Cruise lines posting crime data

By Tom Stieghorst
New data about alleged crimes on cruise ships is now being posted voluntarily by several of the biggest lines.

The information is a more complete tally than crime figures released by the FBI and the Coast Guard, which only include investigations that the FBI considers closed.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has included a requirement for the more expansive crime accounting in his Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013.

"Nearly 21 million Americans will take a cruise this year, but I think they should know what their real risks are before they book their next vacation," Rockefeller said.

A report developed by Rockefeller's staff said cruise lines reported 130 serious crimes to the FBI in 2011 and 2012 but that only 31 are officially recognized on a site maintained by the Coast Guard.

A day after Rockefeller introduced his bill, cruise lines offered to voluntarily post the statistics on their own sites.

"We are proud of this initiative and believe that it addresses many of the concerns raised with the limited public reporting required," said Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein at a hearing Rockefeller held into cruise issues.

The cruise lines that will disclose the information on their websites include those owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings as well as the North American brands of Carnival Corp.

Only eight types of crimes considered "serious" by the passenger protection act are reported, although the cruise lines report "rape" and "other sexual assault" as separate categories.

The cruise reports are compiled by quarter. They also list the number of passengers carried during the quarter, and the crew complement.

For example, RCCL said there were four alleged thefts of more than $10,000 and two alleged rapes on its 21 ships between April 1 and June 30 this year, a period in which it carried 835,000 passengers served by 23,500 crew.

In each category, the cruise line data breaks out whether the allegation involves a passenger, a crew member or whether it is unidentified.

When it comes to crimes per 100,000 people, a benchmark used by the FBI in calculating crime rates on land, cruise lines say their rates are lower than the average for the U.S.

There are hundreds of lesser crimes reported to the cruise lines each year that don't make the official data because they fall outside the major crime category or for other reasons, according to an FBI memo to the Senate Commerce Committee that Rockefeller chairs.

Crime on cruise ships became a political issue after several high-profile cases, such as that of George Smith, whose disappearance from a Royal Caribbean ship while on his honeymoon in 2005 was the subject of several TV news magazine reports.

An International Cruise Victims Association was formed in 2006 to address a number of cases in which passengers went missing from ships and were unaccounted for.

Allegations of crimes on ships are sometimes dropped, altered or dismissed as unfounded upon investigation. But Rockefeller said the numbers have value to consumers.

"The public can use information regarding the occurrence of crimes to make more informed decisions about their travel and actions," he said.
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