Most of the sexual assaults reported aboard cruise ships since 2010 occurred on vessels owned and operated by Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, according to an Insider analysis of data provided by the Department of Transportation.
Of the approximately 500 incidents of sexual assault documented aboard 13 major cruise lines from January 2010 to September 2022, about 70% happened on either Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships, Insider’s analysis found.
Royal Caribbean and Carnival both operate 24 ships. Carnival has recorded nearly double the number of reported sexual assaults aboard its ships since 2010.
“Carnival carries far more guests each year because we sail shorter itineraries so more people are boarding our ships each week,” said Chris Chiames, chief communications officer for Carnival.
Royal Caribbean did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
Congress passed a sweeping cruise-safety law in 2010 that requires cruise companies operating in and out of US ports to report crimes to the FBI. That data is published by the DOT.
Chiames said most of Carnival’s ships sail from the US, meaning more of its passenger data is captured by the DOT. “Caribbean uses their fleet in a much more global way. So more of our capacity and passenger counts fall under the DOT reporting system,” he said.
Sexual assault is consistently the most reported crime aboard major cruise lines, according to Insider’s analysis, making up about three-quarters of all crimes reported.
The DOT also tracks whether the reported incidents of assault were committed by passengers or crew members. On Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises, an overwhelming majority, or 82%, of the reported sexual assaults were found to have been committed by passengers, data showed. Less than 17% were identified as having been committed by a crew member.
There’s a good chance the data provided by the DOT is not actually reflective of the total number of sexual-assault incidents that occurred since 2010, maritime attorney Michael Winkleman said. The DOT data only includes reported incidents, so there are likely incidents that have gone either unreported or unaccounted for, Winkleman said.
Winkleman recently filed a lawsuit against Princess Cruises on behalf of a California woman who said she contracted HIV after a crew member raped her while on vacation aboard one of its ships in January 2022. DOT data revealed that the majority of reported sexual assaults on Princess Cruises were attributed to crew members.
Clients have told Winkleman that they’ve reported being sexually assaulted to cruise-line employees, only to have their experiences downplayed, he said.
“Because of that, unfortunately, a lot of victims are persuaded by that and end up not reporting it,” he said.
Winkleman said his law firm, Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, handles a significant number of cases that “involve minors who are raped or sexually assaulted that don’t report it on the ship.”
A 2013 congressional report found that up to a third of reported sexual assaults aboard cruise ships involved minors.
Winkleman said he believes Carnival might have more reported assaults because it markets itself as a “fun ship” that invites “excessive partying,” which can lead to impaired judgment. Royal Caribbean “tries to market itself as a little bit more vacation- and family-oriented,” Winkleman said.
RAINN, a nonprofit organization that focuses on anti-sexual-violence efforts, told Insider it works with some cruise lines to create training and safety procedures specifically to prevent sexual assault. In 2015, Royal Caribbean Cruises became the first corporation to earn a compliance certification from a program designed by RAINN to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Carnival was RAINN-certified before the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on cruises, and is in the process of getting reassessed with the nonprofit now.