Crime on Cruise Ships: What to Know Before You Sail

When you book a cruise, you no doubt picture yourself on a beach, or maybe laying out by the pool, drink in hand. You picture food, shows, entertainment, and a fun vacation.

View of ships departing Nassau

It’s unlikely that you think about being the victim of a crime. And to be sure, the odds of something happening to you on a cruise are unbelievably small. The vast majority of trips go off without a hitch.

Even so, it’s important for every cruise passenger to know that while we’d consider a cruise a safe vacation, it doesn’t mean that things can’t happen on the ship.

For instance, in the last year there have been a total of 137 major crimes reported on cruise ships. That number comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Cruise Line Incident Reports.

This quarterly report discloses eight different types of major crimes that have allegedly happened on cruise ships sailing from the United States.

In comparison to the millions of cruise passengers that set sail, 137 incidents is not many. Even so, there are some specific statistics that we think readers should know about.

Recent Rise in Sexual Assaults on Cruises

Most disturbingly, statistics for July 1 through September 30, 2019 reveal a 67% increase in sexual assaults compared to last year (35 vs. 21), and a 35% increase since the previous quarter (35 vs. 26).

In total, thirty-five sexual assaults allegedly occurred on cruise ships last quarter. Carnival Cruise Line had the most reported, with a total of 20 such crimes.

Alleged crimes on cruise ships in third quarter 2019

In total, twelve cruise lines submit data about crimes allegedly committed shipboard in accordance with a federal law — the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) — which stipulates security requirements for ships embarking and disembarking from U.S. ports.

The law requires cruise lines to report serious crimes to the FBI. The statistics in the report include homicides, suspicious deaths, missing U.S. nationals, kidnappings, assaults with bodily injury, thefts of more than $10,000, vessel tampering, and sexual assaults.

While those other crimes are extremely rare, sexual assault accounted for about 75% of the reported incidents in the most recent quarterly report.

Crime on Cruises Over the Past Year

When looking at the entire year, you can get a bigger picture of the trends in crimes reported aboard cruise lines.

  • The most recent quarterly statistics show a total of 46 alleged shipboard crimes. Six of the 12 reporting cruise lines (Bahamas Paradise, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Oceania Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Seabourn) reported zero crimes in any of the listed categories.
  • For the preceding quarter (April 1 through June 30), the total number of cruise ship crimes reported came to 32. The cruise lines reporting zero crimes for that period were Bahamas Paradise, Crystal, Disney, Oceania, Princess, and Seabourn.
  • During the period of January 1 through March 31, there were 25 cruise ship crimes reported. Seven cruise lines reported zero crimes in any category (Bahamas Paradise, Crystal, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Oceania, and Seabourn).
  • The total number of crimes for October 1 through December 31, 2018 was 34. Bahamas Paradise, Crystal, MSC, Oceania, and Seabourn reported zero crimes during that quarter.

Below you can see the total number of crimes alleged, broken down by cruise line over the past four quarters, according to the Cruise Line Incident Reports.

Cruise ship crimes in the past year

Putting These Numbers in Perspective

Cruise ship safety is an area where the cruise lines should always strive for improvement. However, it’s always wise to maintain a sense of perspective when statistics are in the news.

Consider that about 12-14 million people cruise from the United States in a given year. With 137 total crimes reported in the past four quarters, that means the chances of being a victim on the ship are about 1 in 88,000. (Note that there is always the concern that some crimes go unreported so the actual rate could be higher.)

In fact, following the release of the latest CVSSA statistics, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) commented that the report “shows that allegations of serious crime on board cruise ships remain extremely rare, especially compared to crimes that occur on land.”

A report commissioned by CLIA and prepared by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, stated that cruising is “exceptionally safe in terms of the risks associated with violent criminal activity… While no vacation destination is completely free of risk, cruising is clearly a relatively safe option.”

Furthermore, it’s not surprising that Carnival and Royal Caribbean see more incidents given that they also carry more passengers than any other cruise line. After all, you’d expect more total crimes in New York than in Albany, based on population size alone.

The cruise lines which reported the fewest crimes throughout the most recent four quarters also carry fewer passengers each year than their larger rivals.

Carnival attributed their higher crime numbers to the fact that a larger percentage of their business involves U.S. ports. “Nearly 90% of our capacity and operations are from U.S. ports which are covered under the reporting requirements of the CVSSA,” a spokesman told the Miami New Times. “Many of our U.S. competitors sail from Europe and other non-U.S. ports, so they are not mandated to submit CVSSA data as part of the reporting process.”

New Legislation Could Enhance Shipboard Safety

For those concerned about crime on cruise ships, there is some good news on the horizon.

In November, a bill, the Cruise Passenger Protection Act (CPPA), was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new law is designed to build on CVSSA by strengthening “crime reporting and video surveillance requirements, improving medical standards, and holding cruise lines responsible for deaths, sexual assaults, and violent crimes at sea.”

The Washington Post reports that the new bill “would make sure cruise lines notified the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident; report to authorities before a ship leaves a U.S. port if an incident happened in port; report allegations to the U.S. Consulate in the next port of call; have video surveillance equipment in all passenger common areas; and indicate whether crimes were committed against children, among other requirements.”

The new legislation is supported by International Cruise Victims, an organization of family members and victims affected by cruise ship crime.

How to Stay Safe on Your Cruise

Cruise ship crime is not the norm — but since it does occur sometimes, it’s wise to know how to avoid being a victim.

First, it’s important to understand that while a cruise is a vacation, that doesn’t mean crime doesn’t happen. It’s important that you use common sense, doing things like storing valuables in the cabin safe when you leave the room and not joining strangers in their cabin.

Avoiding those who drink too much alcohol is also important. Jim Walker, a Florida-based lawyer who runs a blog called Cruise Law News and serves as a cruise industry watchdog mentions that “We see a direct correlation between excessive alcohol served on cruises and violence, in general, and sexual violence against women, in particular.”

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