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The investigation of cruise ship crimes

Cruise ship companies invite Wisconsin vacationers to enjoy pleasurable experiences in what appears to be a controlled environment. A cruise ship vacation can be a relief from everyday rules and responsibilities. However, approximately 10 million American passengers expected to take cruises in 2015 are not insulated entirely from worries, including crime.

A lack of public information makes it difficult to estimate how many passengers might be involved in criminal cases, either as accused parties or alleged victims. The U.S. Coast Guard only reports cruise ship cases the FBI has dropped, not active investigations or prosecutions. A government report revealed the public was made aware of just 31 of the 959 cruise ship crimes reported to the FBI in 2011.

Federal agents sometimes can't and often don't get involved in every criminal case involving Americans aboard cruise ships. The FBI focuses exclusively on kidnapping, thefts of over $10,000 and violent crimes like sexual assaults, homicide and assaults with major injuries. Over 50 percent of the more than 300 cruise crime cases investigated by the FBI between 2000 and 2005 were assault related.

The FBI leads cases involving suspected terrorism, American-owned ships and U.S. nationals on ships that use American ports. The agency also may be the prime investigator for alleged high seas crimes within 12 miles of the coastline, the territorial limit. Federal agents work in conjunction with authorities from other countries when cases fall outside U.S. jurisdiction.

Federal authorities attempt to collect evidence before a cruise ship docks, but agents sometimes cannot initiate an investigation until a case starts to grow cold. Delayed investigative action can be just as detrimental to a U.S. national accused of a crime as it is for an alleged victim.

The legal rights of Americans can change once they move beyond U.S. boundaries. It can be valuable to explore this subject with an attorney before taking an international vacation.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Crime on the High Seas," accessed July 01, 2015

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