CruiseMates Newsletter

4.10.2008
Do We Need "Sea Marshals?"
by Paul Motter

A California state senator Simitian is pushing a new bill through the California legislature that would require law enforcement officials to sail on all cruises departing from a California port. The bill sailed through committee today, the first step in the process of getting it enacted.

What Simitian wants is a security officer charged with "monitoring safety" on cruise ships and at the same time, also knowlegable enough in marine engineering that they could simultaneously watch over dumping of sewage and other waste byproducts cruise ships make to assure than no dumping is done on an illegal manner.

There are already very strict waste management standards for cruise ships, and in truth there have been very few charges of illegal dumping of any kind in California waters for a decade. Most modern cruise ships use the finest environmental practices known. Human waste is burned to a crisp and then offloaded in port, for example. As for oil and bilge, there were some cases in the mid-90s where a junior officer pleaded guilty and a fine was paid.

Environmentalism seems to be a convenient excuse for what Simitian really wants - a California Peace Officer onboard each ship, not so much to maintain order, but just to act as an impartial observer in case a crime does occur. Because of this, Simitian says the first qualification he has for these officers is that they be marine engineers trained ship waste management systems. Secondly, they should also presumably be trained in the use of firearms, rape test kits and rules of preserving evidence of crime scenes.

One thing the bill fails to address at all is jurisdiction issues. At a press conference the senator was asked if the California peace officers would only get involved if the crime was between Californians?

The senator replied he planned the the peace officer to monitor any crime occurence. he apparently does not realize that no state has no legal jurisdiction 10 miles beyond the coastline of the state. The federal government does, however, according to rulings concerning the rights of a federal court to oversee malfeasince that would normally be prosecuted in an International Admiralty (Maritime) Court.

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In fact, U.S. Congress already gave the FBI jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes at sea involving U.S. citizens during the second round of congressional hearings on "crime at sea" matters last year. Additionally, if a ship is in a foreign port then the local authority may share jurisdiction with the FBI and either party may choose to prosecute separately.

Another reporter asked if any resulting trial would mean extraditing the victim and perpetrator to California. The senator hawed at this question, saying some about, "I see it as more of a monitoring position, to assue that proper procedures were being carried out." On what authority he did not say - "consultant, perhaps?"

The expense for these Sea Marshals will come from a $1/day head tax on each passenger. As for whether the sea marshal will be in uniform, carry a weapon, have powers of arrest, be visible to the public or work behind the scenes, none of those questions have been specifically answered yet.

So, what exactly does this half-baked plan really amount to? Possibly a senator looking to push a "feel good" bill that no one could disagree with on principal because it targets an industry that is already been vilified in the press, especially in California.

While we at CruiseMates are for the best possible crime control and conviction rate for the meager amount of crime that does happen on cruise ships, in reality we have to say in all candor, this bill only reflects how much most lawmakers and other people do not understand what the real issues are here. We think 2007 the Congressional mandates were just starting to work pretty well. Do we realy need this patchy, reactionary, "feel-good" legislation complicating a working process that hasn't even been given a chance yet?

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