Crimes on Cruise Ships: 3 Things to Know

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 21, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cruise ships are often a focal point of criminal activity, with unsuspecting passengers often turning into unwitting victims.

This concept doesn't need to be explained to a 31-year-old Holland America passenger who was allegedly beaten and raped by a cruise ship attendant on Valentine's Day, Reuters reports. Holland America claims this incident is the first in its 140-year history, but is this sort of crime that uncommon on cruise ships?

Here's an overview of what cruise passengers need to know about onboard crimes:

1. Crimes on the High Seas.

Hearing "crimes on the high seas" may sound like the tagline of the newest pirate flick, but this typically refers to crimes which occur out of the territorial waters of any particular state. High seas crimes outside of U.S. territorial waters may fall under various countries' laws depending on:

  • Whether the ship is in another state's territorial waters,
  • The nationality of the ship,
  • The nationality of the victim, and
  • The nationality of the defendant.

Cruise ships have the nationality of the country whose flag they fly and where they are registered. According to USA Today, only one major cruise ship is registered in the United States, while the rest are registered in the Bahamas, Panama, Bermuda, Italy, Malta, or the Netherlands.

Many of these ships are registered in foreign countries to avoid U.S. regulations or more restrictive laws, but crimes against Americans on cruise ships which either depart or arrive in America are under U.S. jurisdiction.

2. What Happens to Suspects at Sea?

When criminals are apprehended for committing a crime while on a cruise ship, the captain of the ship has several options:

  • Detain them in the ship's jail or "brig,"
  • Allow them to pay a fine (if it is a finable offense), or
  • Restrict them from leaving the ship until the proper authorities arrive.

The authority and discretion of the captain is protected by admiralty law.

3. Reporting Crimes on Cruise Ships.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, your chance of being assaulted on a cruise ship are about as likely as on any given city street. Like crimes which happen on dry land, you should make a report as soon as possible.

Although some doubt federal investigators will take your cruise ship case, you may want to make a report to cruise personnel and the FBI.

If you've been the victim of a cruise ship crime, contact your local FBI office.

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