Cruise Ship Crimes – Kidnapping

Under the provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 (CVSSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is required to investigate any report of kidnapping on cruise ships. Cruise operators are impelled by the CVSSA to report crimes on board that involves:

  • Homicide
  • Suspicious death
  • Kidnapping
  • A missing U.S. national
  • Serious assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Theft involving property worth $10,000 or more
  • Tampering with the ship or setting fire on board

Kidnapping Statistics on Cruise Ships

Cruise Line Incident Reports are published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) every three months. These provide the numbers of people involved in various crimes on board including homicide, sexual assault, theft, serious assault, and kidnapping. Reports of suspicious deaths and missing U.S. nationals are also included.

There have been very few reports of kidnapping on cruise ships made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in recent years. In fact, according to the DOT incident reports, there have only been two reports since January 2011. These have both been reported by Royal Caribbean in the first six months of 2017. They have involved the disappearance of one passenger and one other person.

Provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA)

Under the CVSSA, it is mandatory for cruise liners to report any incident of kidnapping to the Bureau. This became law with the enactment of this statute in 2010, following concerns that ships were not reporting the disappearance of passengers, crew members or anyone else on board.

The issue of kidnapping is a serious crime. To provide more protection for people on cruise ships that will help to prevent kidnapping, the CVSSA imposes several security measures that cruise operators must implement on all their vessels:

  • Railings on vessels must not be less than forty-two inches above the deck.
  • All ships launched after 2010, when the Act was signed into law, must install security latches as well as time-sensitive key mechanisms on cabin doors to bolster security.
  • Means of visual identification like peep holes must be provided in the doors of all cabins on board.
  • Technology must be installed on all cruise ships that facilitate the detection of any person falling overboard.
  • Ships must be fitted with loud hailing or warning devices that provide effective communication throughout the vessel to warn people of any dangers when cruising in high-risk areas.

Under Section 3507 (c)(1) of the CVSSA, all ships must provide a guide on the security measures installed on board and give detailed contact information of security personnel who must be notified in the event of a suspected kidnapping. This guide must also be published on every cruise line operator’s website and be available for comment by the FBI.

Cruise line operators are required to keep a log book on every vessel that contains records of missing persons or incidents of suspected kidnapping. As with other serious crimes on board, ships must file a report of any such incident to the Bureau as soon as possible after detection.

Further provisions of the Act make it mandatory for cruise ships to install a video surveillance system throughout the vessel to enhance detection of criminal activity. Ships are required to provide video recordings to any law enforcement requiring these records for purposes of investigation.

Anyone violating this statute will be liable for penalties. The CVSSA makes provision for a civil penalty of $25,000 for each day of the violation, with a maximum of $50,000. For a willful violation of this law, a person may face criminal prosecution and be fined up to $250,000 or up to one year in prison, or both.

The Extent of the FBI’s Jurisdiction

The Crimes and Criminal Procedure Code, Title 18 of the U.S.C., makes provision for the FBI to have jurisdiction to conduct investigations of allegations of kidnapping in the following instances:

  • A kidnapping occurs within 12 miles of the United States shoreline. The Bureau has jurisdiction in this instance regardless of the nationality of any ship, perpetrator or kidnapped victim.
  • The Bureau is authorized under this statute to investigate the kidnapping of any U.S. national on any ship that docks or departs from any port in the United States.
  • When a person is kidnapped on the high seas in a location that falls outside of the jurisdiction of another nation.
  • The FBI also has jurisdiction when a ship is within U.S. territorial waters, but outside a state’s jurisdiction. The Bureau may also investigate regardless of the nationality of the kidnapped person or perpetrator.

Jurisdiction in Extraterritorial Waters

If someone is kidnapped outside of U.S. territorial waters, consideration must be given to whether any other nation has jurisdiction before the FBI may begin an investigation. International maritime law, as well as the laws of other countries, must be taken into account when establishing jurisdiction in these instances.

These cases often require the involvement of the U.S. government on a diplomatic level to consult with other nations before establishing the degree to which the FBI may be involved in an investigation. Once an agreement is concluded, the FBI may board a vessel on the high seas, or wait until the ship has docked.

Under certain international agreements, the FBI may be required to work with the law enforcement agencies of the host nation where the ship is docked. The United States government will always attempt to require a vessel to dock at a port in a country where the U.S. has the necessary facilities to support an FBI investigation.

If a foreign national is found guilty of kidnapping by the FBI, they will apprehend the perpetrator by all means possible. In their determination to secure a conviction, the Bureau will expend considerable effort to arrange for the offender to face criminal prosecution in the United States.

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