DEC. 19, 2014 UPDATE: President Obama signed into law this week the Coast Guard Reauthorization bill which includes a provision that would make crime on cruise ships transparent to the public.
Many crimes that occur on cruise ships go unreported to the public. Now, pending federal legislation would require cruise lines to publically disclose all allegations of crimes at sea. That means the public may finally get the full picture of how safe passengers are aboard cruise ships.
Previously, the law only required public disclosure of crimes that the FBI investigated and closed. The new legislation would require cruise lines to include closed FBI cases, open FBI investigations and alleged crimes in public reporting statistics. The legislation passed both houses of Congress last week and is currently awaiting President Obama's approval.
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An NBC Bay Area investigation in 2012 found instances of crime at sea that were not reflected in public reporting statistics. Even now, current data shows that in the last four years, the FBI has investigated and closed 118 cases among 12 cruise lines. That represents just part of the total number of actual and alleged crimes.
“Finally, at least a large number of the crimes are going to be made public,” said Kendall Carver, an advocate for cruise victims.
Carver founded the International Cruise Victims Association (ICV) after his daughter disappeared on an Alaskan cruise nearly a decade ago. Since then, he has encouraged the cruise industry and leaders in Washington D.C. to require the full disclose of crimes on cruise ships.
“While we’re just a few people working at ICV testifying or going to Washington, it’s the press that’s picked that up and made this day happen,” Carver said. “And that’s why we appreciate what [NBC Bay Area News] has done to get the word out on these issues. It’s made the difference.”
The new legislation strengthens a law first introduced by U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento in 2010. In a press release, Matsui called the bill “an important victory for cruise safety advocates and for the millions of Americans who have taken a cruise or are considering one in the future.”
The legislation will include a new reporting category for individual vessels: the number of passengers who go overboard.
Jason Rappe would be counted in that statistic. Last November, he and his wife took a cruise to celebrate the conclusion of a long health struggle.
“He had cancer in his eye and lost his eye because of it but he won and was cancer free,” said Eric Rappe, Jason’s brother.
Jason never returned from his trip.
“They found his hat on the deck and he was never found on the ship,” Rappe said. “He was assumed overboard.”
Authorities ruled Rappe’s death a suicide, not a crime. The FBI didn’t have to make the incident public and it wasn’t counted in crime statistics.
“People don’t usually commit suicide right after beating cancer,” Rappe said.
He said it has been a long fight to force all crimes committed by a passenger or crew member to be made public, regardless of the status of the investigation.
“I made him a promise that I wasn’t going to let his name be forgotten,” Rappe said. “I was going to fight and do everything I could to make these cruise lines responsible.”
The industry group, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), argues the new legislation is not necessary. In an email, the association wrote that the new law “largely duplicates information already available to the public.”
Many cruise companies already go above and beyond by reporting all allegations of crime, not just cases closed by the FBI. For instance, Carnival Corp., which includes cruise lines such as Carnival, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, voluntarily disclosed that 49 crimes happened on board their ships last year. During that same time period, the FBI reported that it investigated and closed just 17 cases on Carnival Corp. ships.
In an email, Carnival Corp. wrote, “the incidence of serious crimes on board cruise ships is extremely low.” The company also wrote “we are proud of our safety record.”
Rappe is hopeful that the new legislation will give the public more information about how safe cruising really is.
“It’s going to start a chain reaction and law enforcement is going to decide they finally have to start investigating these crimes,” Rappe said. “Opening a case is not enough.”
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