Category Archives: Admiralty-Maritime Law

Are the FBI and Coast Guard Underreporting Cruise Ship Crimes?

One of the key provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 is that crimes on cruise ships are suppose to be posted on the internet in order to provide a warning to the U.S. public. After listening to testimony over the course of the last five Congressional hearings, Congress concluded that cruise ship crime in general, and sexual assaults in particular, were such a problem that the U.S. public needed to be warned. Just last month, in the case of Jane Doe v. Princess Cruises, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal held that " . . . if congressional reports are to be believed, sexual assaults and other violent crimes on cruise ships are a serious problem." The Eleventh Circuit cited the testimony from cruise line executives from the March 2006 Congressional hearing that 178 passengers on North American cruises reported being sexually assaulted between 2003 and 2005. During that same period, 24 people were reported missing and four others reported being robbed. In the March 2007 hearing, a FBI representative testified that from 2000 through June 2005, the FBI opened 305 case files involving "crime on the high seas." During those five years about 45% of the crimes that occurred on cruise ships involved sexual assaults. In September 2007, a Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI testified before Congress that "sexual assault and physical assaults on cruise ships were the leading crime reported to and investigated by the FBI on the high seas over the last five years, 55 percent and 22 percent respectively . . . . Employees were identified as suspects in 37 percent of the cases, and 65 percent of those employees were not U.S. citizens." The FBI representative also testified that the majority of cruise ship sexual assault cases are not prosecuted. Although these numbers are significant, I have always thought that the crime statistics reported to Congress are probably just a fraction of the actual number of crimes which occur during cruises. For example, in 2006, Royal Caribbean told Congress that 66 rapes and sexual assaults reportedly occurred over the course of the preceding three years. However, in a subsequent civil case we handled, a trial court here in Miami ordered the cruise line to produce its raw crime data to us. The reports revealed that the total number of sex-related crimes to around 273, including allegations of sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching during a shorter time period. The Los Angeles Times covered the story in an article entitled "Cruise Industry's Dark Waters." With the new cruise safety law, cruise lines were finally required to report incidents of homicides, suspicious deaths, missing U.S. passengers, assaults, sexual assaults and thefts over $1,000 to the FBI. The U.S. Coast Guard, in turn, are responsible for posting the FBI cruise ship crime statistics on the internet for the public to view. So what do the crime statistics the Coast Guard posted on the internet reveal? According to the United States Coast Guard Investigative Services' quarterly report from July 1, 2011 through September 30, 2011, not a single reportable crime occurred. Let me repeat that. According to the just released FBI / Coast Guard report – not a single reportable crime occurred during the third quarter of 2011. According to the FBI / Coast Guard's first quarter and second quarter reports, only a total of ten sexual assaults occurred in the first six months of this year. For 2010, the FBI / Coast Guard report disclosed only 28 sexual assaults on cruise ships. For the first nine months of this year, the number has dropped to only 10 sexual assaults. These numbers are not only far less than in any of the prior years, but they are even less than the number of crimes the cruise lines will admit occurred. For example, last month a newspaper in New Zealand reported on a study which concluded that the risk of being sexually assaulted was twice as high on a cruise ship than ashore. Royal Caribbean responded to the article by stating that it had 24 incidents of rape or sexual assaults last year. Yet, in their 2010 report, the FBI / Coast Guard disclosed that Royal Caribbean had only 6 such incidents in all of 2010. The FBI does not inform the public of alleged crimes which are under investigation (this is permitted by the cruise safety law) and this may partially account for such low numbers. But the reality is that the FBI investigations rarely lead to a prosecution. Not disclosing crimes because they are allegedly "under investigation" by an agency whose investigations rarely lead to a prosecution does the public a real disservice. Also, the numbers which the FBI and Coat Guard chose to disclose to the public do not include incidents which the FBI determines lacks sufficient evidence of a federal crime or the FBI deems unworthy of conducting a full investigation. This is the rather amazing part of these statistics. The cruise safety law was passed in large part because of an incident where a passenger was clearly sexually assaulted, yet the FBI prematurely closed its investigation the same day that the cruise ship returned to Los Angeles after the crime occurred. I am talking about the case of Laurie Dishman whose Congresswoman in California, Doris Matsui, was instrumental is passing the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act in the first place. Based on the FBI and Coast Guard's current method of responding to the cruise safety law, these agencies would probably not even disclose the cruise ship crime against Ms. Dishman if it occurred today. There is something very wrong here. What should the U.S. public conclude by reading the recent third quarter FBI / Coast Guard statistics suggesting that not a single crime occurred on a cruise ship over the past three months? Around 3,500,000 passengers sailed on cruise ships over the past ninety days, millions out of U.S. ports, and not a single crime occurred? What a joke. The FBI and Coat Guard are making a mockery of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act – a law victims of crime worked hard to enact in order to protect future cruise passengers. Its time for Congress to take another look at the way the cruise lines, FBI and Coast Guard are reporting – or in this case – not reporting cruise ship crimes. For an insight into the actual number of incidents of sexual assaults and crimes on cruise ships, we suggest following sites: Sun Sentinel Data Base Professor Ross Klein Cruise Crime Analysis October 30 2007 – September 1, 2008 Professor Ross Klein's Analysis of Reports of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault on Royal Caribbean International, 1998 – 2005.. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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NCL Abandons Elderly Woman with Sick Husband in Columbia, Proclaims Its Their Fault

