Murder on the High Seas; Is Cruise Ship Security a Concern?

waves-300x225There has been another report of a possible murder on board a cruise ship, this time involving a 52-year-old American woman onboard the Royal Princess, a Princess Cruise, headed for the Caribbean. According to news reports, the woman plummeted from an upper deck of the ship onto a lifeboat.  Witnesses had seen the woman struggling with another man right before this happened. This is not the first report of a murder onboard a cruise ship. In fact, earlier this year, a passenger was arrested for murdering his girlfriend aboard the Carnival Elation

In 2005 we represented the family of George Smith, who died during his honeymoon cruise in what many believed involved foul play and potentially murder. The cruise ship disappearance was never solved. The FBI closed its file without any conclusions or prosecutions. The case remains a mystery, but many do believe he was actually murdered during his honeymoon cruise. The George Smith case put a spotlight on the cruise ship industry at the time because the case received a lot of national and international attention.

The case involved a young couple on their honeymoon following a storybook wedding in Connecticut. There were reports of the over serving of alcohol that may have contributed to the incident, as well as reports of inadequate security that played a factor. There are also issues raised regarding the lack of a proper investigation and the failure to properly preserve evidence in order to allow for a proper investigation which might have led to finding out what really happened and if it was in fact a murder, prosecuting the responsible individuals. The case received so much attention that it prompted congressional hearings investigating the cruise ship industry, their safety and security policies, and what laws govern cruise ships while sailing on the high seas. Since George Smith, there have been many cases where passengers have been reported missing, falling overboard, or where the question remains what happened, possible suicide or possible foul play, possible accident? Also, laws have changed regarding preservation of evidence when something does happen on board a cruise ship. President Obama signed into law the cruise vessel safety and security act in 2010.

Crime On Board Cruise Ships

It is important to note that millions of passengers sail on cruise ships every year, and the cruise ship industry will be quick to point out that the criminal activity on board their cruise ships is arguably much lower than that which occurs on land in big cities. The cruise ship industry has gone to great lengths to create statistical analyses of the crime rates onboard their ships to combat negative publicity about crimes that have been reported.  Of course, most people never believe that criminal activity on board a cruise ship, such as murder or sexual assault, is something a passenger had to be concerned about at all. However, as the cruise ship industry has expanded, the ships have gotten bigger and bigger, and now carry thousands of passengers and crew members.  The ships are more like floating cities which naturally comes with crime. Therefore, it is critical that the cruise ship security measures be scrutinized to determine as to whether they are adequate to address the type of criminal activity we would expect in a floating city. We have handled a number of sexual assault cases onboard cruise ships and it is our opinion that the inadequate security presence on board and the over serving of alcohol does present a risk of criminal acts.

Cruise Ship Safety

 A cruise ship company owes a duty to provide reasonable safety and security for the cruise ship passengers. If you are the victim of a crime, including a sexual assault on board a cruise ship, you may have a claim against the cruise ship for failing to exercise reasonable care for your safety depending on the facts and circumstances.

We are safety advocates for those harmed at sea. Our lead attorney, Brett Rivkind, was an invited speaker during congressional hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security and has been sought out for his expertise in the all areas of maritime law and the laws applicable to the cruise ship industry.