Miami, Florida — Laurie Dishman, a 37-year-old food services manager from Sacramento, wants people to know that cruise ships are not always as safe as advertised. She knows firsthand how crime on board cruise ships can effect passengers. She recently took a therapeutic trip to the Port of Miami to face her fears.
It was the first time she had been around cruise ships since 2006, when she was raped on a cruise by one of the ship’s janitors. When she reported the incident, she was appalled when the crew responded by telling her that she needed to control her drinking. So on her recent visit back to Miami’s port, one of the busiest ports in the nation, she handed out hundreds of pamphlets to people as they began their vacations, warning them of the dangers on board cruise ships.
”There are no laws out there,” Dishman said in an interview. “All kinds of things can happen on this floating city in the middle of the ocean, and there’s no security. There’s no protection. You think you have American rights when you board a ship, but you don’t.”
The industry says that American travelers are safer on cruise ships than they are on land and that no regulatory changes are needed.
Dishman disagrees and is hopeful that her message will lead to a new federal law to protect passengers. When Congress returns from its summer recess, she and other crime victims plan to lobby for regulations that would change the way the cruise industry does business.
Because under current law, cruise ships aren’t required to report even the most serious crimes that are committed in international waters, critics say that immediate changes are necessary to protect passengers .
Congress is considering legislation that would require cruise ships to keep logs of all deaths, missing individuals, allegations of criminal conduct and passenger complaints of theft, sexual harassment and assault. Those logs would be made available to law enforcement including the FBI and the Coast Guard.
”Twelve million Americans will board cruise ships this year, and they should know they are safe,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He is working with Representative Doris Matsui of Sacramento to support the proposed legislation.
Matsui said that she began investigating the issue after Dishman first contacted her, frustrated because Royal Caribbean would not help her identify her attacker or secure evidence after the rape.
According to Congresswoman Matsui, her investigation revealed that there have been no rape convictions on cruise lines in 40 years.
”What we have found is truly alarming,” Matsui said. “There is little to no regulation of the cruise industry, and far too many crimes go unprosecuted each year.”
Representatives of the Cruise Lines International Association pointed out that the industry creates thousands of jobs and claims to have improved its safety procedures over the past two years.
Senator Kerry got involved with cruise ship safety issues when Merrian Carver of Cambridge, Mass., disappeared on a cruise in 2004. Kerry said he was shocked to learn that cruise line employees didn’t tell the FBI she was missing until weeks later, when her family started asking questions.
”Merrian’s story is not an isolated case,” Kerry said. “Despite being owned by American citizens and headquartered in the United States, cruise ships operate under foreign flags, allowing them to avoid United States law when they are beyond U.S. territorial waters. With respect to jurisdiction over crimes, the law is murky at best.”
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