Articles Posted in Crime Victims

Instances of rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes occur frequently on cruise ships. Just last year a cruise ship employee used a master key to enter the room of a female passenger. He hid on the room’s balcony until she returned. On her return to the room, she went to bed and was awakened by the intruder. The crewmember began choking her. The passenger fought for her life in every way she could by biting him and stabbing him with a corkscrew. The passenger was sexually assaulted, punched, and beaten with a laptop and a curling iron. She incurred brain injuries, fractures to her skull, spine, and face, and numerous bite marks. The crewmember even tried to snap the passenger’s neck. The crewmember tried to kill her. He became nervous when other passengers began knocking on the door and jumped off the balcony to the lower level in hopes of getting away. He was eventually caught.

Maritime law holds cruise lines strictly liable for the intentional, wrongful, and criminal acts of their employees. This includes rape and sexual assault. Rules of law governing conduct on cruise ships can be complex. To add to the complexities, cruise ships are governed by federal law, not state law, when the cruise ship is more than three nautical miles out at sea. If you or a loved one is a victim of a crime on a cruise ship, it is important that you seek the representation of an experienced maritime law attorney. The Miami, Florida maritime lawyers at Gerson & Schwartz PA have experience filing claims against all the major cruise lines.

The Cruise Ship Vessel Security Act of 2010

Last December, a Honduran man was arrested after allegedly fondling an 11-year-old girl aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship. The ship disembarked from Port Miami for a weekend long cruise. While aboard the ship, the girl told her parents that the man, 31-year-old Palma Ortega, had fondled her three times. If you or someone you love was the victim of sexual assault on a cruise ship, consider contacting a Miami Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Attorney.

Miami-Dade police are charging Ortega with three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor, and he is being held without bond. Upon detention, Ortega confessed to the crime. In the state of Florida, the lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under 12 is a felony punishable by 25 years to life in prison. The man is also on an immigration hold and may be subject to deportation.

It is not clear yet whether or not Ortega was a crewmember of the Disney cruise line, but regardless, the cruise ship company does not have the best track record of responding to sexual assaults by their crew members. In 2013, a similar event took place, where an 11-year-old girl was groped by a dining room employee on the Disney Dream cruise ship while the ship was docked at Port Canaveral. Local police could not arrest the man because Disney did not report the assault until the next day. Instead of receiving justice, the man was sent back to his home country of India.

Recently, a passenger sued Carnival Cruise ship on account of suffering a sexual assault by an unidentified individual while using the ladies’ restroom in the ship and alleged that, in spite of reporting the incident to the support staff on the same day, no active measure was taken by the cruise ship crew or personnel. Our team of Miami cruise ship lawyers are not surprised. This brings to light the fact that sexual assaults on cruise ships are not uncommon at all.

What to Do if You are Sexually Assaulted on a Cruise Ship

If you and/or the perpetrator of a sexual assault is an American national and the ship sails from or to a U.S. port, then the FBI will have jurisdiction over the case. In other circumstances, it is more complicated to determine which agency—or even which country—has jurisdiction. The location of the vessel, the nationality of the perpetrator or victim, ownership of the vessel, the points of embarkation and debarkation, and the country in which the vessel is flagged may all have an effect on jurisdiction.

Cruise ships are not always about welcome drinks, sundecks, and romantic dinners under the moonlit night. There are, unfortunately, many serious crimes that can occur on board a cruise ship, no matter how secure you think you may be. Petty thefts, serious assaults, battery, and even rapes have been reported on cruise ships. In fact, over 950 cruise ship crimes were reported to the FBI between 2011 and 2012, and those are only the crimes that the FBI is aware of. Unfortunately, many crimes, especially sexual assaults, go unreported. Our team of Miami maritime lawyers are here to help and have handled many cases for victims of serious criminal acts while on board a cruise ship or other vessel.

Get Treatment, if Needed

If you or a loved one are the victim of a physical assault or rape by a fellow passenger or crew member, seek immediate medical attention. Cruise ships should have trained medical professionals on board to provide treatment. Be sure, once you return to land, to get copies of the medical records so you can provide them to the authorities and to your attorney. This will help established that the incident occurred if a claim is pursued against the cruise liner and/or an employee of the liner.

On July 24, 2014 a senate Committee Hearing chaired by retiring Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, illustrated the necessity for better enforcement of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act 0f 2010Act. The Bill S. 1340, known as the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, perfects the intent of congress in passing the 2010 legislation. Despite, efforts made by the cruise lines to thwart the passage of this legislation, crime victim advocates and personal injury attorneys such as Miami based lawyer, Philip M. Gerson of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. still pursue justice for passengers on the high seas. Mr. Gerson addressed congress detailing the negligent behavior of the cruise line industry and its trade group, Cruise Lines Industry Association, commonly referred to as CLIA. Mr. Gerson illustrated how cruise ship owners suppress the facts, rather than honestly report them to their passengers. These organizations and individuals alike, boast that its passengers are safer at sea, when this is clearly not the case.

At the senate hearing Mr. Gerson emphasized, how ship security is on board to protect the ship owners, not their passenger customers. Moreover, he pointed out how the legal relationship between the passenger and the cruise line is deliberately written in a way that is difficult to understand. Due to the fact, that the contractual terms which individuals sign are printed in tiny font and using legal and maritime terms that cannot be understood by the average person who takes a cruise, the rights of crime victims on board a cruise are often signed away before they even embark.

