Top cruise spots also top list for crime

Island police slow to investigate, prosecute

Chances are good that a Caribbean cruise at some point will stop in the Bahamas.  And, according to the U.S. State Department, chances are also good that tourists will fall victim to crime on that island. 

A travel warning was issued for the island nation on Jan. 28 after two American tourists were robbed at gunpoint.

[BEFORE YOU CRUISE: FBI hotline: 866-838-1153 | US Embassy info]

The Bahamas has the highest rate of sexual assault in the Caribbean, a statistic that a Texas college student experienced firsthand in May.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, sailed on a Carnival ship out of Port Canaveral with her boyfriend.  After a day of drinking on the beach in Freeport, the pair decided to ask around for marijuana.

They befriended an islander, who pointed them toward one of the souvenir vendors at the shopping area near the ship.

"I had never smoked before, I was on vacation and I figured this was the perfect opportunity," the woman said.

The man led her to a darkened room, while leaving her boyfriend outside. According to a Port Canaveral police report, he tried to force oral sex on her but was stopped when her boyfriend came in to check on her. 

They reported the incident to Carnival security, who notified Bahamian police. The police did not come to take a report from her until after the ship had sailed to Nassau.  She said even though she gave them a description of the man, and told them exactly where he worked, they did not put care or effort into locating him.

"I feel like they would have found him easily, especially since I told them where he was," she said.

Jim Walker, one of the nation's leading maritime attorneys said most of the crimes in the Bahamas are never solved.

Walker, runs the Cruise Law News website and has been posting and writing about the crime surge in the island nation.

"Cruise lines are responsible for warning passengers of the danger that exists in the ports of call the cruise lines pick," said Walker.

A spokesperson for the Cruise Line Industry Association said that the cruise lines will publicize travel warnings on their websites and even leave a port of call if crimes on tourists become a problem.

A State Department warning for Honduras was issued in late December and a week later a family of five tourists was robbed at gunpoint. 

The family had sailed to the island on a Carnival ship and were reportedly robbed after a masked gunman jumped out of the bushes wielding automatic rifles.

But neither this warning nor the late January warning regarding the Bahamas are prevalent on any of the major cruise lines' websites.

The Texas woman who was assaulted in Freeport said Carnival did not hand out fliers regarding the danger of crime in the Bahamas until after she had already been assaulted. 

"I felt like the whole island knew that these types of things happen and they don't say anything about it," she said.

When cruise lines know about a crime, that does not mean they will report it to the proper authorities.

A Local 6 investigation last year found surveillance video on a Disney ship of a crew member forcing a kiss and fondling the breasts of an 11-year-old girl. 

The incident happened while the ship was docked in Port Canaveral, but Disney failed to report it until the ship had already left for the Bahamas. Bahamian police declined to prosecute, because they said the girl's grandmother did not wish to press charges.

If Port Canaveral police had gotten the case, the crew member could have been prosecuted regardless of the family's wishes under Florida law. 

"It sends the message that if you attack a child on a cruise ship and you're an employee, the worst that's going to happen is the cruise line is going to fly you home," said Walker.

The Texas victim said she felt the crime would have been handled much differently had it occurred on U.S. soil.

"I feel like if this had happened in Texas, or anywhere in the United States, it would have been taken care of in a more professional fashion," she said.

The FBI field office in Tampa encourages all cruise passengers sailing out of Port Canaveral  to immediately call their hotline at 1-866-838-1153 if something happens to them while at sea or in a foreign port of call. 

The FBI and State Department also recommend that travelers bring U.S. Embassy information for each port of call along with them, and immediately get in touch with the appropriate embassy to ensure a crime is properly investigated.