I had previously reported about another incident involving a cruise ship worker that went missing while onboard a cruise ship named. Rebecca Coriam was working on a cruise ship operated by Disney Cruise Lines named the Disney Wonder. The 24 year old crewmember apparently made a mysterious phone call and then later disappeared without a trace.
It has been reported that at least 168 people disappeared from cruise ships and ferries in international waters since 1995, statistics provided by International Cruise Victims Association.
According to international maritime laws, typically the country where the ship is registered gets involved in the investigation. In the case of the Disney Wonder, the ship is registered in the Bahamas. Although a British citizen, the disappearance of Rebecca Coriam was investigated by police from the Bahamas. Rebecca’s parents, rightfully so, have expressed shock and anger at the fact that the Bahamian police got involved in the investigation instead of American or British police. This has been a problem I have observed over the many years I have been representing passengers and crewmembers who have been victims of accidents and crimes onboard the passenger cruise ships. Most of these incidents happen in international waters, and involve ships that are registered for the convenience of the cruise line companies in a foreign country. There are often complex jurisdictional issues that get in the way of a prompt and adequate investigation being conducted. An example is the George Smith case, which involved a passenger who was on his honeymoon who went missing while on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship the Brilliance of the Seas. The Turkish police authorities were the ones who got involved in the immediate investigation of the incident, and there were delays with the F.B.I. getting fully involved in the investigation despite the fact that George Smith was an American citizen. The investigation was highly criticized, and blamed by many experts as the reason why his disappearance was never solved despite there being strong evidence of his disappearance being related to foul play.
In the case of Rebecca Coriam, the Bahamian police have little incentive to conduct a complete and thorough investigation in a case involving a British resident. The only real connection to the Disney Wonder, or the company, with the Bahamas, is the fact that the Bahamas is used as the country to register the ships. The Bahamas are considered a flag of convenience for the cruise ship companies. Registering in the Bahamas is a big benefit to the cruise ship companies, and obviously a big benefit to the Bahamas that have all of these cruise ship companies paying money to register their ships in the Bahamas.
The parents of Rebecca Coriam pointed out that only a single police officer from the Bahamas got involved in the investigation. It was also pointed out that the investigator failed to interview any of the approximately 3,700 passengers and crew that were onboard the ship.
The father of Rebecca stated “We get very little information coming back to us as to what the investigation has found out, and that’s partly because of the problems of where the ship’s registered.”
Rebecca’s parents are now pushing for similar legislation to a new cruise ship safety law that was passed here in the United States and signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010 called the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.
The new legislation that is being proposed would provide authority to the U.K. to investigate incidents involving their own citizens. The new U.S. law is designed to give more power to the F.B.I. and the United States Coast Guard to investigate cases involving United States citizens that go missing onboard a cruise ship, notwithstanding where the ship is registered.
I had been asked to testify in Congress regarding any of the issues involved when a passenger is a victim of a crime or goes missing onboard a cruise ship. I was asked to provide information regarding complex jurisdictional issues, safety issues, and how these crimes are typically investigated. Even with increased legislation, there still remains complex jurisdictional issues because a ship technically is considered the territory of the place where it is registered. Therefore, in the case of the Disney Wonder, the ship is considered to be the territory of the Bahamas, and therefore any crime that occurs onboard that ship would be considered a crime occurring in the territory of the Bahamas, giving the Bahamians, arguably, the exclusive jurisdiction to address any criminal activity. It is only through international conventions international laws, and increased legislation, that countries can work together to resolve these complex jurisdictional issues and set up procedures that will be better for all passengers who travel aboard cruise ships and are the victims of any type of criminal activity or wrongdoing. Of course, increased awareness of the fact that crimes and disappearances do happen onboard cruise ships, and additional preventative measures, is the best course of action to take so that these occurrences do not occur in the first place.
Our firm continues to be safety advocates for both passengers and crewmember who are harmed at sea.