Besides the shenanigans that happen on the Tropical Sun, my fictional cruise ship in Killer Knots, real crimes take place on ships at sea. You’ve all read news articles about people who go overboard or go missing on ocean voyages. What about murders and rapes and robberies?
A cruise ship is like a city. You should take the same precautions there as anywhere. Don’t go alone into deserted parts of the ship. Keep your valuables locked up. Steer clear of areas with high winds and a single railing between you and the ocean, especially if you’ve been consuming alcohol. Be wary of strangers who come on to you. The crew are no exception. Don’t go off to uncharted territory with a crew member just because he’s cute. You don’t know his background or his motivation. Always get your own drinks. Don’t accept drinks from strangers or leave your drinks unattended. Know where your children are and warn them to be cautious. Vacations are no place to let down your guard.
In many cases, jurisdiction over a shipboard crime is questionable. Lack of communication, overlapping authority, and poorly trained staff who don’t know how to collect evidence have been problems in solving crimes at sea. Plus it’s hard for local authorities to examine a crime scene when the ship is in port for one day and by then, days may have passed since the incident.
Fortunately, new laws aim to tighten standards. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 will require ships to install video surveillance in common areas plus door viewers and safety latches on cabin doors. Ships will need to carry kits to conduct sexual assault exams and to administer drugs that prevent STDs after an attack. They will need to log in all deaths, missing persons, assaults involving U.S. citizens, and other alleged crimes. These reports will be available to the FBI and Coast Guard.
The FBI has jurisdiction if the ship is owned by a U.S. company, if the victim is a U.S. citizen on a ship departing or arriving at a U.S. port, if the crime takes place within 12 miles of our coastline, or if an act of terrorism against the U.S. is involved.
You don’t want to become a cruise ship victim. Be as careful on vacation as you would be on shore, and you should have a great time.