Cruise Ship Crimes – Homicides

Although sexual assaults are among the most commonly reported crimes aboard cruise ships, homicides have been reported as well. Murders are one of the statistics tracked by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 requires all criminal activity aboard vessels to be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Applicable to vessels capable of carrying at least 250 passengers, the Act mandates public access to criminal activity reports, in addition to provisioning evidence gathering crime prevention methods, in addition to emergency medical treatment. Over the past five years, reports of homicides and other crimes have been released on a quarterly basis.

Department of Transportation Statistics

  • April 1 through June 30, 2017: There were no homicides reported on the cruise lines tracked by the DOT.
  • January 1 through March 31: No incidents reported.
  • October 1 through December 31, 2016: Zero homicides.
  • July 1 through September 30: None reported.
  • April 1 through June 30: None reported, but one suspicious death was recorded on a Carnival ship.
  • January 1 through March 31: No homicides, but one suspicious death on a Carnival vessel and one on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship.
  • October 1 through December 30, 2015: Two suspicious deaths; one on Carnival and one on Norwegian.
  • July 1 through September 30: Zero homicides, but two suspicious fatalities reported on Carnival Cruise Lines.
  • April 1 through June 30: No deaths aboard cruise ships.
  • January 1 through March 31: No suspicious fatal incidents were reported.
  • October 1 through December 31, 2014: Two suspicious deaths on Princess Cruises.
  • July 1 through September 30: One suspicious fatality on a Celebration Cruise Lines vessel, and one on a Royal Caribbean ship.
  • April 1 through June 30: Suspicious incidents on Holland America Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises.
  • January 1 through March 31: None reported.
  • October 1 through December 31, 2013: One Carnival Cruise Lines death and one suspicious incident on a Princess Cruises vessel.
  • July 1 through September 30: Zero reported.
  • April 1 through June 30: No reports of homicides.
  • January 1 through March 31: Zero homicides.

Recent Reports

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, there was a death aboard the Emerald Princess in July 2017, on the way to Juneau, Alaska. A 39-year-old woman was believed to have been killed during a domestic dispute. From the incident, up through the vessel’s arrival in port, the fleet security team coordinated with the FBI and local authorities. The woman suffered a head wound inflicted by her 39-year-old husband.

In April 2017, a crew member of the Navigator of the Seas (Royal Caribbean), was found dead in a shallow grave in Bonaire. The circumstances around the 24-year-old woman’s death were uncertain, but the U.S. State Department issued a warning on its website for those visiting the island.

In February, a 36-year-old female was thrown overboard and died. A cruise and wedding planner on a trip with her family on the MSC Magnifica, she was last seen alive in Genoa, Italy. The incident had similarities to another murder case, according to the Cruise Ship Deaths website, in which a woman disappeared during a cruise near Italy. The FBI investigated her husband and revealed she had been strangled. Although the Bureau did not build a case, California was able to, and the man was imprisoned in 2013 pending a trial.

In December 2015, a crew member of P & O Cruises Australia ships was murdered by a man who held her hostage. The 25-year-old had been slashed and stabbed to death, according to reports. An attempted murder was reported aboard the Costa Fortuna (Costa Cruises), her boyfriend suspected of trying to throw her overboard. She was spotted holding onto a railing before falling into the cold water and had awoken from a coma a short time after.

U.S. Law

Statutes of the Shipping Act of 1984 apply to the duty of care that cruise lines owe their passengers. The idea is to protect people, so they arrive safely at their destinations, and the law covers protection from assault and other criminal acts by crew members. United States law applies, and the nation maintains Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction, if:

  • The vessel is U.S. owned and is within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the country, regardless of the victim’s or perpetrator’s nationality.
  • The incident occurred within 12 miles of the coast; the ship, victim, or perpetrator can be of any nationality.
  • A U.S. national was the offender or victim of a crime outside another nation’s jurisdiction.
  • The national is on a vessel that departed from or will arrive at a port based in the United States.

International Law

International law also determines what the FBI’s role is in investigating crimes that occur outside U.S. territorial waters. If the interests or citizens of other countries are involved, the sovereignty of those nations must be respected, but the bureau maintains 60 Legal Attaché offices and 13 sub-offices around the world. This enables it to liaison with other law enforcement services and take part in investigations where possible.

Regarding extraterritorial response, the U.S. cannot board a foreign flag vessel if it is on the high seas, and enforce domestic criminal laws. That is unless the flag state permits it. However, there are universal offenses recognized under international law that allow the general rules to be overridden. Some degree of cooperation and coordination between agencies occurs in cases of murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, and sexual abuse.

Crimes on the high seas are dealt with per maritime law, if out of a nation’s territory or jurisdiction. The vessel’s security officer typically gathers information from the victim. Ship captains can also decide to incarcerate a suspected criminal until the vessel is in port, and to remove them once there, regardless of the country they arrive at next. According to the FBI, there were 13 death investigations between 2002 and 2007 involving cruise ships. Homicides were suspected in two of them, while others were ruled accidents, suicides, or caused by natural factors.

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