CRUISE liners saw a huge rise in sex crimes allegations over summer, with reports of assault and harassment soaring 67 percent on last year.
Figures released annually by the US Department of Transportation show that between July 1 and September 30 a total of 35 assaults were reported.
Of those, 27 involved passengers, five involved crew members, and three involved unspecified "others".
The figures show a significant rise in assaults reported over the same period last year, which saw a total of 21 incidents, 14 involving passengers.
Of the assaults in 2019, 20 took place on ships run by American cruise line Carnival, currently the largest operator in the world in terms of passengers carried annually.
Eight took place on ships operated by Royal Caribbean, the second-largest cruise line, also headquartered in the US.
The report did highlight a small decline in other crimes, with the number of thefts valued at $10,000 (£7,737) or more falling from seven to five.
There were two instances of assault with serious bodily injury in both periods.
The reasons for the spike are not known for certain, though links have been drawn between sexual assaults on cruise ships and the availability of cheap booze and all-inclusive deals.
Speaking in August, maritime lawyer and cruise ship expert Jim Walker told Sun Online: “We see a direct correlation between excessive alcohol served on cruises and violence, in general, and sexual violence against women, in particular.
“Bartenders and waiters on cruise ships often receive tips and gratuities and are motivated to sell excessive amounts of alcohol in order to earn a living.
“There is no independent police force on these increasingly huge cruise ships.
“Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse in what is often a lawless environment.”
CRIMES ON CRUISE LINES A 'PROBLEMATIC AREA'
Difficulties have also been highlighted in prosecuting crimes committed on cruise ships because most occur in international waters.
That would normally mean the crime would be prosecuted in the country where the ship is flagged, but ships are often flagged in small countries to avoid taxes and regulations, and those countries sometimes don't have the resources to prosecute all crimes committed aboard the vast number of shipped registered with them.
The new data comes just weeks after congressman Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced legislation that would aim to better track and prevent sexual assault and harassment across public transport in the US.
The Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act would require cruise ship operators, as well as passenger airlines, commuter and intercity rail, some bus companies, and ride-sharing apps to collect information on the number of incidents and make it publicly available.
DeFazio told KLCC that cruise lines were among the most "problematic areas", and that the bill was particularly intended to address the problem of prosecuting crimes committed in international waters.
'SAFETY AND SECURITY OUR TOP PRIORITY'
Responding to the figures, a statement by Carnival Cruise Line read: "The safety and security of all our passengers is our top priority and each year nearly 6 million guests enjoy a Carnival cruise vacation in a safe and secure environment.
"We fully comply with the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) and we are legally required to report to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard all alleged serious crimes that occur on board cruise ships pursuant to the CVSSA.
"Nearly 90% of our capacity and operations are from U.S. ports which are covered under the reporting requirements of the CVSSA.
"Many of our U.S. competitors sail from Europe and other non-U.S. ports so they are not mandated to submit CVSSA data as part of the reporting process.
"In essence, we report a higher number of cruise operations than others because we have a much higher percentage of U.S. operations than others. Not because we have more incidents.
"We maintain a high level of security through an onboard uniformed security force who work in tandem with our shoreside security team which is made up of many highly experienced former law enforcement professionals.
"Carnival is also certified by RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
A statement by Royal Caribbean read: "The safety and security of our guests is our top priority, and we take every allegation of serious crime seriously.
"When an incident is reported, our policy triggers immediate notification to appropriate law enforcement authorities in compliance with mandatory reporting standards as well as CLIA industry reporting guidelines.
"Our shipboard security officers undergo extensive security training, and many have served as law enforcement professionals.
"Additionally, our security and medical teams are RAINN-certified, and we work closely with RAINN to train our Care Team members to provide victims assistance, medical care, and counseling services to guests or crew in need of support."
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