Background Checks: Who's Working on Your Cruise Ship?

August 13, 2010
job-application (5:21 p.m. EDT) -- Last week, a man who for years had been tops on a California city's Most Wanted list was arrested -- on a cruise ship. And he wasn't a passenger. As reported by the Oakland Tribune and USA Today's Cruise Log, Bulgarian Kaloyan Kaloyanov, who was wanted for a sexual assault case that took place in 2000, was working onboard Carnival Splendor as the manager of the ship's hair salon. He'd been working onboard cruise ships for several years, employed by Steiner Leisure, the company that manages the spas and salons on many cruise ships.

How did a wanted criminal get a job onboard a cruise ship? The story made us wonder just how cruise lines, and the companies that hire for them, screen candidates for onboard jobs (as well as onshore ones, as in the case of the cruise line employee who used information about cruise passengers to rob their homes while they were away). It's extremely important to travelers that the people who go into their cabins to clean while they're onshore or the counselors looking after their children in the kids' clubs do not have past histories of theft, abusive behavior or other criminal activities.

We contacted Steiner, as well as a few cruise lines, to find out about their hiring practices. Here's what we learned:

Background checks are an essential part of the hiring process. "Carnival conducts background checks for all shipboard and shoreside personnel," Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher tells us. "Background checks on all non-U.S. shipboard personnel are conducted by agencies in the candidates' home country and a certified criminal history document for the country of origin is required." Glenn Fusfield, chief operating officer of Steiner Leisure, says that every job applicant for an onboard position is required to supply a police record and background check with official seals -- the company can tell when the documents are faked.

"If there's record of a prior arrest or a conviction, we handle that on an individual basis," says Fusfield. "In some cases, the candidate would automatically be disqualified. But it might be that they have something lingering from their past that won't interfere with their current job, or the people have moved on." He maintains that Kaloyanov had a "clean and perfect" background check from his home country when Steiner hired him.

The cruise line or hiring company is not the only organization to run background checks. "The U.S. State Department oversees the issuance of seamen's visas to foreign nationals who sail with ships into U.S. ports," says Cynthia Martinez, spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises. "Therefore the U.S. embassy in the crewmember's country of origin conducts background checks in connection with the issuance of seamen's visas." In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection runs checks on ships' manifests, which include all crewmembers onboard, each time a ship enters and leaves U.S. ports. Other countries have similar practices. So even if the hiring agency misses a red flag, the government is looking out for wanted persons entering the country on cruise ships.

And what if a crewmember has a clean record, but gets in trouble after being hired? Says Martinez, "Any crew dismissed from employment for Royal Caribbean for violation of our zero-tolerance policies is not eligible for re-hire with our company."

Given all these checks and screenings, it's surprising that a wanted criminal like Kaloyanov cruised undetected for years, but it also indicates that his case is highly unusual.

Do you feel cruise lines are doing enough to screen crewmembers? Discuss this story here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor