Small Talk On Cruise Ship Safety

There was an interesting piece on CNBC, one of those orchestrated debates that pass for news coverage these days, about cruise ship safety. It was interesting mainly for how thoroughly it missed the point.

The piece started its rundown of recent cruise ship problems with the grounding of the Empress of the North off the coast of Alaska, without stopping to consider whether this is a typical mass-market cruise ship. It’s not.  Gene Sloan, The Cruise Log blogger for USA Today, presented a convincing argument that it’s not a cruise ship at all.

Strangely enough, the piece didn’t mention the sinking last month of the Greek ship Sea Diamond, which, though smaller and older than most modern cruise ships, is at least closer to the kind that most American tourists might sail on.

Of course there wasn’t any actual reporting on whether a cruise is more dangerous than say, a vacation at a resort on land. And clearly the script didn’t call for any meaningful analysis of cruise ship safety, because the host sneered down the travel columnist guest who tried to explain that cruise ships are subject mainly to the laws of the country whose flag they carry. This makes U.S. regulations a little touchy, and an attempt to deal with the way foreign-flagged ships operate may require a closer look at the whole, complicated enchilada.

I think there probably is a good hard look coming at the way that  ships carrying U.S. citizens from U.S. ports deal with crime and safety. And I think there ought to be. But it’s not an issue that’s going to be solved by oversimplification or exaggeration.

The only useful thoughts that emerged from the CNBC piece came from Kendall Carver of the International Cruise Victims Organization. He suggested that cruise ships could carry law enforcement officials, rather like sky marshals, who could independently investigate crimes on board.

That, at least,  is something to think about.


7 thoughts on “Small Talk On Cruise Ship Safety

  1. cruisemates

    As a cruise expert who is a good friend of the “sneered down” travel columnist on that piece, I can tell you it was extremely biased and that Randall Carver’s statements were flat-out wrong.
    The cruise industry as actually just too polite, sometimes, to speak the truth about Carver and other anti-cruise people. The truth is Anita Potter (the columnist) is exactly right, the statistics speak for themselves. In fact, Carver got his stat wrong in 2 huge ways. His own “statistician” (who isn’t one) said you are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship than in the USA (including all land mass), Carver said, “as in a major American City” – a far different stat. And the truth is both are huge exagerations. The truth is cruise ships are about 30 times safer than the average US city for crimes overall, and about 17 times safer for sexual assault than U.S. cities, according to the same statistician the U.S. Dept of Justice uses to compile the Uniform Crime Reporting stats for our cities.
    These people keep saying “the crimes are under-reported” but I worked on ships for years and they are not. If there were “unreported” victims out there, wouldn’t they be in the news and courts? It would take just a few minutes to find their cases online. There are attorneys looking to take their cases on who are actually behind some of these anti-cruise line web sites. So, where are the lawsuits? there aren’t any.
    The truth is that it is in the interest of people like Carver to exagerate the truth because he has an agenda. If he cited the true stats, no one would sympathise with him. Another truth, his missing daughter arrived on that ship with two purses and a manilla envelope. She paid in cash two days before it left and told no one where she was. She was obviously a suicide, as are the vast majority of people who go “missing” on ships which is a few every year. But Carver needs to blame the cruise line for what happened.
    As for his statistician, who isn’t. You are nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted in his home province of Newfoundland Canada than you are on a cruise ship (48 ships, 80 NF, out of 100,000) according to his OWN misguided stats! according to Canada’s own statistics for Newfoundland.
    The point is, this is a LOT of misinformation being said about cruise ships. There really isn’t that much crime on tham at all, and there are new protocols in place already for the cruise lines to report every crime to the FBI immediately and seal off the “crime scene” until it can be thoroughly investigated. Ships have “safety officers” in uniforam (newly established) to make sure the protocol is followed. They have “pelvic exam” kits on board, and newly esyablished procedures to train the ships doctos who to use them. Ships have the power of “arrest.”
    If you, as a taxpayer, wants to pay a sea marshall and a cruise line to have him cruise on ship where any kind of crime happens only a few times every year, fine. But the cruise industry thinks that is a waste of money and bureaucratic waffling, and so do I.
    Further, the Sea Diamond that sank, does not fall into our definition (at of cruise ship because we would never recommend it to our readers, It does not belong to CLIA, as do Princess, Carnival, Rpyal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America and all the cruise lines you know which are readily available to US passengers.
    Just a hunch, Jeanne Leblanc, but have you ever even been on a real cruise? Not an overnight gambling junket or a foreign ferry (like the Sea Diamond). Most people who have know the truth.

