The odds of becoming the next cruise passenger victim of a sex crime are unknown.
You and your family decide to go on a cruise to celebrate a special occasion at sea. The luxurious and glamorous temptation of spending a week on a majestic cruise ship is understandable, and for all you know, a quite safe way to spend some quality and relaxing time with your spouse and teenage children.
Two months after coming back from the cruise, your 15-year-old daughter courageously confesses that while alone in her cabin on the cruise ship, a crew-member unlocked her cabin door using a universal key card, and forced her to perform several sex acts. She kept quiet and did not tell anyone until today, because she did not want to ruin the family vacation.
That horrendous event is unfortunately not as uncommon as one may think, and certainly not as uncommon as the cruise industry would like you, potential customer, to believe. Yet, that is exactly what happened in 2010 to a 15-year-old girl and her family while on board a Royal Caribbean cruise in New Zealand, as reported by CNN below:
After years of hearings, committees, and disputes over the lack of statistical data on crimes occurring on cruise ships, Congress finally gave birth to a new law, the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act. This law aimed notably at forcing the cruise industry to to abide by new requirements of transparency, including the requirement to report to the FBI all crimes that occur on their ships. The passage of the new law was deemed a bipartisan success, and the essential step in the right direction to finally have a crime database that could be used in the future to improve the security and safety of cruise passengers.
Initially, the reporting requirement was to be simple and straightforward. Cruise lines must report any and all crime occurring on their ships to the FBI, and in turn, the FBI was required to post these incidents on a website maintained by the US Coast Guard, available to members of the public. But for some reason, it has not gone as planned.
Soon after the law became enforceable, The International Cruise Victims (“ICV”), which participated in the hearings, noticed that the number of crimes reported by the FBI was extremely low. Between 2010 and the beginning of 2012, only 54 crimes had been reported. This was at odds with the fact that before the new reporting requirement became law, cruise lines voluntarily reported 363 crimes between 2007 and 2008. What could explain such a drop in crimes in the span of 2 years?
When ICV inquired to the FBI about its failure to report all crimes, the FBI simply responded that it was following the law, and that it could not go beyond its mandate. Sen. John Kerry, one of the bill’s sponsors, admitted to ICV, that new language was added late to the bill before it passed Congress. The new language in question: Crimes would be reported “that are no longer under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” What came as equal shock to ICV was to learn through Sen. Kerry’s office that the late hour addendum to the bill was demanded by the FBI.
The consequence of inserting the new language is devastating to ICV and to all potential cruise passengers. Essentially, the FBI sees its mandate as having to report publicly crimes after the FBI opened and closed the case.
Agent Kurt Schmidt of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Unit advised in an interview last December that a crime that is committed today on cruise ship might not be reported any time soon. He added: “The FBI has to take into consideration not only a verdict and sentencing of the individual, but we also have to take into account potential appeals, so the case may remain open until all appeals are exhausted.” So, if a crew-member is accused of raping a passenger, it could take up to 5 years before the public knows about it. In other words, the crime statistics that are reported today are not representative of the actual number of crimes that have occurred for years to come.
More importantly, the FBI does not open a case on every crime that is reported by cruise lines. Consequently, by inserting the new language, the FBI joined force with the cruise industry in their attempt to report an extremely low crime rate aboard cruise ships.
Why would the FBI demand that new language be added to the bill?
ICV suspects that the reason stems from the cruise industry and the FBI having a very incestuous relationship which started when two FBI executives, Gary Bald and Eleni P. Kalisch, left the Bureau in 2006 and 2007, and were immediately hired by Royal Caribbean, creating new positions as VP of Global Security and VP for Federal Government Relations respectively. Moreover, Cruise Lines International Association (“CLIA”), which testified on behalf of the cruise line industry before Congress, arguing that a new reporting law was absurd and unnecessary, hosts every other month a meeting with the FBI and the Coast Guard, admittedly on security issues. ICV requested to be present at those meetings, but was denied access.