They’re sold as floating pleasure domes. Luxury hotels on the sea. Where every day is perfect, and the party never stops. But scratch the surface of the cruise ship industry, and the truth isn’t so dazzling.
Just yesterday morning, when the liner ” Carnival Spirit ” docked in Sydney, it was reported that 2 of its passengers were missing. This is not as unusual as you might think.
Cruising is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry. Roughly 20 million people took cruises last year. On average around the world, one of these passengers go missing every fortnight.
These vessels can have the same population as a small Australian town. They have shops, beauty salon’s, swimming pools, restaurants, bars and casino’s, but there is one chilling difference – no police station.
Because cruise ships often use “flags of convenience,” they’re primarily regulated by countries other than where they operate from, and the International Maritime Organisation doesn’t have the authority to enforce its own guidelines, nor can it impose fines or sanctions. Such obligations fall to the flag states, and are rarely enforced.
Ships on the high seas are virtually lawless. If anything goes wrong you can expect little help from the cruise line, and virtually no help from any police force.
On Monday 23 September 2002, Dianne Brimble boarded the ” Pacific Sky ” with her 10 year old daughter for a 10 day cruise around the Pacific. She was found dead the following morning. P & O allowed the people occupying the cabin to remove their effects and in doing so tampered with the crime scene. No one was ever charged. ” Pacific Sky ” was registered in Malta.
In February 2013 ,the ” Carnival Triumph “with a complement of over 4000 passengers spent 5 days drifting around the Gulf of Mexico due to an engine room fire, with no power, no air con, no heating, sewage system, no hot food no cold drinks, no lighting. To date 4 lawsuits have been filed against the Miami based company, one of them a class action involving 3000 passengers. Although operating from the US, the Triumph is registered in Nassau ,Bahamas.
We all remember the ” Costa Concordia ” which in January 2013, only 3 hours into the voyage, ran aground and eventually broke up off the coast of Tuscany, with loss of passengers and crew. The cruise company has been fined 1 million Euros, and the captain and 5 others are facing criminal charges. It is believed that the ship was deliberately off course.
Cruise ships are like floating foreign islands, where laws shift like the tides. The way criminal matters are dealt with can depend on the ship’s location in the ocean, its home port, or the nationality of its passengers. And prosecuting these crimes can be difficult. Crime scenes are often contaminated, since no police are on board the ships. If the ship is in foreign waters, it is often up to the captain to decide whether to incarcerate someone suspected of committing a crime.