Articles Posted in Sexual Crimes/Assault

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.

A lawsuit based in maritime has been filed in the brutal beating of a cruise passenger that we mentioned on our blog a few weeks ago. With the filing of the lawsuit, the victim’s attorney has revealed the carelessness of the cruise line that contributed to the vicious attack. Our Florida maritime law firm is monitoring the case closely.

The Horrific Attack

The case stems from a  Holland America cruise ship passenger was brutally beaten by a Holland America employee, who apparently had a master key and used it to gain entry into the victim’s cabin. The employee tried to strangle the woman with a phone cord, smashed her with a laptop and other blunt objects, and even tried to throw her overboard. She was also sexually assaulted. At one point, her oxygen supply was completely cut off from the choking. The entire attack lasted about an hour, until the victim managed to escape the cabin into the hallway.

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.

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.”

Previously, statistical information regarding crimes committed on cruise ships was kept out of the public’s eye. Cruise ship companies were able to keep under wraps the many criminal offenses against passengers, in order to protect their reputations. Now, under new legislation, cruise companies are required to publish this information, therefore, prompting cruise leaders such as Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines to jump ahead and make this information available, before the new impending legislation passed.

Now, crimes committed on board cruise ships that are allegedly reported by individuals will be available in a crime report. This will include sexual assaults, homicides, kidnappings and serious personal injuries. Associations that work hard to protect the rights of passengers such as the International Cruise Victims Association, as well as Maritime lawyers around the country like those at Gerson & Schwartz, PA, believe that this information will encourage cruise companies to better investigate crimes and protect their passengers. Those factors that contribute to ongoing safety issues will hopefully be addressed, making the cruise experience a safer one for all.

Miami maritime lawyers at Gerson & Schwartz, PA have settled hundreds of cases involving crimes against passengers on board cruises. Since, cruise companies promise passengers a trip, where there is access to unlimited amounts of alcohol and limited security and police presence, predators often use cruises as easy venues to commit crimes against women or children. For instance, rapes are rampant, as well as sexual crimes against minors during cruises. Often times, the cruise ship companies’ self regulating security personnel operate way below standards. Passengers lives are at risk, and they do not even realize it. The cruise companies’ work to hide the fact that crimes are being committed on ships, so that business is not affected by the truth leaking out.

With the new standards in place, forcing cruise lines to inform the public specifically to the incidents that occur on their ships, this information will give individuals the knowledge and power to make educated choices when planning their vacation. People can make up their own minds whether or not they feel a cruise is a safe mode of travel. Miami crime victim attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, Pa can assist anyone who has been physically harmed while on a cruise, whether, he or she was in international or domestic waters. No crime should ever be kept under wraps, simply because, it was committed on the open sea.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a crime while on board a cruise ship, contact the Florida maritime lawyers at Gerson & Schwartz, PA today for a free consultation. (877)475-2905 or

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New legislation is currently before Congress in an effort to offer more protection for cruise ship passengers. The new legislation has been introduced in the wake of numerous cruise ship accidents such as mechanical failures, an increase in crimes at sea, and is part of a concerted effort to improve quality, safety and security for all cruise ship passengers. If past, the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013” would be the most significant cruise ship legislation enacted since the “Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010” was signed by President Barak Obama. Maritime attorneys, passengers, and consumer protection groups like the International Cruise Victims Association along with members of Congress say much stronger laws and regulations are needed in order to protect the public and to hold cruise ship companies accountable when they should be.

Included in the legislation would be changes in the way cruise ship companies report crimes. It would also require cruise ship operators like Carnival and Royal Caribbean to change the way they report and assist innocent victims on their vessels. Though still in it’s early stages, the legislation would could require cruise lines to maintain video footage from surveillance cameras and install cameras in public areas.

Cruise ship lawyers at Gerson & Schwartz, PA explain that cruise ship companies have a huge incentive for limiting the way criminal incidents such as rape and sexual assault are reported and investigated. Under federal maritime law, cruise ship companies are subject to strict liability for crimes committed by their crew members. This means that when crimes have been committed by employees, the cruise line is automatically liable to an injured party. If the crime is established, crime victims do not need to prove fault, but only need to prove medical causation and damages. “The way cruise lines industry defends these cases is by a lack of oversight in the criminal investigation process. As soon as there is a criminal incident aboard one of their vessels the cruise lines typically “dump” the accused employee in the next port of call.

Instead of turning potential criminals over to police or FBI, the cruise lines will conduct their own investigation which is usually minimal at best. The cruise line usually takes the position that it was a “he said she said” and then make a self serving determination that the incident did not really occur. The next step, is the cruise lines will assist the accused and buy them a “one way ticket” back to their home country, and before any real investigation can occur. Notably, many cruise ship employees are Indian, from the Philippines, Europe, or live in other far away places.

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When vacationing on a cruise ship, the last thing most travelers think about are dangerous people lurking around them. Cruises are supposed about entertainment, relaxation, and an escape from the real world. Unfortunately, there are times when these getaways turn into nightmares, often because of the conduct of others on the ship.

For example, last Thursday the Orlando Sentinel reported the arrest by federal prosecutors of a 31-year old Florida man on suspicions of gang-raping a 15-year old girl aboard a Carnival cruise ship. The cruise ship rape allegedly took place the prior weekend involving a 15-year old girl, the 31-year old attacker, and a group of teenage boys. According to the report, the older man was with his wife on the ship, the Carnival Sensation, while the girl was traveling with her parents. The victim and her friend (another 15-year old girl) were invited back to the older man’s cabin along with the group of younger boys. Once inside, the male group allegedly locked the friend in the bathroom while forcefully raping the other girl.

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MIAMI, FL—Officials from the Broward Sheriff’s Office charged two Brazilian males, one of whom is 15 years old, with lewd and lascivious battery in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas cruise ship. According to information provided by NBC Miami, BSO and FBI detectives awaited the ship’s return to Port Everglades on Jan. 3, after Royal Caribbean officials reported the apparent cruise rape case to them.

Reports indicated an unidentified 15-year-old girl was at Fuel, a teen club aboard the Allure of the Seas cruise ship, when she met a teenage boy who invited her to his room on the basis that he was holding a party and she could meet friends there.

Upon entering the 15-year-old boy’s cabin, however, she evidently realized there was no party being held there whatsoever. In fact, the only other individual there was 20-year-old Luiz Scavone, who swiftly showed her to the bed and began attempting to disrobe her (with the help of the unidentified teen boy) against her will.

Although BSO reports suggested the teen girl told the two male cruise passengers that she had a curfew and needed to leave, they would not allow her to. The Brazilian men allegedly went on to force the young victim to perform oral sex on both of them. They then forced the girl—who alleged said “no” multiple times—to have sex with both of them as well.

Royal Caribbean officials told reporters a “guest care team offered the female guest a variety of assistance, including medical care and counseling.” Authorities arrested both suspects at Port Everglades on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the attack was said to have taken place.

Scavone is reportedly being detained at the Fort Lauderdale-based Main Jail. It was not clear if the teen suspect—whom is being charged as a juvenile—was detained upon being arrested in the cruise rape case.

According to statistics posted on the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website, the FBI regarded sexual assault as the leading crime reported on cruise ships, accounting for 55 percent of all maritime crimes reported to the bureau.

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