Cruise Ships Under Attack! Part 2

| May 30, 2007

Towards the end of Monday's article I wrote that today we would address making the new congressional mandates work on cruise ships. But before I move on, in the last day I was lucky enough to receive an exact copy of the testimony presented by the person hired to compile and deliver to the congressional committee the actual crime rate on cruise ships.

The person the cruise lines chose to compile and present the statistics is James Alan Fox, Ph.D.. founding editor of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, an award winning publication for compiling criminal statistics. Here is his report.

Statement on crime aboard cruise ships.

James Alan Fox, Ph.D. (founding editor, Journal of Quantitative Criminology)

Northeastern University.

March 7, 2006.

While virtually no place - on land or sea - is totally free of risk, Americans traveling aboard the major cruise lines that serve this country can rest assured of their personal safety. Clearly it is difficult to derive a statistical matchmaking for assessing the relative risk of crime aboard cruise ships. Given the atypical composition of passenger demographics (that is, the age, race, gender and income profile of the population of passengers) and the sometimes spirited climate of the cruise ship activity. Regardless of the methodological complexities, the number of reported incidents of serious crime from cruise lines is extremely low, no matter what benchmark or standard is used.

Compared against their home communities, passengers have an appreciably lower risk of sexual assault and robbery while enjoying vacation cruise (see table below). Based on passenger and crew counts, adjusted for exposure time, the rate of sexual assault on cruise lines is - at worst - half the U.S. rate of forcible rape. For robbery, the cruise related rate is a tiny fraction of the U.S. rate. The low levels of rape and robbery victimization makes reasonable sense in view of the confining and highly secured environments offered on major cruise ships.

Sexual assaults robbery
Offenses reported on cruise ships. 1993 - 2005 149 4
Annual average 49.67 1.33
Rate of crime per 100,000 passengers 17.6 0.5
Rate of crime per 100,000 US citizens 32.2 136.7
Passenger count 2003 - 2005 31,068,000
Average passenger cruise length 6.9 days
Average annual passenger count 195,771
Daily crew size 86,035
Total annualized person count 281,806

*The Journal of Quantitative Criminology focuses on research advances from such fields as statistics, sociology, geography, political science, economics, and engineering. This timely journal publishes papers that apply quantitative techniques of all levels of complexity to substantive, methodological, or evaluative concerns of interest to the criminological community. Features include original research, brief methodological critiques, and papers that explore new directions for studying a broad range of criminological topics.

As we discussed in the article on Monday, statistics are always subject to interpretation and their methodology. Without going into elaborate detail, it is obvious that these statistics present a much brighter picture than those put forth by the representatives of the "cruise victims." Those statistics were not derived in a scientific manner, as is evidenced by by the confusing way Klein (a well-known cruise industry basher) explains his convoluted methodology.

Why Different People See Cruises in Different Ways. The one thing that neither set of statistics points out is that different kinds of people go on different kinds of cruises. Everybody has a different frame of reference, and approaches cruising in a different way.

Very experienced cruisers like myself who tend to vehemently disagree with the media controversy about cruise ship "crime" and "victims" need to look at how we cruise. Personally, the majority of cruises I have taken have been longer cruises (seven days or many more). At least half of my cruises have been on what are called "premium" or even "luxury" cruise lines.

I have taken almost all of my cruises with a companion. And as a professional cruise journalist I have never recommended to anyone that they should go on a cruise ship alone. I would never recommend that anybody take any extended vacation alone. Traveling alone in foreign countries can be dangerous, especially for young, attractive women.

And while I actually do know many people who go on cruises alone, I personally still recommend organized singles cruises. Many of them are listed in our singles cruising area along with a message board in CruiseMates where one can meet and get to know a suitable cruising companion well before your travel date.

Many of the people who end up as self-described "cruise victims" sailed on shorter, budget cruises of three to four days. It appears that they either drank much more than they should have, at least while on the ship, or they put themselves in the company of such people and were subsequently taken advantage of.

Whether or not any cruise line is legally responsible for monitoring and even controlling an adult's behavior is debatable at best. In my personal opinion, I prefer to make my own choices. However, society has said that there are times when a person renders himself or herself incapable of controlling their own behavior by the over-consumption of alcohol, and at that point, somebody is doing them a kindness by stepping in. Does stepping in to help a drunk person make you responsible for them, are cruise ships legally required to restrain passengers who over-imbibe considering they are not driving home? Technically, no.