A local news station in Tampa, WTSP 20 News, has a story about an elderly couple's cruise horror story. Betty and Ronald Coleman from Port Ritchie Florida were sailing on a Panama Canal cruise aboard the Norwegian Pearl when Mr. Coleman contracted what is described as norovirus. NCL put the Colemans ashore in Cartegena Columbia without contacting the couple's son Mark, even though they listed him as the emergency contact on paperwork the cruise line required them to fill out. Ms. Coleman, who was obviously overwhelmed by trying to take care of her sick husband, complains: "My son is on the paper you sign, for next of kin to be called in case of an emergency. I would have thought they would have notified him if they are leaving me in a foreign country." The couple's son first learned of his parent's plight after receiving a frantic call from his mother. She did not know where she was. NCL subsequently told him that that she was still on the cruise ship. Finally, Mark had to contact the State Department to find his parents. NCL claims that it provided the couple with an opportunity to call home, but the Colemans allegedly "chose not to." How and why this allegedly occurred is not explained. But a cruise line should never disembark an elderly couple like this in a foreign country without first making sure that it contacted the emergency contact. It's far fetched to believe that the couple instructed NCL not to call the emergency contact. It's inexcusable for NCL not to have done so. Ms. Coleman seemed stressed out and Mr. Coleman, described in the video as " . . . so sick that he could not sit up to even sign a paper," was obviously so ill NCL didn't want him on its cruise ship. NCL issued a completely unrepentant press release. NCL side stepped the norovirus issue, denied responsibility for not telling the family of the emergency, and claimed that the Colemans were, in fact, "appreciative" of the cruise line agent's assistance ashore in Columbia. The guest relations team on a cruise ship should always contact the emergency contact number whenever it forces a family off of a cruise ship in a medical emergency. Blaming the sick elderly guest in a case like this reflects poorly on the cruise lines' manners. For other similar stories, read: And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . . (continued).. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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Maritime Law and Why You Need a Maritime Attorney

Maritime law applies to cases involving injuries or accidents on the waterways of the United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, or at sea. Maritime law is very specialized and has evolved much over the last two centuries in the United States. A maritime lawyer is the only one qualified to represent maritime workers or their families in serious injury or wrongful death claims resulting from accidents occurring at sea, in coastal areas or on inland waters... To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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Spanish Treasure Hunter? Not so Fast Says 11th Circuit

In a case ripped from the tales of yore or the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. courts had no in rem jurisdiction over a sunken Spanish ship. The case is Odyssey Marine Exploration v. The Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, Its Apparel, Tackle, Appurtenances & Cargo Located Within Ctr. Point Coordinates, in re M, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 19379 and the opinion can be found here. Opening Scene: A Spanish frigate sunk in 1804 near the Straits of Gibraltar. It was discovered by a salvor in 2007. Plot Hook: [In my best pirate voice] Arrrr, which bloke lays claim to the treasure found in Davy Jones Locker? Cast: the Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of Peru, the United States as amicus, descendants of the lost crew, a claimant who claimed "ancestral interest in any of Spain's treasure in Florida," and the salvor. Script: This case turned on the Foreign Sovereign Immunites Act which restricts federal court's jurisdiction over the property of a foreign country. So, for the federal court to have in rem jurisdiction over the shipwreck, it must be provided for in the FSIA. The court reviewed the various exceptions to immunity of a foreign state's property. Ultimately, it found that the federal courts did not have jurisdiction over the sunken ship. Therefore, the claim, in rem, failed... To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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Cruise Ship Rape – Arbitration in Bermuda? A Jury Trial in Miami? Or Both?

