A new federal law passed earlier this month that requires the Department of Transportation to report crimes allegedly committed onboard a cruise ship. The new law is quite a departure from its predecessor, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (hereinafter “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 since 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 total number of crimes that 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 stole something from a passenger not in excess of $10,000, then the cruise lines were not required to publicly disclose it. The above may be characterized as an illustration of the lobby efforts by the Cruise Lines to modify the Act in a way that only certain crimes require disclosure.
In contrast to the Act, the new federal legislation requires cruise lines to report all crimes that occur onboard their vessels, 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 the Internet.
In the end, knowledge is power. Knowing the disturbing rate at which crimes like sexual assault take place on cruise ships can help prospective passengers take the appropriate safety precautions while traveling aboard today’s “luxury cruise lines”. Look no further than a case in which the maritime board-certified attorneys of Brais Law Firm represented a passenger that claimed she was sexually assaulted inside a cruise line vessel’s public restroom. Assume for a moment that the firm’s client was aware of publications referencing to sexual assaults aboard cruise ships. Assume further that in an abundance of caution the firm’s client researched available data published by the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) per the Act. Available USCG records for the one year period before the subject cruise only listed one (1) incident involving sexual assault. The data published by the USCG, without a doubt, fell woefully short of being accurate and/or representative of the actual number of sexually assaults during the subject one year period. This is highlighted in a published order where the Court cited to discovery indicating that within the 15 months leading to the subject rape, there were twenty-three (23) prior instances of sexual assaults aboard Defendants’ cruise ships. Accordingly, the Court held that whether the Defendant cruise line breached a duty to warn the firm’s client of the risk of a sexual assault was a determination left for the jury. This was the first time that a Court held that Cruise Lines owed a duty to warn of crime and/or sexual assaults that occur onboard a ship.
Hence, this history illustrates the new law is so needed. Advocates of the legislation, like Senator Jay Rockefeller, 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.