Cruise Ship Crimes – Missing Persons

The safety and security of passengers on cruise ships are regulated by the provisions of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. Under this statute, cruise liners are required to report all incidents of criminal activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for investigation. This also applies in the case of missing persons, whether a crime is suspected to have been committed or not.

Under Title 46 of the United States Code covering Shipping, Section 3507 (c) requires vessel operators to provide a guide to passengers on security and medical issues. This must include details of security personnel who are designated to respond to reports of missing persons on board.

Statistics of Missing United States Nationals

The U.S. Department of Transportation publishes quarterly reports of all crimes reported on board cruise liners, including missing passengers or crew. From January 2011 until June 2017, the Bureau has investigated reports of twelve U.S. nationals missing from these ships.

In 2011 and 2012 there were no people reported missing. Other reports include:

  • In 2013, one passenger was reported missing by Carnival Cruise Lines.
  • In 2014, Princess Cruises filed a report of a missing passenger.
  • Norwegian Cruise Lines reported a missing passenger in 2015.
  • 2016 saw a marked increase in the number of people missing. Two people were reported missing by Carnival Cruise Lines, and four went missing on ships operated by Royal Caribbean.
  • During the first six months of 2017, Carnival Cruise Lines filed reports of three missing passengers.

In a presentation to Congress in 2007, the FBI reported statistics on cruise ships that showed that only five percent of the criminal cases reported from 2002 through 2007 involved missing persons.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA)

This legislation was enacted in 2010 to provide passengers and crew members with protection against crime during ocean voyages on cruise ships. At the time, many cruise operators did not report incidents of people disappearing. The Act makes it mandatory for operators to file reports with the FBI for investigation.

Regarding this statute, vessels must take steps to protect people on board through enhanced security and detection mechanisms. The following measures must be implemented to ensure the safety and security of all on board:

  • Ship rails must be at the height of 42 inches or more above the deck.
  • All passenger and crew cabins must include peep holes in doors or some other means of enabling visual identification.
  • Every ship built after the enactment of the CVSSA must provide security latches and time-sensitive key technology to enhance the security of all cabins.
  • Ships must install technology that enables the detection of anyone falling overboard.
  • When cruising in high-risk areas, vessels must have hailing or warning devices that are effective throughout the ship.

Under this law, cruise ships are required to keep a log book containing records of missing person reports. This statute also requires the owner of a vessel to contact the Bureau as soon as they determine that a U.S. national is missing.

To assist the Bureau in investigating cases of people going missing on board, ships are required to maintain a video surveillance system. Video recordings must be supplied to any enforcement officer investigating a missing person.

The Act requires all cruise operators to provide a guide to security measures on board all their ships, including detailed contact information for security personnel appointed to deal with reports of missing persons. Vessel owners must publish this on their websites and also provide the FBI with a copy for comment.

The Act makes provision for penalties for any person who violates this law. Offenders may be liable for a penalty of $25,000 for every day in violation, or a criminal penalty of up to $250,000 or one year’s imprisonment for willful violation of the statute.

FBI Jurisdiction

Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Crimes, and Criminal Procedure, provides the Federal Bureau of Investigation with jurisdiction over missing persons in the following instances:

  • The person goes missing within twelve miles of the U.S. coast. FBI jurisdiction applies regardless of the nationality of the ship or any victim or perpetrator.
  • When a ship is within U.S. territorial waters and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state. This applies regardless of whether the ship is U.S.-owned or not and irrespective of the nationalities of the victim and perpetrator.
  • When an offense committed against a U.S. national occurs on the high seas, and outside of the jurisdiction of any other nation.
  • The person is a United States national who goes missing on any vessel that arrives or departs from any U.S. port.

When a person goes missing outside of U.S. territorial waters, cognizance must be taken of whether any other nation has jurisdiction. The laws of other nations, as well as international maritime law, must be taken into account before establishing jurisdiction.

The FBI’s Involvement in Extraterritorial Cases

Often, these cases require the involvement of the United States government in consultation with other nations to establish the legitimacy of the FBI’s involvement in the investigation. The FBI may not board a vessel on the high seas without obtaining this agreement. The Bureau will normally board the ship when it docks to secure any evidence of a missing U.S. national.

In certain circumstances where the FBI has secured jurisdiction to investigate a disappearance, they may request the vessel to dock at a port belonging to a nation having a cooperation agreement with the United States. This may also apply in cases where the port of call may provide more convenient or extensive resources to support the investigation.

Depending on the agreement with the host country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation may conduct the investigation alone or otherwise coordinate with local law enforcement personnel. If during an investigation into the disappearance of a person, a foreign national is found to be guilty of a crime, the Bureau will pursue all means to apprehend the perpetrator.

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