The FBI’s statistics reveal a disturbing increase in reported rapes and sexual assaults on cruise ships in 2023, reaching a new peak of 131 incidents.
This number surpasses the 87 reported in 2022 and the 101 incidents in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the industry. Experts caution that the actual number of such incidents is likely much higher, as two-thirds of sexual assaults typically go unreported nationally.
The 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which does not extend protections to non-U.S. citizens, further complicates the issue.
MSC Cruises is currently facing lawsuits over two alleged sex crimes on separate ships. One case involves a crew member accused of raping a passenger, while the other alleges the cruise line failed to protect a minor from molestation in a bathroom.
MSC Cruises, in a statement, expressed their inability to comment on ongoing legal cases but emphasized their commitment to taking any assault allegations seriously, reporting them to law enforcement and assisting in investigations.
Jack Hickey, a maritime lawyer based in Florida who filed both lawsuits, criticized cruise companies for their efforts to conceal crimes, particularly sexual assaults.
“The cruise lines are concerned about their images. It’s supposed to be a vacation. It’s supposed to be a positive experience,” Hickey said. “They want as little about sex assaults to come to light as possible,” HIckey told Fox News.
Since 2010, approximately 500 sex assaults and rapes have been reported, but Hickey believes this figure represents only a fraction of the actual incidents. He points out that the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act’s limitations in reporting requirements for non-U.S. citizens and the narrow definition of rape used by cruise line management companies lead to significant underreporting to the FBI. Moreover, the lack of an external agency to verify cruise lines’ reports exacerbates the issue.
The FBI, in response, stated their close collaboration with the Department of Transportation to comply with the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. The Act sets security and safety standards for most cruise ships embarking and disembarking in the U.S. and mandates the reporting of missing persons and certain criminal activities to the FBI.
Survivors of rape on cruise ships face added trauma due to being confined on the vessel with their attacker until the next port. Hickey described the situation as akin to being imprisoned, where survivors must have the resources and presence of mind to disembark and return home, all the while uncertain of their attacker’s whereabouts. This is particularly challenging if the attacker is a cruise ship employee.
In one of the lawsuits filed against MSC Cruises, a passenger on the MSC Meraviglia was allegedly raped by a crew member in March 2023. The lawsuit details a violent encounter where the survivor was forcefully grabbed and faced aggressive physical advances but managed to escape after a struggle. The crew member purportedly chased and threatened the survivor for reporting the incident.
Another lawsuit accuses MSC Cruises of failing to protect a six-year-old girl in their care. The child, while in a designated children’s area, was allegedly followed into a bathroom by a male passenger and groped. The lawsuit criticizes the cruise line’s staff for their negligence, allowing the incident to occur and leaving the child vulnerable.
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