Think of a cruise and it’s likely you think of sitting poolside, eating in the dining room, visiting exotic ports, playing in the casino, or watching a show in the evening.
For the vast majority of people, crime isn’t something that even crosses their mind. That’s for good reason. For the literally tens of millions that sail each year, the offenses on a cruise ship are fairly low.
However, any time you’re dealing with that many people, some sort of crime will occur.
Public Awareness of Cruise Crime Via Cruise Line Incident Reports
To inform the public, the U.S. Department of Transportation website provides updates on crimes aboard ships reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Under a law known as “The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) of 2010” cruise ships that embark and disembark in the United States must report major crimes to the agency.
This doesn’t cover every illegal act on a ship, but does cover major offenses that are alleged, including homicides, missing U.S. nationals, kidnapping, tampering with a vessel, suspicious death, sexual assault, and thefts over $10,000.
Each quarter these statistics are compiled across cruise lines and released to the public through Cruise Line Incident Reports.
Generally this data is released regularly throughout the year. In 2023, the regular reports were delayed for reasons not quite clear. Instead, the first three quarters of reports for the year weren’t public until the start of 2024, followed shortly later with the fourth quarter’s statistics just days ago.
Now, however, we have a picture of alleged criminal activity aboard U.S. cruises last year. Take a look:
As you can see, many numbers for offenses are quite low. For instance, there were no homicides reported in 2023 and two suspicious deaths.
Theft of $10,000 or more saw 20 alleged offenses, which equates to about one incident every 2.5 weeks on a cruise ship.
What's clearly the outlier in the data, however, are sexual assault and rape. There were 52 sexual assaults reported in 2023 (one a week) and 79 rapes (about 1.5 per week).
All of these figures cover reported crimes among both passengers and crew on the ship.
In addition, you can see the number of alleged incidents by cruise line in the table below. Keep in mind that this doesn't account for the number of passengers carried, so it's natural that larger lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival would have more crimes reported overall.
Still, the large number of offenses reported on Carnival does jump out to us, especially in comparison to similarly-sized rival Royal Caribbean. Disney also seems to have a surprising number of incidents given the relatively small size of the line.
Many Reported Crimes Have Jumped in Number
Of course, no one wants to think about crime during their vacation. Perhaps what's most disturbing, however, is that many crimes have jumped sharply higher.
Looking at 2023 as a whole, there were 180 major crimes reported. That's up 38% from 2019's total of 130 incidents. (We've used 2019 figures for comparison as it was the last full capacity year before the pandemic halted cruises.)
For instance, in 2019 there were nine assaults compared to 22 reported in 2023 -- a 144% increase. Theft of more than $10,000 jumped from 15 instances in 2019 to 20 in 2023 -- a 33% increase.
In 2019, the reporting made no difference between sexual assault and rape in the statistics. Today, they are separate categories. In 2019, there were 101 total sexual assaults reported. In 2023, sexual assaults and rape were a combined 131 -- a 30% increase.
Overall Chances of Being a Crime Victim Are Still Low, But Use Common Sense
Even with the rise in incidents, when you consider the millions of cruise passengers that travel each year, your chances of being a victim of a crime are relatively low.
While total passenger statistics for 2023 aren't available yet, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry trade group, reports there were roughly 13.2 million passengers visiting North American ports in 2019. The vast majority of these port visits would be from ships falling under the CVSSA reporting rules.
In that case, a passenger would have a roughly one in 73,000 chance of being a victim. (To keep things simple, this assumes all crimes were against passengers, while the reports include crimes against crew members as well.)
Still, there is no argument that crime does occur, even when having fun on vacation. All told, these statistics show a major crime occurs approximately once every other day across U.S.-focused cruise ships.
That's why 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. Always ensure your cabin door is locked and be sure to turn the deadbolt when inside.
Avoiding drinking 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.”
The chances of you being a victim are relatively rare, but it's still smart to reduce the risk even more with some simple steps.