Which laws apply on a cruise ship in international waters?

Cruise ships are a place for relaxation, but what happens when things go awry?

Who enforces the law on cruises?

Cruise ships are a place for relaxation, but what happens when things go awry? The law on a cruise ship is murky at best.

If you are onboard a ship that is 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from the coast of a nation, you are in international waters (also known as the ‘high seas’). Within this region, the laws are determined by the nation in which the cruise ship is registered.

Many cruise operators register their ships in nations for economical benefits (known as flying a ‘flag of convenience’ or FOC), which is why more than 50 per cent of the world’s merchant ships are registered in Panama. An FOC allows cruise ship operators to dodge taxes, pay workers less and avoid moral obligations.

The pros of this can include perks such as more affordable prices, onboard marriages and gambling. The cons can include victims of theft, sexual assault and murder being left without justice or legal recourse.

While passengers usually enjoy an idyllic existence, when problems do arise, very little can be done about them. Courses of action the cruise ship can take towards troublemakers include

  • locking them up in their room (that’s right, the same punishment a child might receive for uttering an unspeakable word in the presence of their parents)
  • locking them up in the brig (slightly more embarrassing)
  • casting them ashore (at the next port of call, possibly fulfilling a childhood fantasy from a pirate novel)
  • handing them over to authorities at the next port of call.

While handing a criminal over to the authorities seems like a reasonable step on the path to justice, it’s not that simple.

For example: ‘Hypothetical Susan’ is on a cruise between Melbourne and Bali and someone sexually assaults her in international waters. The cruise ship decides to hand the assailant over to the authorities in Sydney, along the way.

The authorities in Sydney now have an alleged criminal in their custody, however, the cruise ship where the crime was committed is registered to Liberia, therefore Liberia is responsible for the investigation.

To make matters worse, it can take days to make it to the next port, so evidence can be lost or even tampered with by cruise line employees who might place the reputation of the cruise company above the safety of individual passengers.

So what happens next? Usually, nothing. A recent study has suggested that only 7 per cent of crimes committed onboard cruise ships are prosecuted.

Onboard the ship, the staff and security personnel reign supreme (under the captain) and are tasked with creating a safe space for the passengers, but they are not responsible for much after a crime has been committed.

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    COMMENTS

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    3rd Feb 2018
    7:23am
    Sounds to me like cruises are best avoided, and cruise ship operators are con-merchants.
    Hardworker
    3rd Feb 2018
    10:05am
    A Princess cruise I went on had to put 2 couples off the ship for a punch up the males had over the use of the laundry facilities. The facilities might be available but you need to be prepared to take your turn and not expect them to be available just for you when you need them.
    Eddy
    3rd Feb 2018
    11:31am
    I may have been on the same cruise, unless of course 'laundry rage' is not so uncommon. I have witnessed some rather heated discussions, but never actual fisticuffs, over use of cruise ship laundry facilities, usually because someone lost track of time and left their washed laundry in a machine for an extended time.
    Anyway I have always felt safe on a cruise ship, but then I do not indulge in risky behavior like getting intoxicated, and will not hesitate to go again.
    Tib
    3rd Feb 2018
    11:44am
    What's the bet the women started the fighting over laundry and the men got involved after that.
    Cowboy Jim
    4th Feb 2018
    10:54am
    If you can afford a cruise you can also afford to have your washing done overnight by the staff. After a certain amount of cruising all this gets done for you free of charge any way. Princess you have to be "Elite" and Holland-America it is "4 Star Mariner".
    Cowboy Jim
    4th Feb 2018
    11:12am
    Saw 2 couples thrown off at Noumea just after leaving Sydney. One called somebody's wife a "certain something" and the other bloke was kicking the poker machine around because it was not paying out what he expected. Once kicked off you have to make your own way back home. So keep a good credit card handy if you want to have a fight.
    Pass the Ductape
    3rd Feb 2018
    10:39am
    People need to be aware that the initial cost of a cruise might appear most attractive, but once aboard you are a captive audience, hence you will pay through the nose for everything you might purchase once at sea. You need to have deep pockets because your additional spending is quite likely to be well above that of the cruise price itself. You are very likely to be touched up for extras such as donations to charitable organisations you have never heard of and there is no way out because it's applied to your credit card whether you agree or not. Paying for things in cash is not accepted, hence credit card charges will also apply. I liken the whole deal to buying a computer printer. The initial cost of the printer might be cheap, but the cost of replacement ink cartridges is just as much as the original cost of the printer - ink included!
    Pass the Ductape
    3rd Feb 2018
    10:49am
    I forgot to include one nice little wrought we discovered on board which kind of points to the thing I'm writing about concerning extra cost. The cruise ship we were on, advertised a tour of the ships bridge for those who may be interested in that kind of thing. I thought it would be interesting like to go on that tour - until I discovered when I went to book i, that it was going to cost $60.
    Cowboy Jim
    4th Feb 2018
    11:02am
    I know people who cannot even manage their "on board" credit given
    as an incentive to most would-be cruisers. You do not have to spend much if you do not drink alcohol or manage to stay away from the casino. Movies are free and all the food is included. Shore excursion are your own affair as are specialty dinners at up-market restaurants. All the shows every night are also gratis. Tipping you can modify if you wish.
    Tib
    3rd Feb 2018
    11:46am
    I thought all I had to worry about on cruise ships was throwing up all day because of sea sickness.
    Cowboy Jim
    4th Feb 2018
    11:15am
    Some good medication available at the Chemist against motion sickness - try "Sea Legs", Tib
    Tib
    4th Feb 2018
    2:21pm
    I'll try it Jim. It's a real problem for me.
    Tib
    3rd Feb 2018
    12:01pm
    So if someone umm fell overboard it would be unlikely to be investigated properly?
    Eddy
    3rd Feb 2018
    2:17pm
    I think it would be investigated properly, cruise lines are very conscious of their obligations under international maritime law. Nowadays every cruise ship has CCTV monitoring everything that happens, including 'man overboard'.
    A couple of years ago I had the occasion to complain to our cabin steward about cigarette butts depositing on our balcony. Within the hour I had a visit from security to assure me it would not happen again as they has spoken to the occupants of the offending cabin and told him and/or her the error of their ways. They did not tell me who it was but there were no more butts. They used the CCTV to identify the balcony the butts were tossed from.
    FrankC
    3rd Feb 2018
    4:20pm
    You don't want to get sick on a cruise. I developed a shocking cough and feeling a bit 'off'. A visit to the medic and a pack of antibiotics : $212. If your covered by insurance your ok, but you are going to pay credit card interest on that. Also Carnival; tried to slug us for a tipping charge of $15 per day per passenger, until I challenged this and said it stated in the fine print the charge was per cabin. "oh, ok sir, we'll make it per cabin".
    Cowboy Jim
    4th Feb 2018
    11:08am
    Tipping charges are quite common to give the staff something extra, most of them come from low cost countries and do not operate under Aussie labor laws. Use ships leaving and arriving in Aussie ports and you won't see those charges applied (like P&O, Princess) also these ships work in $A and you won't find exchange rates to bother with.
    A service charge on every drink is common though.


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