  2. safecruise

    Now posted At
    I have since learned that there have been no convictions for rape cases on cruise lines in four decades… Cruise industry executives testified last year before the House Government Reform Committee that 66 cases of sexual assault were reported from Royal Caribbean between 2003 and 2005. However, as a result of a civil lawsuit, Royal Caribbean was forced to turn over internal documents that showed that these numbers were actually much higher. Specifically, such cases had actually occurred 273 times over the three-year period in question.I have also come to learn that many of the crimes that were not reported involved minors. It seems impossible that Royal Caribbean would not consider these crimes worthy of reporting.
    -Opening remarks of Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui on March 27, 2007 at the hearing that Exposed Cruise Industry’s Lax Responses to Crimes Committed Onboard its Ships
    Do we need to send Chris Hanson on a Cruise?

  3. Jeanne Leblanc

    IN RESPONSE TO THE POST BELOW THAT ASKED “Just a hunch, Jeanne Leblanc, but have you ever even been on a real cruise? Not an overnight gambling junket or a foreign ferry (like the Sea Diamond). Most people who have know the truth.”
    Not just a hunch: ten cruises on Royal Caribbean. And I’ve written several travel stories about cruising. – Jeanne

  4. cruisemates

    I actually sent a letter to Jeanne apologizing to her about my remarks because I had misread them first thing in the morning. I didn’t expect them to be published, but since they were, let’s follow up.
    The fact is that when it came to the subsequent reporting of sexual incidents, there is a difference between sexual assaults and sexual incidents. according to the FBI. Hence – the on the new report included a greater number of incidents the FBI did not consider worth reporting on the first report. I have also seen these sexual incident reports: “a waiter touched me improperly when placing the napkin on my lap.” is one of the most common complaints.
    I have been in this industry for 25 years, and I will agree that in the past many cruise ships operated in a vacuum. A lot of it had to do with the isolation of those working on a cruise ship and their own personal desire not to jeopardize their own jobs when it came to scrutiny by the cruise line headquarters onshore.
    This led to a concerted effort by the cruise lines’ management to regain control over what happens on their ships. It has been a tough road, but it is finally paying off.
    The fact that in four decades there have been no convictions for rapes on a cruise ship leads to two places – that there were some cases where the assailiant did get away, but that there were also many cases where the allegation was unsubstantiated. The statistic does not say there were no hearings, trials, or civil suits. It says there were no convictions. That is a statistic the cruise industry can be proud of at least in many of those cases, and it isn’t fair to make it out to be solely a negative thing.
    Royal Caribbean has hired the former number 3 person at the FBI to be their new security officer, and I just spent 90 minutes on the phone with him. Just about a year into his job, he has already made major strides forward, and yet still hopes to accomplish much more.
    Though a great deal of his job concerns terrorism-related security, for our interview we chose to focus solely on passenger safety and crime reporting. He and I agree that the foremost challenge is establishing fleetwide procedures for the reporting and follow-up whenever a crime is reported by a passenger or crewmember on a cruise ship. There is now a new agreement in place with specific guidelines on how crimes on cruise ships will be reported. Every single allegation of a crime on a ship is now reported to the FBI. The cruise ship has no say in what is or is not reported. If anyone says there is a crime, a report is made to the FBI.
    To report the crime to the FBI, a named security officer onboard is contacted to call the mainland cruise line offices to give a full report based upon the questions the FBI recommends being asked. That procedure is set up for a uniform method of reporting by always using the same people and the same form. That person, in turn, makes the report to the FBI.
    The next step on board is securing the area for evidence collection. Processing of evidence is conducted by the FBI when the ship reaches its home port. That is at the direction of the FBI. The cruise lines are not evidence collection experts, and the FBI agrees that evidence is not perishable. Blood evidence, DNA, sperm, fibers, hair, etc are all things that will remain unchanged in an undisturbed crime scene.
    The exception is when a rape is reported, the cruise ship medical staff has the ability to perform a pelvic exam. In the interest of the victim, this is done right away. It is the same procedure as in done on land.
    It is in the cruise line’s best interest to make sure all evidence is preserved, as the last thing the industry wants to hear about these days is a case with no resolution. Look at the George Smith case, one of the few actual murder cases on a cruise ship in decades. Don’t you think the line would LOVE to know the truth in that case so it would not have had to endure all the negative speculation the ongoing investigation brought up?
    My point to all of this is, there are two sets of experts giving us stats about cruise ships. There the self-proclaimed (non) experts like Ross Klein ( and then there are the professional statisticians who are the same people who do the Universal Crime Reporting statistics for the U.S. Department of Justice. Klein says you are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship as in the U.S. – the DOJ statistician says you are 17 times safer from sexual assault on a cruise ship than in a major U.S. city.
    The cruise industry rarely gets a chance to answer these charges, because, as Jeanne points out, the media pounces on anyone who even tries to put these statistics into a fair light.
    I, for one, am just tired of this industry getting unfairly hounded. It is by far one of the safest vacations you can take. How many people get robbed, raped, murdered or go missing in Las Vegas every month? The average cruise ship has but a few “crimes” reported every year.
    As for the “un-reported cases” the critics keep talking about. If they are actual crimes, where are the victims? There are plenty of attorneys in Miami begging to represent them. Why aren’t the newspapers flooded with reports of these cases? Why am I, as the editor of a top consimer cruise guide,, not contacted by them all the time by victims?
    And the final question, regarding sea-marshalls. Yes, they would be good as a deterrent in those rare cases where crimes do occur. But the real concerns – suicides and domestic disputes, which make up by far the true legal incidences on cruise ships, they would be able to do very little to prevent that the cruise lines cannot already do.
    I understand the desire of the victims to have resolution in their lives, and I do agree that there have been incidences where mistakes were made. But this constant barrage of claims of ongoing cover-ups and hiding of statistics that are much higher than are being reported is simply unfounded.
    These claims of cover-up are based on a few cases that we keep hearing about over and over again. If there is a huge coverup of hundreds of more cases – why aren’t the other victims coming forward? where are they?
    The cruise line stats are accurate, they are not covering up anything. Some mistakes were made in the past, but today they fully realize that full disclosure is in their best interest.

