Teen Sues Carnival Cruise Lines After Crewmembers Subjected Her to Strip and Cavity Search

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Sexual crimes, including sexual assault and rape, are the most common crimes that take place onboard cruise lines, but the sad reality is that not all incidents are reported. Between 2003 and 2006 alone, 86 percent of the 206 crimes that were actually reported aboard cruise vessels were sexually related. And that is just the number of sex crimes that have actually been reported; for all we know, there may be hundreds more that are never brought to light, either because the victim was afraid for their lives or embarrassed to come forward, thinking not much could be done in their favor, or, the cruise line failed to properly conduct an investigation or simply chose to ignore the issue.

Cruise ship sexual assault cases can involve both passengers and crewmembers, and can occur onboard the vessel or in port. The important thing to remember is that all victims have a right to seek legal help and if the cruise line won’t do anything about the matter, victims can elevate the incident themselves and seek legal help with a cruise rape lawyer and with the FBI or local police.

This is exactly what one teenage girl has done, following a horrendous sexual harassment incident that took place onboard a Carnival Cruise Lines vessel. As if Carnival Corp. wasn’t being scrutinized enough for its lack of safety and series of accidents, including the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire, Costa Concordia capsizing and another recent report of rape onboard the Grand Princess, now, a young girl has come forward and sued the “Fun Ship” company and three of its employees, claiming she was strip-searched and subjected to derogatory and humiliating acts.

The victim, only 18 years old, was identified as “J.G.” to protect her identity because she was a minor when the sexual harassment incident occurred. J.G. had been sailing on the Carnival Sensation last April with her family and friends when after a port call in Nassau, Bahamas, three crewmembers, including a security guard, interrogated and detained the then 17-year-old passenger on suspicion of possession of marijuana.

A security officer allegedly found a bag of marijuana in the elevator where J.G., her mother and a friend were riding in, then proceeded to enter J.G.’s cabin, which she was sharing with another female minor. The security officer was accompanied by a female crewmember and male housekeeping manager when he entered the room. No efforts were made to contact the girls’ guardians or advise them of their rights. As minors, whether on the high seas or not, the girls should not have been interrogated without an adult guardian present. Yet, it appears as though Carnival has broken maritime law once again, when the security officer disregarded all possible rules regarding privacy and laws protecting minors.

After the three crewmembers searched the cabin, no trace of marijuana or other illegal substances was uncovered. Yet, instead of leaving the stateroom, the crewmembers allegedly “threatened, coerced, and required J.G. to remove her panties, lift her dress to her waist and expose her nakedness to all agents in the cabin.”

But the appalling actions of the crewmembers did not stop there; J.G. was then allegedly forced to urinate in front of crewmembers, was told to remove a tampon and was then subjected to a genital cavity search before being booked and escorted off the vessel, along with her mother. The victim alleges she was then placed in an adult cell in the Bahamas and assaulted while in custody. Once released, the victim and her mother were forced to find their own transportation home.

While Carnival doesn’t usually comment on sexual crime cases, the line issued a statement regarding the lawsuit, dismissing the allegations as “far-fetched.”

“The claim that the plaintiff was strip searched is patently false and obviously made in retaliation for the cruise line having disembarked the plaintiff and her mother part-way through the voyage in Nassau where the plaintiff was taken into custody by the Bahamian police,” read the statement.

Unfortunately, this is just one of the many incidents that Carnival has been facing as of late and further shows just how little passenger rights are respected across cruise lines. Although lines sometimes try to avoid taking responsibility for accidents or cruise ship crimes at sea or in port by using the old “our vessel flies a foreign flag” excuse, when it comes to an incident of such magnitude like a cruise ship rape or sexual assault, U.S. passengers are protected by international maritime law, U.S. laws. Yet, cruise lines will still try to push their passenger ticket contracts, and try to bend the rules as much as possible in their favor.

As our maritime attorney Michael A. Winkleman explained to NBC News, cruise ship criminal cases follow a completely different jurisdiction than other types of incidents, but that doesn’t mean cruise lines will follow the law.

“When you go on a cruise ship, you are in the territory of the flag of the country the ship is registered in. But where you have a possible criminal case, different types of intervening jurisdictions can apply — the Coast Guard, the FBI — although the only real authority on the ship is the cruise line itself,” explained Attorney Winkleman.

Ticket contracts give cruise lines the authority to search guests and their belongings, and if they refuse to comply, may be thrown off the ship. This rule can at times protect passengers from harm, but at what point do cruise lines take their authority too far?

The authorizations to search guests do not exonerate crew members from assaults on passengers. Nor do the authorizations limit the liability of the cruise line for the crewmembers negligence. Such instances of negligence or assault are clearly actionable and , in the case of assault, subject the cruise line to vicarious liability for the intentional torts of its crewmembers.

J.G. has sued Carnival on grounds of “negligence, fraud, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress” and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the pain and suffering she was forced to endure. The case is now headed to court.