Cruise Ship Law

Are Cruise Ship Security Personnel Sufficiently Equipped to Handle Crimes at Sea? (Part 2)


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Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

Security guardIn Part 1 of our blog installment, our maritime lawyers discussed the significance of onboard safety and how cruise lines go about protecting those onboard from harm. Cruise lines employ several tactics to reduce crime and accident levels on ships, including installing surveillance cameras and performing background checks on potential crew members, but oftentimes, these methods fall short. As we previously mentioned, one of the best options cruise lines have to maintain shipboard safety is to hire trained security guards who know how to spot crimes, who can efficiently prevent situations from escalating and above all, who can ensure a victim obtains justice.

Though all potential cruise line crew members undergo screening for their positions, as would be imagined, individuals applying for a security guard position are generally more thoroughly evaluated. We discussed the screening process employed by the majority of cruise lines in our last blog, but in essence, applicants are given hypothetical scenarios and asked how they would handle them, if such an incident were to arise onboard a ship.

Many cruise line security guards have prior experience in security, law enforcement and even military combat, but unfortunately, this is only a plus, not an actual requirement for employment. So what does this mean for the safety of passengers and crew on ships? Well, in all honesty, if “security guard” with no prior security experience is charged with the extremely important task of monitoring a huge vessel (and the 3,000+ people that may be on it), it is very likely that there will be crimes that go unnoticed, unreported, improperly documented, and, worst of all, assailants may even be able to get away with their offenses.

Which brings us to our next topic: training. Ok, we understand that the cruise industry is one that is rooted in entertainment, not law enforcement. But as experienced maritime lawyers, we also recognize the growing need for security personnel who actually know what they are doing.

Turn on the TV or read the paper on any given day and you might likely find an article reporting on a cruise ship crime. While out at sea, cruise ships are isolated. There’s no law enforcement authority on a ship, which means the only real line of defense against crimes onboard is the security crew that’s employed to protect the ship. Victims can’t just call 911 and they most certainly cannot “escape” from the cruise ship to find help. This means that before a ship sets sail, a crew of very skilled and adept security guards should be aboard, ready and able to stop the bad guys.

First and foremost, it should be a requirement for cruise lines to hire ONLY experienced security personnel, but the main reason this doesn’t happen is because it costs a lot of money to hire someone with such specialized training. The same goes for hiring trained lifeguards. So, cruise lines often settle for the cheaper, and often worse option of hiring someone they imagine might do a good job or who has “a bit” of experience.

Cost also plays a major role in the actual training of a cruise line security guard. As you might imagine, an individual who is hired as an onboard security officer is not going to go into some sort of special security boot camp – though if we had our way, they would. Yes, newly hired security guards will generally undergo training, but what they will actually learn is nowhere near the amount of knowledge that would be required of such a position in order to efficiently serve and protect those onboard.

Let’s explore the actual training process to see just how well-equipped shipboard security guards really are.


The Training Process

Onboard security officers must undergo additional levels of training than is required of the average crew member. These training protocols ensure security personnel are able to handle a range of incidents, from minor altercations to terrorist threats. The training also teaches security guards how to spot crimes in the making and how to report incidents accurately and thoroughly.

However, despite the fact that cruise ships are often the setting for violent crimes like sexual assault, security guards are not as thoroughly trained as one might desire. In fact, shipboard security offers are typically NOT trained in traditional law enforcement techniques or proper law enforcement interrogation procedures by the cruise lines employing them. This oversight allows for a margin of error when it comes to effectively reporting crimes and apprehending criminals.

Interestingly enough, cruise line security guards are provided with FBI instruction on how to collect written statements from victims, witnesses and suspects, as well as how to preserve crime scenes and evidence. But is this enough? Given the high level of crimes onboard ships, we certainly don’t think so.

In order to properly document crimes, it is crucial that security officers are able to properly investigate incidents. Taking written statements is not enough. Many assailants are able to get away because traditional law enforcement procedures are not in place. Once a ship is in international waters or in a foreign port, it’s much more difficult for victims to obtain justice. U.S. laws likely will not apply and it will be up to the nation in question as to how the criminal investigation will unfold. And unfortunately, many foreign countries cruise ships call on do not have the same rigorous crime laws the U.S. employs.

While cruise lines do take the time to provide security personnel with yearly training updates, during which new safety policies and procedures are explained, it’s simply not enough. Far too many crimes are happening on the high seas and this fact alone should prompt cruise lines to improve their training policies – along with their hiring process.

The idea of a cruise line police academy might sound silly, but it might save lives. According to data from cruise expert Prof. Ross Klein, found on his site, this year alone, a total of 12 victims have fallen overboard from ships…that is, that we know of. Had well-experienced and trained security personnel been patrolling the decks and monitoring surveillance footage properly, perhaps many of these overboard incidents would have been prevented.

Bottom line, cruise lines have a responsibility under maritime law to provide a reasonably safe shipboard environment. Sort of safe just doesn’t cut it. Are shipboard security guards sufficiently equipped to handle crimes at sea? In our opinion, no. In fact, given the fact that ships are isolated in the middle of the ocean for the majority of an itinerary, onboard security officers should receive even better training than land-based officers to compensate for the lack of resources available on a ship and remote location. Now, will cruise lines follow our advice? We can only hope.

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