Sailing in Troubled Waters


By Brittany Oakley
English 12 Honors / 2nd Block-Ms. Henderson

Can you imagine going on a cruise with your family and returning home without your brother or sister, because they have disappeared into thin air or become a victim of a tragic accident? This is a harsh reality for many families, who are left with no where to turn when they are victimized aboard a cruise ship. They turn to the cruise line for help, only to find later that the cruise line is more interested in protecting themselves and keeping their tragedy a secret. Between the years 2003 and 2006, two hundred and six crimes were reported aboard cruise ships, eighty six percent of which were sexual assaults. Although the number seems to be extremely low, the industry is only required to report incidents that result in serious physical injuries, and reporting is left up to the cruise line with no oversight (Lipcon 39-41).

In 1993, the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that the safety of United States (U.S.) citizens onboard cruise ships could be enhanced and recommended that the Coast Guard seek to improve the international regime of regulating cruise ships. The GAO emphasized that the growth of cruising and the increasing size of cruise ships has created a “serious potential for a high loss of life” (“GAO Urges Coast Guard to Improve Cruise Ship Safety” NP). During the years 2003 through 2006, twenty-eight cruise ship passengers were reported as missing, but it remains to be determined by U.S. lawmakers if these missing person cases were reported properly and investigated thoroughly (“Congress Questions Cruise Ship Safety and Security” NP). The International Cruise Victims Association (ICV) was formed early in 2006 by eight families with relatives who disappeared from cruise ships. A spokesman of the ICV stated in a congressional hearing, “The number of disappearances plus the number of sexual assaults is alarming. The only way they’re going to change is by Congress regulating them” (Lipcon 4-5). The ICV is currently being successful at getting Congress to hear their positions, but lobbyist for the cruise lines continue to be very effective in convincing our lawmakers that the industry is concerned enough about the negative publicity to take care of passenger safety and security problems without the need for regulations (Klein, “Cruise Ship Squeeze” 195).

There are many personal tragedies aboard cruise ships, but most are unreported due to disclaimers or settled by payoffs in return for secrecy, and the real causes of these tragedies are never known. Consequently, Congress has not determined that the U.S. should place additional regulations on cruise ships that sail in and out of our ports in order to provide for the safety and security of our citizens. Any cruise ship that operates out of a U.S. port should be subjected to U.S. rules and regulations, and the safety and security of the passengers should be of paramount concern to the cruise line industry and the U.S. Government. However, numerous problems continue to exist within the industry.

The cruise lines do not call in authorities immediately, interfere with investigations, and seem to be more interested in avoiding negative publicity than punishing the guilty. Complaints of sexual assault are quietly settled with victims in return for their silence (“Victims of Crimes Urge Federal Regulations on Cruise Ships” NP). Industry lawyers are flown in to intimidate victims to sign confidentiality agreements. Threatening to subpoena schools records to raise questions in the community about the family or victim’s character is a common technique used by the lawyers. In some cases, victims are given sedatives or liquor, so they will give an incoherent account of the incident. In most cases, the victim agrees to a settlement with the cruise line. (Lipcon 63-72) Janet Kelly, a business woman and cruise-crime victim was drugged and raped by a bartender aboard a cruise ship in 2000. The assailant continued to work on the same cruise ship for months before the FBI interviewed him and examined the evidence. Eventually, by filing a civil suit, she was able to successfully settle a lawsuit against the cruise line. Point in fact, the assailant was fired and rehired by another cruise line. Janet is one of the few that have been allowed to subsequently discuss their settlement, because she refused to be silenced (“Congress Questions Cruise Ship” NP).

Cruise ships are known for using certain tactics to avoid publicity and settle with underrepresented and injured passengers, and the captains are known to receive large bonuses for trips without complaints. A common practice is to delay reporting a crime by telling the victim that the FBI has been contacted, offering a cabin upgrade, or trying to get them off the ship. In many cases, the accused perpetrator is removed from the ship and sent home to a foreign country, where they cannot be tracked. Crewmen who commit or witness crimes are known to lie to avoid retaliation by the cruise line. Often crimes occur on the last day of a cruise, and the victim does not have time to report the complaint while onboard. Later, they find that complaints not filed while onboard are not entertained by the cruise line. In one case, a Massachusetts woman was assaulted by a cabin steward on the last day of her cruise as she was packing to leave. She didn’t have time to report it, but told another passenger and dropped a note in the suggestion box. When she got home, she wrote a letter to the cruise line, but was told there was nothing they could do, because she did not report the crime while onboard (Lipcon 69).

Another known tactic to avoid publicity is sloppy investigations. Numerous problematic actions are completed by the cruise line’s security personnel before the FBI is contacted: failure to adequately secure the crime scene, passengers who should be interviewed as witnesses are not, and passengers are interviewed without audio or videotape. In addition to the fact that the security guards are known for being inadequately trained, in some cases having only eight hours of training, the security guards completing crime investigations have limited ability to communicate in English, which limits their ability to communicate with the victim and possible witnesses (Lipcon 64-69).

