It’s no secret that crime onboard cruise ships is reaching disturbing levels. Even though technology has drastically improved since the first cruise ships set sail over 100 years ago, our maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. continue to worry about the cruise industry’s safety standards.
Make no mistake, we think cruises are generally safe and an excellent, affordable vacation, but given what we do on a daily basis (help those seriously injured or harmed on cruise ships), we keep a laser-like focus on what is really on out of the public’s view.
Cruise lines are required by maritime law to keep both passengers and crew members safe from harm. But how exactly do they go about protecting those onboard?
For one, there are cameras onboard that monitor common areas. Unfortunately, these cameras aren’t monitored on a consistent basis. There are also certain safety protocols that cruise lines require their crew members to follow. Crew must be trained on how to properly handle emergency evacuations and must pass a background check, but even then, dangers can still be faced by everyone onboard. Some checks fail to provide the full scope of a potential new hire’s background, which means cruise lines can – and often do – inadvertently hire individuals with a criminal past or who have a history of mental disease.
The next line of defense the cruise industry has against crime onboard ships is to hire experienced security personnel. Let’s face it, even though crew members should be trained on how to monitor areas for signs of crime and how to apprehend suspects, many of the individuals who are involved in shipboard crimes are the crew members themselves! Enter security personnel to the rescue.
Naturally, since security officers on ships require a certain level of expertise and hold a greater level of responsibility, the hiring and training process is much more strict and detailed. Most major cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, adhere to similar hiring and training procedures for onboard security guards, but are shipboard security officers truly equipped to handle the range of incidents they may face on the high seas?
The answer to that question is not quite as clear cut as you might think. Let’s explore how shipboard security officers are screened and hired.
Many onboard security personnel – and even security leaders at cruise company headquarters – have one thing in common: they have previous experience working for a security or law enforcement position. Some onboard security officers even have military or government experience. In order to qualify for the onboard jobs, applicants are screened by employment agencies that conduct background checks. For those applying for top-level security positions, interviews are conducted in their home country by cruise line security directors. Applicants are asked a series of questions, mostly to assess how they would handle certain incidents if such a situation were to arise. Applicants are also required to pass language and writing tests.
But if this is the case, why do we continue to see horrific crimes take place onboard ships? And moreover, why are assailants so often able to get away?
If a security officer on a ship has prior experience in a similar – if not much more volatile – work setting, wouldn’t it make sense for crime to be almost non-existent on ships? It would, but given the fact that not all security officers actually have prior experience, a lot of evidence is going to fall through the cracks.
If cruise lines made it mandatory for ALL potential security guard hires to have previous training, then perhaps we would see a significant drop in cruise crime. But unfortunately, as it stands, this isn’t the case.
You may be wondering at this point why cruise lines don’t provide the actual training for these crew members? In Part 2 of our series, we’ll discuss the actual training process for onboard security officers and whether it is sufficient to protect passengers and crew members.