Appellate Court: "Sexual Assaults and Violent Crimes on Cruise Ships are a Serious Problem"

Yesterday, I discussed the case of Jane Doe v. Princess Cruises, where the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal addressed the issue whether a raped crewmember can pursue a case before a U.S. jury. Or does she have to appear before an arbitrator in Bermuda where California-based cruise line Princess Cruises flags its cruise ships to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. wage & labor, and U.S. safety regulations laws? Cases like this raise all type of issues. The first issue, perhaps, is how can a country like Bermuda which did not bother to send an investigator to the Star Princess to arrest the assailant crewmember after raping a young woman on the Bermuda flagged cruise ship be an appropriate forum for the victim to seek justice? But the Eleventh Circuit was charged with deciding a narrow legal issue: did the ten legal causes of action I asserted against Princess Cruises fall within the arbitration language the cruise line inserted into the crewmember's employment contract? Or did the bad conduct alleged against Princess fall outside of the parameters of arbitration? The issue of justice was not on the table. However, the Eleventh Circuit nonetheless departed from the issue before it and could not help but to address the fundamental issue whether women are safe on cruise ships. It stated and I quote: "Unfortunately, if congressional reports are to be believed, sexual assaults and other violent crimes on cruise ships are a serious problem." (emphasis added) Quite frankly, I have never seen an appellate court depart from the legal issue before it. I have never seen an appellate court give "advisory opinions" or social commentary like this. The Court was obviously displeased with the facts alleged in the case and, like the appellate panel stated at oral argument on this case, raised the basic question whether cruising is safe or whether crimes against women on cruise ship go un-prosecuted. Here is the language of the Court: The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Staff has reported that: At a hearing in March 2006 convened by the Committee on Government Reform, cruise industry executives testified 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. Crimes Against Americans on Cruise Ships: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Coast Guard and Mar. Transp. of the H. Comm. on Transp. and Infrastructure, 110th Cong. 2 (2007). From fiscal year 2000 through June 2005, the FBI opened 305 case files involving "crime on the high seas," and during those five years about 45% of those cases were sexual assaults that occurred on cruise ships. International Maritime Security: Joint Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Nat'l Sec., Emerging Threats, and Int'l Relations and the Subcomm. on Crim. Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Res. of the H. Comm. on Gov't Reform, 109th Cong. 8 (2005) (statement of Rep.Souder, Chairman of the Subcomm. on Crim. Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Res., Member, H. Comm. on Gov't Reform). Salvador Hernandez, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, testified before Congress in 2007 about sexual and other physical assaults that have taken place on cruise ships: "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." Crimes Against Americans on Cruise Ships: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Coast Guard and Mar. Transp. of the H. Comm. on Transp. and Infrastructure, 110th Cong. 12 (2007) (statement of Hernandez, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI). Salvador Hernandez, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, testified before Congress in 2007 that the majority of cruise ship sexual assault cases are not prosecuted. Crimes Against Americans on Cruise Ships: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Coast Guard and Mar. Transp. of the H. Comm. on Transp. and Infrastructure, 110th Cong. 12 (2007) (statement of Hernandez, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI). When appellate courts are offering commentary about the "serious problem" of rapes and violent crimes on cruise ships, the cruise industry may consider waking up to take a second look at their sense of priorities, ethics, and decency.

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