In the past month, I have written about the progression of federal court cases which have chipped away at the rights of foreign crewmembers, who are the backbone of the U.S. based cruise industry. The cases of Lindo v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. and Henriquez v. NCL showed that the Eleventh Circuit would not hesitate to affirm the dismissal of the claims filed on behalf of NCL crewmembers in the U.S. courts here in Miami, leaving the seriously injured seamen to seek compensation in foreign countries applying foreign law. On Friday, the Eleventh Circuit decided the case of Jane Doe v. Princess Cruises. The Court addressed the issue whether a Princess crewmember raped on the M/S Star Princess cruise ship would be sent from the U.S. to face uncertain justice before an arbitrator in a country selected by the cruise line, or whether she could try her case here in Miami before a jury. According to the opinion which you can read here, the facts allegedly "tell a story of a woman, working for Princess Cruise Lines on one of its ships, who was drugged by other employees, raped and physically injured while she was unconscious, and when she reported to officials of the cruise line what had happened to her they treated her with indifference and even hostility, failed to provide her with proper medical treatment on board, and interfered with her attempts to obtain counseling and medical treatment ashore." We represent Jane Doe (whose name is being protected to protect her confidentiality). Princess Cruises is represented by Miami cruise defense lawyer Jeffrey Maltzman. The complaint that we filed on her behalf alleged ten (10) causes of action: As described by the Eleventh Circuit, the ten claims are: (1) a "Jones Act negligence" claim, alleging that Princess Cruise Lines breached its "duty to provide a safe place to work such that [Doe] could perform the job obligations in a reasonably safe manner and live aboard the vessel free from sexual violence and/or sexual harassment"; (2) an unseaworthiness claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its "non-delegable duty to provide [Doe] with a seaworthy vessel upon which to work and live free from sexual battery and/or sexual harassment"; (3) a Jones Act claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its duty under that act to provide Doe with prompt, adequate, and complete medical treatment for "injuries sustained while in the service of the vessel"; (4) a maintenance and cure claim, alleging that the cruise line "purposefully refused to arrange for and pay [for] timely and complete medical cure" despite its obligation to do so under "the General Maritime Law"; (5) a Seaman's Wage Act claim that the cruise line breached its "duty to timely pay all of [Doe's] wages as a seaman;" (6) a false imprisonment claim, alleging that the cruise line had "purposefully and intentionally restrained [Doe] against her will on the cruise ship and did not permit her to leave the cruise ship to go ashore for medical treatment" in Seattle; (7) an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, alleging "separate and independent torts committed by" the cruise line, its agents, and its employees related to Doe's rape and the way that they handled the situation and treated her after learning of the rape; (8) a spoliation of evidence claim, alleging that the cruise line breached its duty to preserve evidence after one of its crew members sexually assaulted and battered Doe; (9) an invasion of privacy claim, alleging that the cruise line, though its agents, breached its duty to protect Doe's confidentiality and privacy as a rape victim by repeatedly disclosing her real name in an effort to intimidate and embarrass her; and (10) a fraudulent misrepresentation claim, alleging that officers of the cruise line who were on the ship repeatedly and falsely told Doe after she had been drugged and raped that she could not disembark the ship to obtain medical treatment and counseling by doctors of her own choosing. The Court held that the first five causes of action fall within the language of the arbitration agreement. The trial court will then consider the cases of Lindo, Henriquez and Thomas to determine whether these first five causes of action should be sent to Bermuda to be arbitrated and what law should apply. However, the Court held that the last five causes of action, which involved post-rape conduct alleged against the cruise line, did not arise of of Jane Doe's employment and therefore are not subject to arbitration. The last five legal theories alleged against the cruise line will be heading toward a jury trial here in Miami. This case should be of continuing interest to maritime lawyers representing crewmembers working for cruise lines which insert arbitration agreements in their employment contracts. The case was featured today in the Daily Business Review. Maritime lawyer Brett Rivkind also wrote an excellent blog about the rape case and the issue of arbitration entitled: "Appeals Court Addresses Arbitration Clause Involving Claim by Crewmember for Sexual Assault." Photo credit: Star Princess Cruise Ship, Seattle Washington – Jim Walker.. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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