Cruise safety and personal responsibility

Celebrity Summit docked in Juneau, Alaska, photo by NSL Photography

In 2009, a 14 year old youngster, Taylor W., couldn’t sleep. Taylor left the cabin she was sharing with her parents on the Carnival Freedom and went alone to an upper deck of the ship to write in her journal.

It was there, that a Carnival cruise line employee, a waiter, saw her, pulled her into an employee-only room, and raped her. Unfortunately, Taylor isn’t the only teen victim of a brutal crime aboard cruise ships. A passenger on Disney’s Wonder was recently convicted of sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl after she came out of a teen club on the ship in 2007.

Neither of these girls, nor any other cruise ship passenger deserve to be crime victims. No one deserves that.

That being said, I can’t help but wonder if passengers couldn’t help prevent many of the crimes that occur aboard cruise ships, and why they don’t take, what I consider, reasonable precautions.

Based on surprising discussions with members of the Consumer Traveler Forums, with friends and neighbors, and others, I believe I’ve begun to understand the problem better.

Many feel cruise ships are safety zones. Cruise line marketing is working. Cruisers feel they’ve left the world behind when they board their cruise ship. The feel they can safely let their hair down and just have fun.

One person in my discussions said, “That cruise lines aren’t safe for passengers to be out after dark is just plain crazy.”

Unfortunately, while cruisers are generally safe, they are too often crime victims.

It’s extremely difficult to get much hard data on shipboard crime, but the FBI database for December 2007 through October 2008 lists more than 350 crimes aboard cruise ships ranging from unexplained deaths, to sexual assaults, thefts, simple assaults, and other crimes, committed by passengers and ships’ crew.

Dr. James Alan Fox of Northeastern University, found that there were 149 reported sexual assaults against Americans aboard cruise ships between 1993 and 2005. That equals a sexual assault crime rate of 17.6 per 100,000 passengers. While lower than the average rate in the US, it’s still very significant, and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Ships are mini cities. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas carries 6,000 passengers and more than 2,100 crew members. That’s more than 8,000 people, coming from all walks of life and many nations. They are from a cross-section of society. It is unrealistic to assume any cruise or cruise ship will be exempt from crime.

Whenever we travel, there is potential for us to be crime victims, on city streets, in hotels, in the countryside, aboard planes, on cruise ships, anywhere. I love cruising. I’ve been on wonderful cruises across the globe. I’m researching another cruise, despite knowing about the potential for shipboard and other crime on any cruise.

We can minimize that potential and have a great time while cruising. It takes personal responsibility, awareness, and commonsense.

Here’s my personal cruise safety list.

1. Recognize that crime can occur anywhere we travel, but don’t let fear take control.

2. Each of us has valuables which have significant monetary and/or intrinsic value. If you can’t afford to lose it, leave it at home. Any valuables you decide to take, when left in your cabin, should be in its safe. This includes your passport, wallet, and other travel documents.

3. Don’t speak about your finances, or money in general, with passengers or crew, or even to family and friends with whom you’re cruising, while other passengers or crew could overhear your conversation. Don’t give a criminal a reason to make you a target.

4. Be aware of your surroundings aboard your ship. Look around when walking, and avoid keeping your head low or looking down. Walk confidently. Don’t walk alone on empty decks, especially at night. There is safety in numbers.

5. Never blindly answer a knock at your door. Look through the peep hole to identify the caller. If you’re not expecting them, such as a room service employee, verify them before opening your door.

6. Ensure you cabin door is secure and locked before you leave it, and especially before you go to sleep at night.

7. Have company with you when you use the ship’s public restrooms. Women have been using restrooms in pairs forever. It’s not a bad idea for everyone.

8. When traveling with children, make sure they are accompanied by a responsible adult at all times whenever they are participating in a shipboard activity without you. While young teens might protest, pick them up from their activities rather than allow them to return to you alone or even with a couple of other teens.

9. When traveling with children, ensure they remember all the things you’ve taught them to keep them safe. Reinforce that for your cruise.

10. Never forget to use your “street-smarts” and your commonsense.

Bon Voyage!

  • John Frenaye

    Another good source to check out crime and other happenings at sea is the website run by Ross Klein.

  • Ginny Gordon

    Cruise ships are floating cities and as we tell all of our guests, be aware, whether at home or away, or your surroundings. I have a teenager and when we cruise, she knows the rules of the road, and I am surprised when she comes back to the stateroom early because “there was just too much going on that could go wrong!” This is a great article and should be part of cruise documents – not to create fear but to inform!

  • Janice

    Carnival hasn’t exactly made safety a priority, we were on one of their ships about 5 years ago out of Cape Canaveral, with a balcony cabin at the front. The door lock broke and we couldnt get into the cabin – it took the cruise line forever to send someone – so my husband, not exactly in Olympic shape hit on the idea of going to the front of the ship, and just climbing over a low railing to get to our balcony, and thus into the room that way. It was amazingly easy. And when we told them about it, at the time and in writing later, the response was a corporate shrug. (form letter response) But any balcony cabin would have been accessible that way….other cabins would have just needed someone to go over the between balcony dividers, which wouldn’t have been that hard.

  • travel nomad

    This is a sad article to read, but I know it is true, as a few of our friends have had incidents on these huge big ships in the last 10 years.

    When we started cruising (we love the sea) back in the 70’s and 80’s, ships were smaller, and entire crews stayed years with the same ship. We would take the same ships each year.

    Cruising then was like going to a top hotel, where all the staff remembered you, year after year. We felt SAFE and could stroll the deck at midnight, if we felt like it.

    I remember one time, back in the 70’s, every January we sent on a Caribbean Cruise. One night I wanted to see a late movie, and my husband wanted to go to bed. I went down to the tiny cinema alone..

    About midnight, the security guard was shaking me awake. The movie had been over for hours, everyone had departed the cinema, and he found me there sleeping with my purse on my lap.

    I then went up to the top deck and had a glass of port at the only bar just about to close, and then walked back to our cabin aone..

    Not so sure from reading your article, I would feel safe doing that nowdays.

    My husband came from a Greek Italian background and had worked as a waiter on a small Greek cruise line, before coming to the USA, and making his fortune here. We love cruising.

    Over 40 years starting in the 70’s we cruise on 2 to 4 cruises a year. We like the Caribbean, Alaska, the Med, and the South Pacific, and cruising is a good way to see these places, only unpacking once

    We stopped doing certain lines when the BIG mega ships started coming out about 10 years ago, due to many factors, safety being one of them, plus personal service and food quality.

    We choose our ships very carefully now days, sticking to smaller lines. Windstar, Sea Dream, Silverseas, Radisson and feel very safe.
    They cost more, but we feel secure and get to know our crews.

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