In this light, I do not believe that any cruise line has the legal responsibility to treat their guests as if they are running a day-care center for adults. I do, however, see the benefit of having security guards on ships whose job it is to monitor the behavior of guests who appear to be acting suspiciously or beyond the ability to control themselves as a service.

Putting the new rules to work Last week I had an opportunity to interview the head of security for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, Gary Bald. Mr. Bald recently held the third highest-ranking position at the FBI. So, if there is anyone who will be able to facilitate the interface between the cruise lines and the highest legal authority in the United States, it will be Gary Bald.

We did discuss the cruise lines' side of the story for many of the victims that we saw in the congressional hearings. We talked about procedural mistakes by the cruise lines made in the past, as well as false accusations, also known as "poison pen" allegations that were made by "cruise victims" whose cases were subsequently not followed up by the FBI.

One thing we agree on is that if there really was a significant problem of "under reporting" of crime on cruise ships it would actually be very hard to cover up. There are too many "cruise bashers" out there ready to spotlight any new "cruise victims" now coming out of the woodwork. Yet, we have hardly seen any new cases at all. Most of these cases we are hearing about now are from 2005, in the news media and in the congressional hearings.

Some of the cases are truly sad for the victims, and I fully sympathize with them. Others, however, I feel are very over dramatized.

An Example of a Well-publicized Sexual Assault.

Please note: A change is being made in this article. It was reported incorrectly that the woman involved in this following incident was a judge in a "sexy legs contest." We regret that we reported that in error and we do apologize to the victim. The area of confusion was that the man who committed the offense was in the sexy legs contest, and it appears that he made a mistake in thinking the woman he accosted was one of the judges he had just interacted with.

Under those circumstances, it would be logical to assume the victim had no idea what was going on, and so when this happened I am sure she was completely shocked. We don't blame her. We also apologize for our mixup, (a similar one) as I am sure the man who committed the error also felt the same way we do about the mistake - just embarassed as hell!

The man who accosted this woman had just participated in a "sexy legs" contest. These contests resemble shows by Chippendale dancers.

To see exactly what one of these contests is like watch this video: Sexy Legs Contest. While I was shooting this video, one of the lady volunteer judges actually pulled down the pants of one dancer, exposing him to the entire ship. He took it in stride. I did not record that part, unfortunately for the record, but it is easy to see these ladies are not acting shy. Just to be clear - this is just an example of one of these contests, none of the people we are discussing are in these pictures or video.

Click on Pictures for Larger Images
Sexy Legs   Sexy Legs Judge   Up Close Look

And so, the victim who was NOT one of these women judges was completely innocent, but she may have looked similar to a woman who had just judged this contest, because this male contestant, so drunk he says he can't remember the incident, followed her into the ladies room because he thought he knew her. He said "I want to get a picture of myself with you" to which she says she "sort of" agreed - not understanding what was going on, apparently because things were happening quickly. His friend was standing in the doorway with a camera. When she tells the story there are a few pictures taken, and she states the other man was somehow blocking the entrance of the door - keeping some other women out, two of which she says were cruise line employees. In any case, when the man took the final shot, the assailant grabbed between her legs and yelled the words "booty call" - supposedly to get a picture of him holding her crotch.

At the time she was fully clothed. But she claims she was grabbed from behind in a disgusting, probing way. Immediately after the incident, the victim says she and her husband did report the incident to the cruise line, and asked that the man be "arrested" and confined to his cabin, which the cruise line did not do. She also says she asked the cruise employees to report that they had seen the incident and that they just shook their heads. I really don't know how to interpret that; whether they did see and pretended not to, or if they really didn't see it.

Why am I going into such detail about this case? Because I did make an error earlier about misidentifying her as a "judge" and I need to clarify that I was mistaken about that. Does that make what the assailant did more wrong and demeaning behavior? Absolutely, because he did it to the wrong gal. But do we know whether he thought he had the right gal and that woman might have welcomed it? You see how complex these things get.