  5. Todd De Haven

    First of all, I have absolutely no irons in this fire. I am but a consumer who as a retired New York State Certified Police Instructor for a large state law enforcement organization, has been fortunate to take but one nine day cruise. I am, however, rather well read and as should every person, realize that statistics can be screwed to validate anyone’s point. I must agree that as a frequent reader of the individual from Canada the validity of whose statistics came under question, he certainly has taken more than the usual liberties with same. But c’mon, whether or not you are fond of or totally despise the industry, all a supporter has to do is step up to the podium with the following:
    The facts of the matter are simply:
    1. Cruising is exploding in popularity the world over and commensurately so is the industry.
    2. The industry wide satisfaction factor is at a level that entire segments of the leisure time industry only dream about.
    3. Cruising is safer when it comes to both crimes of violence and illness than it is to live and/or work in the overwhelming number of urban and suburban areas in the United States.
    To show how ridiculous one can get with statistics, I need only ask you, How many persons were killed worldwide in the last ten years on civilian airliners as opposed to those who died on cruise ships? Get my point?
    Yes, the industry does suffer embarrassments and problems but I dare say they’re far fewer than most other areas of the travel and leisure industry and again just look at it’s satisfaction index. Now check out the airline industry’s again.
    For those who are wondering why less than a handful of major cruise vessels are registered under the American Flag and therefore are under more control by our laws, I can assure you that the reasons have absolutely nothing to do with those laws and little to do with other governmental regulation. I would suggest you direct your inquiry more toward why the American maritime unions suffered such a precipitous fall in total membership from the level of the early sixties and compare that with the relatively recent virtual financial collapse of the American automobile industry and the commensurate loss of jobs therein. I believe you’ll find some distinct major comparisons there.
    The news media will ALWAYS highlight the rare incident (i.e.: an intoxicated pilot or cruise ship captain) simply because of its rarity.
    And let’s also be realistic. Aren’t most of us always complaining about the lack of common sense in our own society?
    ‘Nuff said.
    Todd De Haven
    Home state: Tennessee

  6. ellie

    My family (22 of us) took a Royal Carribean cruise during Xmas of 2004. Our family included a bunch of teenagers, 13-18, and they were consistently served alcohol throughout the ship bars. On New Year’s Eve, the waiters were handing out full bottles of champagne to anyone with a free hand. My 14 yr old daughter was caught up in the huge partying crowd, and swept off her feet by a 20 yr old romeo. She got very drunk, was raped, and never saw the young man again after that night. She suffers from PTSD and is currently in a residential treatment center. I do not believe that Royal Carribean has adequate controls on limiting access to alcohol, and that this contributed to the devastating circumstances that befell my daughter. I think parents should be aware of this danger and that Cruise management needs much stronger rules that are rigorously enforced.


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