On February 19, a cruise ship worker allegedly raped a female passenger and tried to throw her overboard. When the ship returned to Port Everglades in Florida, authorities arrested Ketut Pujayasa, 28, and charged him with attempted murder and aggravated sexual abuse.

The Holland America cruise line issued a press release in response to the allegation. “At Holland America Line, the safety of our guests is our highest priority, and we are shocked and deeply saddened by this incident,” the release stated. “To our knowledge, no incident like this has occurred in our company’s 140-year history.”

In response to the alleged attack, news media began asking questions about criminal activity on cruise ships. Are crewmembers screened properly? How are cruise ships policed? How many crimes are committed each year? How are crime statistics kept? What systems are in place to protect passengers? The answers to those questions are a mixture of good news and bad news for cruise ship passengers.

How are crewmembers screened?

A spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association says that “all major North American cruise ship companies have policies in place to conduct background checks of all the employees that are hired to work onboard their ships.” Most foreign crewmembers must get a crewmember visa, which typically requires an interview with their country’s embassy or consulate, as well as a valid passport and some other documentation. Applications are also reviewed by US Customs and Border Protection agents, and cruise lines have their own experience requirements.

But problems can arise. Officials can be bribed, documents can be forged, and accurate criminal histories may be difficult to obtain in countries that do not maintain sophisticated crime databases. Another problem is that some governments make it easy for prospective workers to obtain crewmember visas.

How are cruise ships policed?

A July 2013 report on cruise crime sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia) raises some concerns. Cruise ships provide passengers with a wide array of services, but professional policing is not one of them. Trained security personnel are always on board, but there is no attempt to provide professional policing. “When crime does occur onboard, the victim often lacks the same access to law enforcement and emergency services—as well as avenues for recourse—available in the US,” the report says. “There needs to be more accountability,” says Kendall Carver, the chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association.

How many crimes are committed on cruise ships each year?

The crime rate on cruise ships is significantly lower than the US national average. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports database, there are roughly 27.1 alleged rapes per 100,000 people. On Carnival the rate is approximately 10 per 100,000. A review of Carnival and Royal Caribbean’s 2013 voluntary crime disclosures shows that last year there were no allegations of homicide, suspicious death or kidnapping against crewmembers. The US Coast Guard database through June 2013 corroborates those findings and confirms that rates are similar on other cruise lines.

How are crime statistics kept?

The good news is that cruise lines are required to report all serious incidents involving Americans to the FBI: Homicides, suspicious deaths, assault with bodily injury and sexual assault, and thefts of money in excess of $10,000. But there’s bad news as well: Other crimes do not have to be reported to authorities. And even serious crimes aren’t always disclosed to the public. According to Senator Rockefeller’s 2013 report, more than 959 crimes were reported to the FBI, but only 31 crimes were reported publicly on a US Coast guard public database.

What systems are in place to protect passengers?

Travel writer Joyce Gleeson-Adamidi recently published an article examining the problem of crime on cruise ships. She’s an experienced traveler who has also worked on cruise ships as a social hostess and cruise director, and she’s married to a ship’s captain. She notes that crimes do happen, on both land and sea, and passengers should always take common-sense precautions.

But concerns can be overblown, she says. “On a ship there is extensive and constant surveillance, consisting of video cameras, security personnel, crewmembers, and a willing army of eyewitnesses to any and all events.” She notes that many widely reported claims about crimes at sea ultimately turn out to be false. “The cruise industry,” she says, “is not exempt from crime, in any of its aspects, but it still is an incredibly safe mode of travel….Ten million passengers can’t be wrong.”

To learn more:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cruise-ship-worker-allegedly-raped-passenger

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/do-cruise-lines-have-a-crime-problem-2014-02-21

http://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=240

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of ten books, including Police Talk (Pearson), and she publishes a Police Writer Newsletter. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.