When the story has been told in news reports, the mistaken identity details are never reported. All we hear is that she was "sexually assaulted in a cruise ship ladies' room" as if cruise ships are havens for serial sexual predators and being sexually assaulted in a cruise ship ladies room is par for the course where cruise ships are concerned.

When the husband of the victim n this case notified me that my article had an error, I asked the couple what they expected me to do to make it accurate. In return I received a spate of threatening and demeaning emails in which they demanded that I essentially switch sides and denounce my entire editorial based on one factual error. Obviously, I did not do that. However, they did ask me to include a certain number of "facts" as they report them as the victims, which I am happy to do.

The victim wanted me to say for the benefit of this article that they asked that the man be arrested and held for the duration of the cruise, the cruise line decided that was not warranted. The victim claims the female employees lied about seeing the incident, and also that someone told them the man was confined but he really wasn't (they saw him later at dinner). They also said the FBI recommended to the cruise line that he should be confined on the last night, but the cruise line didn't do it. She also says that by the end of the cruise the cruise line was asking the police for protection against her and her husband. Judging by the demeaning and threatening mail I received from the victim and her husband when they saw I had made a mistake in my copy - despite the fact that I handled it as professionally as I know how to, I understand the concept of feeling threatened by these people.

In any case, this case WAS reported to the FBI - an investigation did follow, and the assailant was recorded as being too drunk to remember the events. The FBI decided the case was not worth pursuing and dropped it. The victim's husband asked me to state that the FBI will not pursue any case unless it is rape, murder or a terrorist threat. This case didn't qualify - even as rape. But that did not mean the victim could not file another report of the crime when she returned to her home. The cruise line even advised her of that. Whether she did or not I do not know. She says she has not settled a case with the cruise line yet.

Procedure on Cruise Ships, in the Past and Going Forward. As noted, according to a agreement signed in 1999 by the entire cruise lines membership of CLIA, every crime against a US citizen that has been reported on a cruise ship has been re-reported to the FBI since 1999. This procedure was designed and adopted by the cruise lines voluntarily, and it has worked very well for the most part - but not perfectly.

The new regulations, set to come about on September 27 of 2007, are actually very similar to the procedures already in place. The difference is in the details, beginning with the FBI working with the Coast Guard to compile an exact list of crimes and their details the cruise lines will be required to report.

As before, all crimes will be reported to the FBI, but the procedure will be a little more comprehensive. As soon as a crime is reported on board, a security officer on the ship will call a senior vice president for security for the cruise line in the company's main office. There will only be one SVP for Security for the entire cruise line and that person's job will be to manage all security information throughout the fleet.

Working in the company headquarters, the SVP will have an exact set of details he or she is required to obtain from the cruise ship for each report, such as the time, names, crime scene locations, exact position of the ship and anything else. This detailed report sheet will be created by the FBI and will be standard for the entire cruise industry. One person, with detailed training, will be in charge of handling all the details of every crime that occurs on any cruise ship with that company's fleet.

The security officer will have access to all kinds of useful information including police records, listings of sexual offenders and passenger manifests. Once the report is made, the SVP will direct procedure to the security officers aboard the cruise ship on how to secure the crime scene and collect evidence, if that is necessary. In most cases, however, the directive will be to seal the crime scene.

I asked Mr Bald about the collection of evidence and he explained to me the following: First of all, the FBI is the legal authority in charge of investigating cruise ship crimes now. So the prime directive is to preserve the evidence until the FBI can get there. I asked him if evidence is perishable, and he replied, "Absolutely not." Mr Bald tells me that everything from blood stains to fibers and even semen can retain its chemical makeup for years. The only evidence collection that will be done is the use of pelvic exam kits by (soon to be) trained medical personnel.

This actually brought up one mistake that was made during on very high profile rape case in which a doctor asked a victim to go to her cabin and collect evidence of the rape by herself. "That was an error, "Bald told me. "The doctor was not trained in forensic procedure, and he misunderstood the instructions. The only time a doctor is supposed to collect evidence is if the victim is wearing it when she comes in for the pelvic exam." Otherwise, the clothes were already in the room where the rape occurred, and the proper procedure would have been to already have had the room sealed. Once again, having a single well-trained person in charge of directing the crime reporting and preservation of evidence will result in better management of evidence preservation.

