ABC Nightline is doing a story about a thirteen year old who was raped aboard a Carnival Cruise Lines' passenger cruise ship during a family vacation. Sadly, sexual assaults and rapes occur aboard cruise ships with a much greater frequency than one would expect. I have been handling Maritime cases involving the cruise ship industry since 1983. I have watched the cruise ship industry grow tremendously. We all read about the new cruise ships that are being built that carry thousands of passengers. In addition to the thousands of passengers that must mix aboard the ship, there are the thousand plus crewmembers from all different countries who are onboard the ship. The sexual assaults that are reported often times involve a crewmember sexually assaulting a passenger. However, there are many reported sexual assaults involving a crewmember sexually assaulting another crewmember or a passenger sexually assaulting another passenger.
The cruise lines have become floating cities, with the dangers that are present in any city. The cruise lines often defend themselves by trying to point to crime statistics in big cities and compare them to the crime rates onboard their ships. The cruise lines argue that statistically the crime rate is much lower onboard a cruise ship. The cruise ship companies argue this demonstrates how safe a cruise actually is.
While I do not disagree that generally a cruise can be a safe and enjoyable vacation for the entire family, and that criminal activity, including sexual assaults, are not rampant aboard a cruise ship, the public needs to be aware of the dangers associated with cruising aboard a passenger cruise ship with such a large population of people from all different backgrounds and countries.
In the case reported by Nightline, a fourteen year old teenager was onboard with her parents. She reportedly was having trouble sleeping and decided to go by herself to an upper deck onboard the Carnival ship. A thirty year old Carnival Cruise Line employee from Indonesia then took her to an employee only area and raped her. When the crewmember was arrested sometime later, after actually being employed on another Carnival Cruise Lines' passenger ship, he initially denied the incident. After he reportedly did not pass a lie detector test, he then claimed the sexual acts were consensual. However, a fourteen year old teenager is below the age where one can legally have consensual sexual activity. This is called statutory rape.
Since the crewmember admitted to having sexual activity with a fourteen year old teenager, he was guilty of statutory rape. He was actually sentenced to prison and was serving jail time in Orlando, Florida. This is one of the rare instances where we hear about a crewmember being convicted for the crime of rape. One major cruise line previously remarked how it had never had anybody successfully prosecuted for a sexual assault aboard one of their cruise ships in over twenty-five years. This statement was made supposedly to support the assertion that sexual assaults were not occurring aboard cruise ships. However, we have been able to obtain statistical information regarding the number of sexual assaults and rapes that the cruise lines admitted to, which demonstrated that sexual assaults and rapes were occurring at a much greater frequency than anyone knew or expected, and yet there had not been a successful prosecution of any of the perpetrators of the crime. This did not demonstrate that the cruise lines were free of the problem of sexual assaults and rapes. Instead, it demonstrated how difficult it is to prosecute an individual for such a crime. The difficulty in obtaining successful prosecutions has been linked to the failure of the cruise lines to properly report and investigate alleged sexual assaults and rapes.