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How do cruise ships handle crime at sea

Quantum of the Seas docked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port

How do cruise ships handle crime at sea?

It might not be your first thought as you step on board your cruise ship, ready for days filled with fun, sun and entertainment, but crime does exist on-board cruise ships. The big question is: are cruise ships doing enough to protect passengers? And how can passengers play a role in increasing safety and security on-board?

Here we answer the top questions about crime on a cruise ship:

Does crime happen on cruise ships?

Yes, but not as often as you might believe. In fact, when you compare the incidences of crime on a cruise ship compared to your local neighbourhood, statistically, it’s not that common. On a cruise ship there are thousands of people on-board, so it’s only normal that some incidences may occur. The problem is that if something does occur, it often receives lots of press, making it appear as though crime at sea is rife.

What systems are in place to protect passengers?

The cruise industry has really tightened safety and security measures in recent years. Today, you’d be hard pushed to find a cruise line that doesn't take their passenger’s safety and security very seriously:

  • Cruise ships are subject to constant and exhaustive surveillance throughout by CCTVs, qualified security staff as well as crew.

  • As with bars and hotels on land, cruise ships now enforce the responsible service and consumption of alcohol and a “zero tolerance” approach to drugs and excessive behaviour.

  • If a passenger or crew poses a significant threat, the captains actually have the authority to remove them from a vessel. (It’s written in the small print of your ticket)

At the same time, the cruise lines expect passengers to take a certain degree of responsibility for their own safety – just as you would at home. So that means looking after your possessions, locking your cabin, not giving out your cabin number if you don’t know the person, avoiding elevators by yourself at night, etc. If you think of a cruise ship as a floating city, you need to be street smart.


How is crime handled? 

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to crime. The way in which a crime is handled depends on the severity of the incident, who’s involved, and the cruise line itself. That said, there are some general procedures that cruise ships follow.

Sailing from port to port, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rules that cruise ships are under the jurisdiction of the next port. For example, if a crime occurs on the way to Hong Kong, when the ship arrives in Hong Kong, local authorities will most likely board the vessel and local law will be followed.

If the incident only involves a small number of passengers/crew, usually the local authorities will let the ship continue as planned while those people involved stay behind. It’s very rare that a cruise ship will be held in the port.

There are also different procedures according to the nationality of the passenger. Australian passengers will be happy to hear that the Crimes at Sea Act means their home country can prosecute within a maritime zone off Australia’s shores. While for US citizens, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 requires that cruise lines must report a serious crime and/or missing person to the FBI if it involves a US passenger.

At the end of the day, the cruise industry, like the tourism industry in general, is not free from crime. But with continuously strengthened on-board security and a proactive approach to your own safety, you can relax and enjoy your holiday as it’s meant to be experienced.

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