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New Cruise Crime Reporting Law Champions Openness, Clarity

A new federal law passed earlier this month that would require the Department of Transportation to report crimes that were allegedly committed onboard a cruise ship. The new law is quite a departure from its predecessor, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which only made incident data available if the alleged crime was “no longer under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Opponents of the law maintain it is not necessary, arguing that the major cruise lines began providing crime data on their respective websites in 2013. However, it is important to note that the data provided on these websites cannot be relied on as a representative figure insofar as the rate and types of crimes that allegedly occur aboard cruise vessels. Specifically, the major cruise lines only report incidents that meet the requirements of the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act, which limit reporting to incidents involving “homicide, suspicious death, a missing United States national, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury…firing or tampering with the vessel, or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000.” Thus, if a crew member steals something from a passenger that is not in excess of $10,000, then the cruise lines are not required to publicly disclose it.

In contrast to the Act, the federal legislation will require cruise lines to report all crimes that occur onboard, particularly “identify[ing] each crime or alleged crime committed or allegedly committed.” Moreover, it is immaterial whether the culprit is a passenger or crew member insofar as whether the data is reported. Perhaps most important is the fact that the Department of Transportation–and not the cruise lines themselves–will be tasked with making the information available on its website.

In the end, knowledge is power. Knowing the disturbing rate at which crimes like sexual assault take place on cruise vessels can help prospective passengers take the appropriate safety measures. Look no further than a case in which the maritime board-certified attorneys of Brais Brais & Rusak represented a passenger that was sexually assaulted inside a cruise line vessel’s public restroom. In this case, a passenger went on a cruise in 2011 and was sexually assaulted while onboard. Before going on the cruise, per the cruise line incident reporting statistics required by the Act, only one incident involving sexual assault was reported for the one-year period–between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010–for this particular cruise line. The data, without a doubt, falls woefully short of being an accurate and/or demonstrative number that represents the rate at which individuals are sexually assaulted on this cruise line. Consider that between 1998 and 2005, a fellow cruise line competitor, Royal Caribbean, received 235 reports of sexual assault and another 216 relating to sexual harassment. If a passenger was privy to this information, they may have exercised the requisite degree of care in order to avoid such an incident. Heightened precautionary measures may have prevented her–like so many others–from becoming part of a largely unknown statistic.

Hence, advocates of the legislation are hopeful that the change in reporting will help place consumers on notice and keep them informed insofar as the dangers present onboard cruise ships. As one victim put it, “cruise ships are really like floating cities,” where “you’re going to have good people and you’re going to have bad people.” Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, many passengers fail to appreciate the non-obvious dangers inherent onboard cruise vessels and forget that vacation getaways are not necessarily insulated from crime.