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Safety on the High Seas

by Douglas Terhune

A few weeks ago I was surfing on the television when I came upon the Court TV channel. To my knowledge, I had never let my clicker pause long enough on this channel to see anything other than the little Court TV icon in the bottom right hand side of the screen. But a person was on the witness stand, and his name and company affiliations were printed on the bottom of the screen.

The man was black and appeared tall and lean, even though he was seated. He spoke with an accent - one that I was not able to decipher in the split second this man graced the screen. It could have been Bahamian or from somewhere in the Caribbean, but something looked oddly familiar about the gentlemen. He was well spoken and very polite. He had a beaming smile, well groomed hair and looked like a very personable man. My first impression was that of comfort when he spoke. I immediately liked this gentleman in the witness stand.

When I glanced at the name and company he worked for that was superimposed on the screen, many things ran through my head, for joining this information were the words that were the basis for the trial. I did not want to believe I was seeing this. I rejected it and assumed the case was an old rerun. This man's familiarity was not personal, but general to myself. I have laughed and shared many good times with men such as himself. I have eaten in their company and have pictures galore of men such as him. I have received innumerable recommendations of what to do and what to choose from men similar to this gentleman.

The man works for one of the largest cruise ship companies in the world. He is/was a room steward - and his accusers contend that this 12-year employee of the line drugged a female passenger (who was accompanied by a male companion) on one of their cruises and sexually assaulted her. Making judgements as to the facts of this case are certainly not the intent of this author, for I'd rather leave a task of this nature to my good friend and excellent attorney and fellow SeaLetter columnist, Alan Walker.

Rather though, let us look at the topic of safety on a cruise. If you are looking for what to do in case of a fire aboard a ship, this is the wrong article. If you'd like to know the OSHA safety standards of all ships - nope, not here. The question that deserves some time here is "Are cruises safe for women?"

The questions beg asking because the crews of luxury cruise liners are predominantly male. And when I say predominantly, we are looking at about 85%. Add that to ships which day in and day out carry passenger lists that consistently average 60% females, and you can see the possible foundation for controversy. I am not sure that there are statistics available to the public on the safety records of cruises. The lines tend to call home in non-US ports, and are not therefore required to provide information about any mishap on a ship to the port of embarkation in the States. Ships are for the most part, their own jurisdiction. Of course though, any complaint that is not handled accordingly while off the coast of US waters is brought to the attention of appropriate authorities once stateside.

So, how can we tell if cruises are a safe way to travel? In such a short article, we can't - but let us draw some general conclusions about the safety of cruises:

  1. The number of berths each week sailing from US shores is approximately 64,000. If we agree that more women than men cruise, then this equates to 38,000 female seagoers each week - or nearly 2 million per year. In my 21 years of cruising and paying attention to the news of the lines, I have seen, read or heard about fewer than five cases of a woman's safety being put in peril. Of course none of us is privy to the list of cases that did not get brought forward, but on the outside, they appear safe.
  2. Growing up just outside New York City, I was entrusted by my parents to travel in and out of NYC to attend sporting events at the age of 14. The only lesson my dad had to provide for me was that I should not go where I should not go. Ten years ago I was aboard a cruise ship traveling out of San Juan. There were not many single men on board, and two young and single women late one night told me they were about to head downstairs to the crew's cabins. They had had a bit to drink and I believe I persuaded them to do differently. Regardless if you are home or on vacation, one must not forget a very common sense principle of life - be careful.
  3. While there are no available statistics concerning the number of incidents of safety of passengers aboard cruise ships, conversely, securing the same information from hotels and resorts around the globe would also be a difficult task.

When people envelop themselves in the pleasures of vacations, good judgements and statistics can sometimes be tossed right out the porthole. There are few certainties left in life, and I wish the cruise lines could guarantee the total safety of all passengers 100% of the time, but that cannot happen. The lines feel that the safety of their passengers is paramount, and in the past several years, security efforts seem to be more prevalent. But no hotel, port of call, resort or cruise ship can guarantee the safety of all passengers 100% of the time. And just because I feel that cruises are a fun and safe way to travel, this does not mean that anyone should drop their guard.

Travel smart. Consider your options carefully, be it on the high seas or on an enchanted tropical island. Apply your own set of values as you do at home to your vacation days - and chances are you will have a safe holiday.


Recently it was reported that:

". . . the industry had developed for the first time a standard requiring that all reports of crimes on board ships be relayed to law enforcement authorities.
"Under the standard, allegations of crime on ships will be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for any vessel that calls on United States ports or any incidents involving U.S. citizens. Foreign-flagged ships are not required to report all crimes to American authorities."

This policy is apparently the result of questions that are being raised on Capitol Hill due to the increase in reports involving crime on the high seas.


Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced "solo cruiser" and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His monthly "Ship Tips" columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Sensation's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Douglas Terhune" as your search phrase.

Doug can be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.

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