It is not an ideal situation, but occasionally, crimes or other unfortunate events occur at sea. How these crimes are handled depends on many factors, including the type of offense committed and the severity of the injury or harm done.

Reporting Crimes at Sea 

Cruise liners have been independently reporting crime statistics for any serious crimes that have occurred on their ships previously. However, in 2014, an amendment was made to the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act that made it mandatory that certain crimes be reported to the FBI. These involve a series of eight serious crimes that all passenger vessels must report if these vessels are either embarking from or disembarking in a U.S. port. The most serious crimes include missing passengers, homicides and other suspicious deaths. With respect to crimes involving theft, the FBI only reports incidents where more than $10,000 was stolen. Cruise companies, following the 2014 amendment, have made efforts to be more transparent when a crime occurs on the ship and many have made efforts to keep passengers more informed and to encourage them to make reports when a crime is suspected.

Security on the Ship 

The captain is charged with making important decisions regarding what to do with the offenders who are suspected of committing a crime and oversee determining whether to dock early and report the crime or continue on course. In addition, it is important that all passengers are educated and informed about safety measures on the trip. Passengers need to know how to be vigilant in avoiding crime but also in reporting it if it does happen. Making sure that passengers are properly educated and informed of these procedures is the responsibility of the ship’s captain and security personnel on the ship.

Common Crimes at Sea 

Many of the crimes that are reported at sea are minor crimes involving public intoxication or petty theft. Incidents of public intoxication very rarely get to the point where criminal prosecution is needed. Most of the ship’s staff are trained to handle these types of incidents, including knowing what to do to deescalate behavior before it gets out of hand. However, intoxication can often lead to more severe crimes once the person gets so drunk he or she is no longer making wise decisions. Many times, if someone becomes belligerent or violent due to intoxication, assault and battery can result, which do lead to criminal prosecution.

Out of crimes committed in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, of the 13 million passengers who were on board ships departing U.S. ports, only 100 serious crimes were reported to the FBI. There were 11 incidents of homicides, suspicious deaths or missing passengers. Of the categories of crimes reported, sexual assault and/or assault were the most commonly-reported crime onboard. Fourteen incidents were reported involving physical assaults, and 72 reports of sexual assaults were made in a 15-month period.

Incarceration on the Ship

What happens to the offender when a crime occurs on a ship? Most cruise companies do not outwardly talk about how they handle criminal offenders, but that does not mean a plan does not exist. Every ship comes with a place to house an arrested suspect until the ship docks. This arrangement may be a house arrest in the offending passenger’s cabin with guards posted outside of the room. The bigger ships also have a room that is a padded or safe lockup facility referred to as a “brig.” When it comes to deciding on whether to detain a passenger, the determination to jail a passenger or disembark him or her rests with the captain of the ship.

Criminal Investigations on Cruise Ships

After a crime is reported on the ship, the cruise ship’s security personnel respond and is usually the first agency that begins investigating what has happened. The security’s job is to first ensure that all other passengers are safe, and the incident is diffused before moving forward in handing the matter off to the port’s law enforcement.

Determining Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction can be an interesting subject when it comes to crime occurring on a cruise. If the ship is in a port when the crime is committed, the port has jurisdiction over the matter. In fact, every country has continued jurisdiction if the ship is in waters that are within twelve nautical miles of their shore. If the ship is past that limit, then jurisdiction over the crime is under the laws of the ship’s registered country. If the crime happens on open water, the captain makes the determination on whether the ship will make an unscheduled stop at the closest port, even if it is not on the ship’s schedule, or whether the ship will detain the passenger until the next port of call. That port’s authorities will then come onto the ship and make the arrest.

In the event a U.S. citizen is on a ship and commits a crime or if the U.S. citizen is a victim of a crime on the ship, the FBI conducts much of the investigation regarding the crime, especially if a serious crime has been committed. However, the FBI may not always be able to start the investigation until the ship returns, which can cause issues in preserving evidence. Reporting a crime as soon as it is observed or suspected is key in making sure that all evidence is obtained in a prompt and efficient manner.


If you have been injured on your cruise, on a wet and slippery deck, down a poorly lit staircase or steep gangway, in port on an excursion, or on a tender boat- it is important that you speak as soon as possible with a lawyer who specializes in personal injury claims against cruise lines. Most cruise lines, including CarnivalRoyal CaribbeanCelebrityNorwegianMSCDisneyHolland AmericaPrincess, Costa, Regents Seven Seas and Oceania require that claims against them be pursued in a very specific place under very strict deadlines. Failure to comply with each individual cruise lines deadlines can result in a complete loss of any and all legal rights.

Aronfeld Trial Lawyers is a personal injury firm located in Miami, Florida since 1991.  We have fought hard to hold cruise lines accountable when they put their profits ahead of passenger safety.  We are available 24/7 and encourage you to contact us even if you are still on your cruise. The sooner we can begin our investigation and preservation of key evidence, such as the CCTV footage of your trip and fall, slip and fall, assault or other type of injury the more likely we will be able to understand and prove how the incident occurred. Remember, the cruise lines have the most aggressive and well-funded defense lawyers in the world- protecting their profits.  You need an experienced legal advocate in your corner who will fight to obtain the compensation you deserve for lost wages, medical expenses, transportation reimbursement and pain and suffering.  Call us today and speak with a cruise ship claims lawyer about your potential claim- toll free 1-866-597-4529305-441-0440, or by email. We are ready to help.