The medical staff members aboard the cruise ships are not properly trained and do not have adequate test equipment to investigate crimes. Medical records are found to be incomplete. Rape test kits are not used on rape victims, and saliva tests are not used on rape suspects. The American Medical Association (AMA) called on Congress for federal legislation to establish minimum standards for medical care on all cruise ships, but Congress is dragging their feet and no legislation has been passed. In the case of Elizabeth Carlisle, she complained of abdominal and lower back pain. Without examining her, Dr. Mauro Neri diagnosed her with the flu and prescribed an antibiotic. Her condition worsened and when she arrived back in Michigan, it was discovered that she had a ruptured appendix and massive infection. The delay and misdiagnosis left her with lifelong problems. In another case, James Curtis was found unconscious in a restroom. When revived, he complained of stomach pain, so he was put on intravenous medication. His pains were caused by an abdominal rupture, which required a transfusion. Improper diagnosis delayed treatment and he died.

Many people die onboard cruise ships; undoubtedly, some could be prevented if the proper medical care were offered. A ship’s medical care is equivalent to the care available at a walk-in clinic. However, emergencies are bound to occur on ships that require medical care equivalent to that provided by hospital emergency rooms. Margaret DiBari complained of chest pains and difficulty breathing. She was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. Later, she was hospitalized and died in intensive care after experiencing a second heart attack. In another case, Janice Hatch went to the ship infirmary to have her blood sugar checked. The doctor and nurse said it was extremely high and administered insulin. She went into insulin shock. Her husband used his wife’s glucose meter to check her blood sugar, which indicated it was too low. Glucose was administered, but she was left permanently disoriented (Lipcon 86-88).

Cruise ships operate under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) (“International Maritime Organization” NP). The IMO is an agent of the United Nations and represents 152 major maritime nations. While aiming at providing a safe and organized industry, it does not protect individual rights of U.S. citizens or guarantee any form of humane treatment for cruise ship employees (“International Maritime Organization” NP). The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) focuses on the rights of workers on all ships, and is actively engaged in a campaign to end the “flags of convenience” practice, a practice under which cruise ships can avoid U.S. taxes and regulations (Klein, “Cruise Ship Blues” 120-141). “Flags of Convenience” is a Jones Act Law from the Roosevelt administration that was passed to protect U.S. ships during wartime, under which U.S. ships were allowed to register in other countries and by doing so, were less apt to be attacked. After the war, the law was not repealed, just like many laws that remain on the books forever. Cruise lines have found it to be a good means to avoid paying U.S. taxes and the restrictions associated with employees when subjected to U.S. regulations, and lobbyists for the industry have been successful in convincing Congress that it should not addressed.

Cruise ship employees are hired with promises of high paying jobs. They become disillusioned, angry and are vulnerable to take bribes or commit other criminal activity. Cruise ships are run like sweatshops with workers being underpaid, required to work long hours, and poorly treated (Lipcon 43). Some people believe that cruise ship employees are involved in “Trafficking in Women,” a term used to describe taking women into captivity for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which is a criminal phenomenon in which cruise ship employees are paid to drug women and allow them to be taken by captors to other countries where the women end up in the sex trade.

Cruise lines are exempt from the U.S. laws that help provide for our safety and security. The ICV speaking for the families and friends of victims, joined Congressman Christopher Shays and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in June of 2006 when the Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistic Act (CLASS) was introduced (Lipcon 53-61). In 2004, Kendall Carver did not return from a cruise, and the cruise line made no effort to notify the family or authorities (“Victims of Crimes Urge” NP). In August 2005, George Smith, IV disappeared from a cruise ship while on his honeymoon after a horrific thud was heard and blood was found on the overhang of the balcony below. The cruise ship provided no information or assistance. In another situation, Christopher Caldwell was thirty-eight years old when he disappeared from a Carnival Cruise Ship in July 2004. His sister, Shannon Nowlan testified about the lack of assistance and cooperation from the cruise line. She also conveyed that the cruise line showed no sympathy toward her brother’s situation. In a similar manner, Amy Lynn Bradley was twenty-three years old when she disappeared from a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship in 1998. Many sightings of Amy have been reported, but none have led to finding Amy. Amy’s family is still searching for answers and closure (Lipcon 55-56). All of these cases have one thing in common, the poor assistance and cooperation they received from the cruise line, and the lack of laws to hold the cruise line responsible or accountable for their actions.

Laws governing cruise ship operations and the small print on cruise tickets are skewed in favor of the cruise lines, which make it virtually impossible for families to hold any of the cruise lines accountable or to be compensated for losses. (Lipcon 64-68) The cruise ticket entitles the passenger to three meals a day and travel, nothing else. Ira and Myrtle Leonard were robbed of jewelry valued at $6,774. It was not reported by the cruise line as a crime, because it was less than $10,000. A disclaimer on the ticket exempted Royal Caribbean of any responsibility, leaving the couple with a civil suit as the only alternative, which would not have been cost-effective. Unlike in most U.S. states that give two to four years to sue, passengers on ships must file a claim within six months and begin the lawsuit within one year to receive any compensation for physical injury. Also, the cruise lines can pick the location where victims can sue (Lipcon 28-29).

