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!