Over the recent years, there has been increasing attention paid to criminal acts, including sexual assaults, that occur onboard the passenger cruise ships. Special attention was directed to the cruise ship industry after the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. The initial investigations suggested foul play as the cause of his disappearance, prompting an ongoing FBI investigation into the matter. The George Smith case, in which our firm represented his parents in an action against the cruise line company, involved his disappearance while the ship was in international waters. This led to some complex issues of which authorities had jurisdiction over the investigation. Initially, the Turkish authorities investigated the incident. They did a very poor job. There was a very quick and incomplete investigation.
The cruise ship company did their own internal investigation, including flying attorneys from Miami, Florida to the ship immediately to interview passengers and crewmembers. The cruise line delayed in reporting the incident to the FBI, which resulted in a delayed reaction by the FBI. Of course by the time the FBI got involved, the investigation became very difficult because critical evidence had been lost.
There were many allegations of improper handling of important evidence, and an improper investigation and cover up about the incident.
However, the incident did highlight the jurisdictional complexities involved in investigations of criminal activity that occur onboard cruise ships which travel through international waters, especially when carrying United States passengers.
Since the George Smith case, there have been Congressional hearings held which have addressed the complexities of jurisdiction, as well as the safety procedures onboard cruise ships. I was invited to speak as a maritime expert at Congressional hearings which addressed these issues. This resulted in addition, legislation which creating reporting requirements for certain crimes that occur aboard a ship.