The compelling stories of three witnesses who spoke at this hearing demonstrated how difficult it has been for victims to seek or obtain protection before, or assistance after, violent and brutal crimes such as rape and sexual assault occur. Mr. Gerson continued to express deep concern for women and children who are unsafe while at sea. These vulnerable populations in particular are targeted by sexual predators often including crew members hired to work on board the ship. Sometimes, individuals hired as security guards who passengers understandably believe are on board to protect guests are the very ones who are committing these heinous crimes. More importantly, there is absolutely no police protection, on board these floating cities, and so defenseless passengers are left to protect themselves.

Earlier this month, Florida Today published a story discussing the recent arrest of a Disney Cruise Line crew member who has been charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation and one count of false imprisonment of a 13-year-old female cruise passenger. Our cruise ship lawyers  have been watching this case closely for additional details to emerge. Under federal maritime law, cruise ship companies are subject to strict liability claims for rape, sexual assault and any crime committed by their employees. In other words, cruise ship companies are legally responsible for the criminal acts of their crew members.

Details of this latest crime is still emerging. However, Canaveral Port Authority Police were notified of the allegations shortly after Disney’s Dream cruise ship docked at the terminal following a four-day journey to the Bahamas. Police arrested 36-year-old Ahmed Sofyan, a resident of Jakarta, Indonesia.

According to police, Sofyan lured the minor into an unoccupied cabin and touched her inappropriately. During the encounter, the victim attempted to escape, and even asked to leave several times, but Sofyan wouldn’t let her leave. Sofyan ultimately let the girl go, and when confronted by police, admitted that he knew his conduct was wrong and that the girl was only 13 years old.

Last week, Inside Edition, published an interview with a young woman who claims that she was raped while aboard a Carnival cruise ship last year. According to 28-year-old Tristin, who asked that her last name not be disclosed, she was held her down by two crew members in their cabin and raped repeatedly. Our cruise ship attorneys in Florida  have been watching this case closely for additional details to emerge.

Following the incident, Tristin reported the attack to ship security, prompting a breathalyzer test of the involved crew members. Tristin admitted to drinking that evening, but, contrary to the claims of the alleged attackers, the sex was not consensual. Tristin has filed a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines, but Carnival is denying any wrongdoing and criminal charges have not been levied against the crew members.

Carnival issued the following statement with regard to the assault:

Media reports of unauthorized entry into a stateroom by a low level crew member, beating, forcible rape, attempted murder, and escape shock the cruising public.

Every cruise passenger lawyer knows there is strict liability for these harms.  This means Holland America owes this passenger 100% of her compensatory damages.

Philip Gerson, Board Chair of the National Center for Victims of Crime and board member for International Cruise Victims organizations says this is not enough.  “This victim should sue Holland America for punitive damages for misleading the vacationing public about the safety of cruising.  Passengers at sea are in a jurisdictional vacuum and cruise lines refuse to undertake needed reforms to prevent these attacks.”  Gerson, founding partner at Gerson & Schwartz  in Miami said the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) should also be sued for promoting a disinformation campaign to mislead the public about the dangers of unskilled, poorly trained and inadequately supervised crew members who harm innocent travelers.”

Early this morning, British news outlet Gazette Live, reported that an elderly couple from Teeside, England, had been violently assaulted by a fellow passenger, whilst cruising on Thomson Cruises Thomson Celebration in January. According to the report, the woman suffered “serious spinal injuries,” while her husband incurred “serious facial injuries,” both requiring treatment at a hospital. Apparently, the couple’s attacker was permitted to leave the cruise shortly after the incident, and the cruise line did nothing to detain him. Cleveland, England Police are investigating what they are referring to as a “serious unprovoked assault”, but have not yet made an arrest.

As our Florida cruise ship accident attorneys have discussed before, preventing and controlling crime on board ships is one of the biggest problems that the cruise ship industry faces. Every year, dozens of cruise ship passengers fall victim to physical and sexual assaults onboard cruise ships at the hands of crew members and other passengers.

Back in December, this blog discussed an assault on a 14-year-old passenger aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Imagination by a security guard. According to the victim of the alleged assault, the guard chased him into a stairwell and slammed him into a wall after witnessing the teen try to sneak into the ship’s nightclub. In July of last year, a 19-year-old man from Kentucky was charged with raping an 18-year-old aboard the Carnival Dream. These are just a couple of the dozens of crimes that are committed against cruise passengers each year.

Last month, South Florida news outlet WSVN reported that a teenage boy had decided to file a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise lines, alleging that the boy had been beaten by a security guard while aboard the Carnival Imagination in June. Our Florida cruise ship attorneys have been following this case closely.

According to the teen, who was fourteen at the time of the incident, he tried sneak into the ship’s nightclub, but was spotted and ran out by the security guard. The teen alleges that the guard chased him into a nearby stairwell, where the guard grabbed him and slammed him into a wall. The teen claims the security guard let go when two passengers began taking photos and intervened. The guard then escorted the teen to his parents’ cabin. The boy’s family alleges that he suffered a bulging disk in his neck as a result of the assault and is now under the care of a neurologist and psychologist. The family maintains that they intend on filing a lawsuit and are calling for the security guard to be fired so as to prevent a similar incident from happening to other passengers.

As this blog has discussed before, preventing and controlling crime on board ships is one of the biggest problems that the cruise ship industry faces. Every year, dozens of cruise ship passengers fall victim to physical and sexual assaults onboard cruise ships at the hands of crew members and other passengers.

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