Cruise ship sexual assault and rape are the most common crimes reported onboard cruise lines. Unfortunately, cruise companies are not required to report the number of sexual crimes that take place aboard their vessels, and the policies regarding investigations aren’t always thorough.
Recently, an 18-year-old passenger who was strip and cavity searched while onboard the Carnival Cruise Line vessel, Carnival Sensation, last year has filed a lawsuit against the line after being subjected to extreme sexual harassment and other derogatory conduct.
The victim, whose real name is withheld from the lawsuit because she was a minor when the incident occurred, was accused of having marijuana in her stateroom and despite three crewmembers failing to find any sign of illicit substances in her cabin, was given a genital cavity search, without any adult guardians present or notified of the matter.
While the incident is appalling, the rights of cruise ship passengers are constantly being violated while at sea and in port. Lipcon’s Michael A. Winkleman, a maritime trial and appellate attorney, was interviewed by NBC News in a feature titled Strip-search lawsuit exposes paradox of cruise ship passenger rights regarding the sexual harassment matter, and explained that while U.S. passengers are protected by U.S. and international maritime laws, especially in the event of a serious crime, cruise lines will still attempt to bypass these laws, arguing their own set of rules as laid out in their passenger ticket contracts.
“When you go on a cruise ship, you are in the territory of the flag of the country the ship is registered in,” Attorney Winkleman told NBC News. “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.”
Although the ticket contracts do provide cruise lines with a certain level of authority, there is a limit to which they can exert that power, especially if it infringes upon a passenger’s basic civil rights.
In this particular case, the three crewmembers involved in the incident went too far. Cruise ship crewmembers do not have the authority to conduct a strip or cavity search, especially when there was no sign that the young victim was in possession of narcotics.