In spite of the numerous tragedies that occur aboard cruise ships, there are many counter-arguments that are used by lobbyists to support the status quo position. Richard Fain, the chairman of the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) argues, “There is no question, the cruise line industry is safer and more environmentally friendly today than it was five years ago” (“Safety Officials, ICCL Pledge to Cooperate” NP). News of injuries and accidents are creating doubts about the safety of cruise vacations and are threatening the $15 billion industry. The industry’s sales have slowed and discounts are up, particularly for Caribbean vacations (“Cruise Ship Incidents Hurting Industry” NP). It is in the best interest of the cruise lines to establish their own standards and avoid the negative publicity caused by injuries and accidents (International Council of Cruise Lines’ Members to Set New Mandatory Safety and Environmental Standards” NP). Representative John Duncan insists, “If we over-regulate, it could make it so expensive that only wealthy people could take cruises” (“Victims of Crimes Urge” NP). Regulating cruise ships sailing from U.S. home ports would require the ship to be registered in the U.S., and would cause the cruise line to be taxed as any other U.S. business. In order to be able to pay the taxes and meet the requirements of increased regulations, the cruise lines would have to raise the price of a cruise ticket significantly (Klein, “Cruise Ship Blues” 140).

Alaska is one state that does not allow any cruise ship to enter its ports without complying with U.S. rules and regulations. No “flags of convenience” are allowed, and their cruise industry is thriving (Klein, “Cruise Ship Blues” 101-102). In 2006, Michael Crye, president of the ICCL, reported to Congress that cruise lines appear to have a relatively low crime rate when compared with many American communities, and the cruise industry is thirty times safer than American communities in general. Charles Lipcon, maritime lawyer for the victims, explained that cruise line reporting requirements allow only thefts over $10,000 to be reported, and a majority of sex crimes are never reported due to the lack of federal oversight. Lipcon also asserts, “The cruise lines are silently working against the victim.” Cruise lines control the scene of the crime, the witnesses, and the evidence, all of which is filtered through their risk-management department (“Congress Questions Cruise Ship Safety and Security” NP).

The safety and security of cruise ship passengers can only be accomplished by subjecting any cruise ship that operates out of a U.S. port to U.S. rules and regulations. It is a concern for all cruise ship passengers, because they are unsafe when outside of U.S. laws. It is important to cruise line employees, because they are treated inhumanely and subjected to unfair labor practices when not protected by U.S. laws. As concerned citizens, average people can write letters to Congress Members, U.S. Coast Guard Officials, and politicians at any level of government (“Cruise Ship Incidents Hurting” NP). Television and other media can focus on the education of potential cruise ship passengers, by raising the public awareness of the safety and security hazards. Cruise ship passengers can take responsibility for their own safety and security by increasing their awareness and avoiding potentially hazardous situations. Individuals can unite with the ICV or other local organizations to lobby congress to do something about the lack of regulation regarding safety and security of passengers of cruise ships (Lipcon 88-91). Consumers and citizens need to ensure that cruise ships are held accountable for their actions (“Cruise Ship Incidents Hurting” NP).

Holding cruise lines accountable will require government intervention. Congress needs to pass H.R. 5707, “Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistics (CLASS)” Act, which requires all disappearances of passengers be reported to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 4 hours. Under H.R. 5707, the cruise company must submit a quarterly report of each crime, missing person, or man overboard case to the DHS, where it will be posted on the Internet. The DHS will inspect each cruise ship that docks at a U.S. port to ensure adequate equipment and trained personnel to investigate crimes (“Victims of Crimes Urge” NP). Cruise companies must refer potential cruise ticket buyers to an Internet site with all cruise crime statistics, the name of each country the ship is visiting, and the location of the U.S. embassy and consulate in each country. U.S. Sea Marshalls, as proposed by the ICV at the 2006 hearing of the House subcommittee, should be on all cruise ships to provide for the safety and security of the passengers. These Sea Marshalls must have the credentials necessary to conduct a thorough and timely investigation of all reported crimes. Most importantly, our lawmakers need to repeal the outdated “Flags of Convenience” law and pass new laws that will hold cruise lines accountable for negligence and crimes committed by employees (Lipcon 81-83). “The message must be delivered to the cruise lines that if they take passengers from a United States port, they are responsible to return them safely or be held accountable if they commit crimes or acts of gross negligence” (“Victims of Crimes Urge” NP).

Once again, imagine going on a cruise and returning home without a family member, because they have disappeared into thin air or become a victim of a tragic accident. When this realization becomes clear, stand up and support U.S. government regulation of the cruise line industry.

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