The sexual attack on a Holland America passenger on Valentine’s Day raised several red flags regarding the cruise industry. Our maritime lawyers were appalled to learn that a crewmember onboard the MS Amsterdam illegally entered a passenger’s cabin and brutally attacked, raped and attempted to murder her. The worker, a 28-year-old room service attendant, used his company-issued master key to enter the victim’s room after plotting the attack. According to perpetrator, the victim allegedly insulted him, which prompted his sexual assault.
As shocking as it is to learn that a crewmember can break into a passenger cabin so easily to commit a sexual crime, this isn’t the first time – nor likely the last – that a crewmember has attacked a passenger. In fact, this is the SECOND sexual assault crime to occur onboard a Holland America ship in less than two months! Our firm’s maritime attorney Jason Margulies is currently representing the victim in the prior case, an 18-year-old passenger who was reportedly assaulted by a ship’s officer aboard the MS Amerstadam.
Now, our firm is even more shocked to learn that the crewmember involved in the most recent crime is being provided legal assistance by the Indonesian government after confessing to his brutal crimes.
According to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, “Our approach is always same in which we always make sure that every Indonesia citizen facing a legal problem abroad has his or her rights fully respected.”
He added that while the alleged sexual assault crime occurred overseas (off the coast of Honduras), the government will not ignore the incident and will provide legal assistance to the crewmember.
However, Jason Margulies has handled another case where an Indonesian crewmember also confessed to sexually assaulting a passenger aboard a cruise ship and, after his arrest, the Indonesian government never provided him with legal assistance; rebuking the Indonesian Foreign Minister’s statements regarding their policy approach. It appears something more is going on here!
The assailant was detained immediately following the assault after he confessed to the crime. He was then turned over to the FBI and is currently being held in a Florida jail on rape and attempted murder charges.
Is it harmful to the United States for the Indonesian Government to offer legal assistance in this case. Jason Margulies believes that it is: “As we have previously explained, assaults on passengers aboard cruise ships is one of the greatest hazards of cruising. In the past, we have seen that, generally, after a crewmember is accused of sexually assaulting a passenger – they are generally fired by the cruise line and repatriated to their home country. Very, very infrequently are they arrested in the United States. This, in turn became common knowledge among the crew that the worst probable consequence of sexually assaulting a passenger is loss of their job and repatriation back to their home country. Because of this lack of deterrence, we saw an increase in the number of incidents of sexual assaults aboard cruise ships. Now, here is a government of a country which ‘exports’ a lot of cruise ship labor offering to protect one of its countrymen after they have confessed to committing a brutal crime on a U.S. passenger aboard a cruise. This too, sends the same message to crewmembers alike – rape a passenger and your country may do their best to protect you from prosecution in the United States – what a deal!”
Unfortunately, many crewmembers are given the benefit of a doubt in sexual crime cases, much to the dismay of victims and lawyers alike. Cruise lines have been criticized for concealing information regarding sexual assault crimes, for oftentimes even failing to report incidents to the FBI, and for downplaying the attack itself.
Despite the two sexual assaults onboard the MS Amsterdam in recent weeks, the line’s CEO issued a statement saying, “To our knowledge, no incident like this has occurred in our company’s 140-year history.” HAL’s CEO, Stein Kruse, is clearly trying to pull the proverbial wool over everyone’s eyes. “Unless you take that statement to mean that something so specific to the facts of this incident has never happened before – like someone with the same first and last name as this passenger has never before been the victim of a crewmember attack aboard a Holland America ship – Kruse’s quote is completely misleading,” cautions Jason Margulies.
Besides a crew on passenger sexual assault aboard a Holland America ship reportedly occurring less than two months before the February 14 assault, back in 2010, Coast Guard data shows that Holland America reported four alleged sexual assault incidents to the FBI, two of which were committed by the line’s own crewmembers. Did Holland America just forget?
And what message is Stein Krause sending to the crewmembers Holland America employs? It’s ok to be misleading to the public?
This raises serious concerns regarding the management of Holland America!
Holland America is a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. Back in 2010, a man who had previously been accused of sexual assault who was on California’s “most wanted” list was found working onboard the Carnival Splendor. When questioned about the matter, Carnival was immediately (and not surprisingly) on the defense, claiming the perpetrator was not an actual employee of the cruise line. Instead, the line claimed the suspect was a staffer working in the ship’s spa and was hired by Steiner, an outside company that runs spas for several cruise lines, including Carnival.
But whether or not the man was hired by an outside agency or not, the fact remains that cruise lines should always screen their potential crewmembers thoroughly. Sometimes, as in this recent case, a background check comes up clean. But most of the time, sexual assailants are repeat offenders. The problem lies in the fact that many of a cruise line’s crewmembers are foreign-born. This means that obtaining an accurate background check may not be easy, especially when it’s fairly simple to forge a document. Additionally, a sexual predator may commit a crime outside their home country or outside the country where they are being hired and the offense may not show up on that particular country’s background check. This is what happened in the case of the Carnival Splendor assailant.
However, relying solely on a background check has been shown to be insufficient. It is extremely important for cruise lines to have adequate security aboard their ships, monitor both crew and passengers more effectively, and institute better policies and procedures to protect passengers against sexual assaults on board.
Unfortunately, until the cruise lines put more of a priority on protecting passengers from assaults aboard cruise ships, we expect to continue to hear reports of sexual assaults aboard the cruise ships. One way they can do this is to create a culture which makes it very clear that crewmembers who clearly commit crimes against passengers will not be assisted by the cruise lines or their home country’s government.