Why, on the surface, does it appear that little has changed in the rules? Bald's opinion is that there was not that much wrong with the previous set of procedures. The mistakes happened in the execution of those procedures. The crew is not comprised of forensic professionals, and in fact true "crime" on cruise ships is so rare that it does not make sense to keep professionals on board.

In fact, it was such procedural problems that caused the cruise lines so much embarrassment in the past, and by leaving all the evidence to the FBI the cruise lines will be able to absolve themselves of the responsibility for crime investigation. With the new standardization of reporting, the margin of error will be reduced significantly. Something the cruise lines are just as eager to accomplish as the victims are.

Ideas that will not work . There are lawyers in the business of suing the cruise lines. Some of them have videos of their sensationalistic guest appearances on various talk shows. There they make outrageous statements such as cruise ships attract criminals and sexual predators. That is a concept that to me is just sheer, jaw-dropping nonsense, and should be to any thinking person.

Sexual predators are known to look for situations where they can separate the weak from the herd, do their damage, and then flee the scene completely unnoticed. A cruise ship is the worst possible location for such a scenario. A rapist on a cruise ship has no place to run and no place to hide. The ship has pictures of every passenger on their security database. He is bound to be seen and identified after the crime has been committed. Perhaps this is why there are no reported cases of a sexual assault of any kind on a cruise ship, where the victim was unable to identify the alleged assailant.

More Ideas that Will Not Work Another misdirection put forth by this same lawyer is that a major problem with cruise lines is the fact that they do not sail under the United States flag. I disagree with this proposition. The protocols in place already give of the FBI full legal authority to investigate any crime that occurs on a cruise ship that visits U.S. ports and carries our citizens. Sailing under the United States flag wouldn't change a thing, and these lawyers know that. A ship sailing under a foreign flag is still subject to the laws of the United States. In fact, they are subject to the laws of every nation that they visit.

Their contention that the cruise lines can hide behind a foreign flag is like saying a person can rob a bank in one state and then escape over the state line without prosecution.

Do the people making this claim know the reality of what they are saying? Indeed they do. The only reason for it is to intimidate and scare the cruise lines into submission. They know re-flagging is a touchy subject to the cruise lines because it would carry such an impossible financial burden every cruise line would be out of business overnight. To reflag the entire industry would mean the cost of a cruise would double and onboard service would deteriorate beyond words.

Why We don't Need Sea Marshals! There are a few lawyers and other "cruise victims" in Miami who are clamoring for the cruise lines to put Sea Marshals on board. What is wrong with this scenario?

Firstly, most ships spend half of their time docked in foreign ports, and when in those ports a sea marshal would be a source of jurisdictional conflict with the host country at worst or powerless at best. The presence of the FBI in a foreign country alone could trigger a foreign port to retaliate by taking full jurisdictional control and forbidding the FBI to touch the case. Either way, the sea marshal becomes a waste of time and money. But a cruise line security officer can work in cooperation with the host country while in port and still notify the FBI when the ship returns to open waters. This is a guarantee to the victims that their case will be investigated by and prosecuted in the U.S.A. It is the better solution.

A Sea Marshal with federal authority with full police powers on a cruise ship would lead to all kinds of service problems and future complaints from passengers. If an onboard sea marshal decided to anchor a ship until further notice, say for a simple burglary, the captain would have no choice but to acquiesce. This creates all kinds of division of power and responsibility issues with the ship staff, plus the vast majority of passengers would object to those kinds of interruptions unless all the passengers agreed.

When I mentioned this to Gary Bald he said, "well, keep in mind that if we were asked to hold a ship for any reason by a legal authority we would be happy to do it, we are working towards full cooperation here." But I don't personally think the passengers would tolerate spending three days in Haiti while we look for someone's purse, for example. The nature of the crime would make a big difference.

Wrapping Up. Personally, I do not see any proof that the cruise lines have been "covering up" the amount of crime that actually happens on ships, and in my most honest opinion I still contend it is exceedingly low. I agree with James Alan Fox, cruise ships are exceedingly safe.

There are reasons why cruise ships still sail at over 100% capacity, and still have the highest satisfaction rating of any vacation option in the travel business. They are cruises. How can you not love them?

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