Crime at Sea
Joyce -- who's also written a book about cruise ship life, If I Were Not Upon The Sea -- has spent much of her last 25 years onboard. She's worn numerous name tags, ranging from social hostess and onboard lecturer to assistant cruise director and cruise director, before adding captain's wife to her list of titles. She's worked on a range of ships. Some only our nostalgic readers will recognize, such as Stella Solaris, Victoria, Romanza and Britanis; others are top-of-mind today, including Horizon, Century, Galaxy, Mercury, Millennium and Infinity.
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Crime at Sea
Past the welcoming drinks, the sun-filled days and the moonlit nights, there is a dark side of what can happen on a cruise ship. Does crime exist onboard cruise ships? Yes. Is it a common occurrence? No. Does anyone care what happens to you onboard ship? Absolutely. A mechanism of protection is in place affecting each passenger for their entire time onboard.
Some years ago, on a ship I was on as a crewmember, passengers and crew alike were under attack by islanders on the Virgin Islands' St. Thomas. One of our crew, for instance, was shot and was in critical condition. The incidents were investigated and prosecuted by local authorities, thus sparing national publicity. The problem was solved with the joint cooperation of the local and ship's authorities and without intervention of the national talk shows.
The legal profession is aggressive in pursuing high profile cases, such as the recent George Smith IV incident in which the attorney for Mrs. Smith, appearing on CNN's, "Larry King Live," evaded the question of whether or not murder on the high seas is a common occurrence. His non-response was replying that he had spent the past 20 years prosecuting the cruise industry.
While there is no denial that incidents occur, that's frankly unethical at worst, an inference of conspiracy to cover up the facts at least. If bona fide lawyers mention dubious inconsistencies that don't stand up to questioning from talk show hosts, how can you expect them to stand up to the law? For example: The claim that George Smith's family had requested privacy and has been granted such by the cruise line. It is then unfair and irresponsible to accuse the cruise line of a cover up when it is acquiescing to the requests of the family.
Back to cruise safety in general. A cruise ship carries thousands of people and is susceptible to accidents. 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.
Because a cruise ship sails from country to country, there are regulatory laws for all ports. If a problematic situation were to occur, local authorities would be contacted and their laws adhered to. It is standard procedure that the F.B.I. is immediately contacted if an American passenger is involved. Should the situation involve a select number of passengers and/or crew, the local authorities will usually allow the vessel to proceed on its itinerary minus those personnel. A vessel will not be held in port unless documented evidence of a crime is presented. Local jurisdiction produces local justice. It is, in most cases, effective.
A cruise ship is not a babysitting service. It is not a rehab center. Its brochures advertise good food, pleasant companions, good weather, safety, entertainment, relaxation and a general sense of freedom to withdraw from the daily stress that befalls us all. It does not propose to protect all passengers from man's inhumanity to man.
Typically, there are numerous incidents, headlined and never retracted, involving accusations of dread deeds done at sea, having been proven later to be false and yet never officially rebutted. Pity the reputation of the cruise line that has suffered only the accusatory headline. As someone who has testified in court both in favor of a person falsely accused as well as against a clearly guilty person, I am well aware of the importance of testimony. After 20 years at sea, I well know the implications of the future of someone who has been wrongly accused and I was equally anxious, as well, to see justice done when someone was guilty.
The cruise line does not and should not dictate passenger behavior patterns: There are bad people everywhere. They pay the same fare as you on a vessel; they can be the dregs of society or the cream of society. Because you can not escape from them on a ship, it is a prudent idea not to share with strangers any information that, misused, could cause you harm.
The cruise industry is not exempt from crime, in any of its aspects, but it still is an incredibly safe mode of travel with the least number of accidents and unpleasant incidents serving thousands of people.
Alas, sensationalism appeals today as always, and the television talk shows are well aware of the public's reaction to an incident at sea. Still, the cruise industry has proven itself by its bookings. Ten million passengers can't be wrong.