional.
The Southern District Court of Florida located in Miami applying the intentional tort exclusion of the Athens Convention recently found a cruise line cannot apply the limitations of the Convention in a case where a child claimed she was raped by a crewmember and falsely imprisoned by the cruise line. This ruling makes sense and is consistent with courts unwillingness to allow cruise lines escape liability for rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated on their passengers by crewmembers.
Cruise passengers should be on guard when they travel. However, if the unthinkable occurs, American courts have protected its citizen. The none application of the Athens Convention limitations is the latest situation where a court refused to allow a cruise line to avoid liability for a sexual attack by its crewmember against a passenger.