Cruise Ship Hysteria

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There has been
a lot of bad press about the cruise industry of late. It has come
under fire over stomach virus outbreaks and some troubling, tragic
events which were apparently criminal in nature. On television,
panderer CBS News seems eager to fan the flames of hyperbole; two
mornings running they’ve featured segments on — I paraphrase very
loosely here — the “unregulated ships that have no laws.”

Now there is
a House of Representatives hearing in progress, and a group has
been formed which calls itself “International Cruise Victims.” It
is claimed that twenty-eight people have disappeared from cruise
ships in the last three years, while only five have been found,
according to a
CBS web story
. Quoting the article: “a congressional memo compiled
in advance of the hearing on cruise ship safety also details 177
sexual misconduct incidents, ranging from inappropriate touching
to rape, and four robberies of amounts over $5,000.” There’s no
information as to the nature of the disappearances — some could
simply be a case of “drunken man dives overboard.” Additionally,
the numbers don’t seem horrifically high on their face, but more
about that later.

Apparently
the cruise lines are not compelled by law to compile crime statistics,
and out on the ocean only sketchy, international laws apply. Therefore,
of course, the natural impulse of those who have been wronged is
to go screaming to government to solve the perceived problem, to
force the cruise ships to obey as yet unformulated U.S. regulations.

The problem
with this approach is that, as we all know, government meddling
rarely solves anything, and instead only makes things worse. Presumably
Congress will force ships to log all supposed crimes which occur
on their decks, no matter how ridiculous (e.g., passenger Smith
smoked in the “No Smoking” zone), and require captains to sign off
on them under penalty fine and imprisonment. Perhaps the ocean liners
will have to hire a certain number of security people based upon
the number of passengers they carry, or the number of nooks and
crannies where mayhem might take place. Maybe cruise ships will
have to include a list of recent onboard crimes with every advertising
brochure they send out. Naturally all of this nonsense will cost
money which will be passed off onto the passengers, and tend to
stifle the cruise industry, eventually causing some ships to forgo
U.S. ports entirely.

I, myself,
have been on just one cruise, several years ago, and I actually
did ponder the fact that “anything could happen” on that floating
police-less city on the water. The crews of these ships are international
in makeup, so I wondered what exotic diseases I might catch. I imagined
I might run afoul of some “gang of wackos ” who might dislike me
for some reason, and toss me into the drink. What if I hurt myself
so badly playing shuffleboard that I needed a hospital immediately?
Yes, these things crossed my mind, and the reality is that concerns
such as these, rational or not, are part of the equation a person
solves in his mind before undertaking any activity. Sure, something
bad might have happened, but the probabilities seemed extremely
low, so I went on the cruise. If other people feel the danger is
too great, they just won’t go; it is their choice. This is called
“freedom.”

Perhaps published
lists of crimes at sea may enable potential passengers to evaluate
the risks more accurately, but regulations and beefed-up security
would likely not be worth the added expense and annoyance. Just
as on land, security forces at sea wouldn’t be able to stop most
crimes. Their physical presence may deter certain misdeeds, but
most of the time the police arrive after the fact, too late to prevent
them. It’s unlikely that a security force hired by a cruise line
will be objective, so what are the hysterical supplicants proposing
— that we quarter federal marshals onboard at taxpayer expense to
ensure order!? To be sure, the vast majority of passengers on a
cruise are there to relax and have a good time; I suspect that the
ratio of potential evildoers is smaller on one of these ships than
it is in any major metropolitan area.

Oh, I almost
forgot, the congressional memo noted above states that during the
three-year period, approximately 25 million people embarked on
cruises from North American ports. Once again quoting the CBS
web story: “James Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern
University retained by the International Council of Cruise Lines,
said in a statement issued by the council that, ‘While virtually
no place — on land or sea — is totally free of risk, the number
of reported incidents of serious crime from cruise lines is extremely
low, no matter what benchmark or standard is used.’”

(By the way,
during my cruise I neither witnessed nor heard about any “incidents,”
although I did catch a garden-variety cold.)

March
9, 2006

Andrew
S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

Andrew
S. Fischer

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