October 23, 2011

Cruiseship Crimes And Uncertain Justice

Despite the image of safe and secure vacations promoted by cruise lines, crime is a reality on board just as much as it remains on shore. Due to organized crime including human trafficking, in many ways holiday cruisers can become even more of a target as they are confined to a relatively small location and their movements can be more easily tracked. The problem worsens when the wrongdoers are in collusion with shipboard staff who may facilitate by giving them the run of the ship for a price.

Like any other business cruise lines abhor the bad publicity that results from on-board crimes and do all within their power to protect their image even if this means letting the criminals escape justice. The mother of a teenage daughter recounts a frightening shipboard ordeal that almost turned tragic.

Cruise from Hell By Elle

About three years ago my family went on the proverbial "cruise from Hell."  After it ended, we went back home and tried to suppress our memories; we haven't been able to talk about it until now.  We are doing so only because, judging from our experience, cruise ships are anything but the safe venue for fun and sun that the cruise line ad campaigns promote, and we want people to know this.
We were booked on the Grand Princess of Princess Cruises, which left Galveston, Texas, for a week's cruise to Mexico and Central America. With me were my grandmother, parents, husband, two daughters, ages 16 and 8. We'll call my older daughter Lizzie; my younger one, Sophie.

As the ship left port, a dance party was already underway on deck.  My two daughters wanted to go there just as soon as we checked into our stateroom.  I escorted them there; people of all ages were dancing, only the adults seemed to have liquor, and crew and security staff were present. So I thought things were all right, but stayed and watched what was going on anyway.
As my girls danced with each other, I noticed that six or eight young men, apparently in their mid- to late-teens, were standing around in a group, "checking out the action" but not bothering anyone or causing trouble.  Even so, acting on what might have been mother's instinct, I took note of them. One of the boys in particular put me on edge, though there was no reason for it: he looked to be about 19, dark-ish (like a Middle Easterner) but with blue eyes, well-dressed, and good-looking; I thought of him as the "handsome one."
The boys were staring at Lizzie.  I have to say that she is extremely attractive, with blond hair, green eyes, and a good figure; she is also a dancer, and so stood out among the crowd on deck, even though it was crowded.

Lizzie has proven herself to be level-headed, responsible, and trustworthy.  So, although I felt a bit uncomfortable with this situation, I decided I was being over-protective and shrugged it off.

Missing from the Teen Center
Around 9 that evening -- on the first night of the cruise --  Lizzie decided to go to the teen center on ship. I kick myself now for encouraging her to go and meet some other kids, as she was just a bit reluctant. I escorted her to the center.
The teen center was on one of the lower decks. There was a kind of coffee shop nearby. When we got there, some 40 kids were milling around and four or five crew members, probably in their 20s, were supervising.  They said that kids had to be signed in and out of the center by a responsible adult, and that no kid could leave without being signed out.  I agreed with my daughter that I would come back for her at 11 p.m.
When I did, there were only about 8 kids still there.  My daughter Lizzie was not one of them; she was nowhere to be seen.  I asked one crew member who was still there where she was, and was told that she and some other kids left to get a soft drink or something like that, probably at the cafe next door.  So much for signing in and out!  Later on, I tried to find the names of the young people who had been in the teen center at that time, only to be told that the list was not available.
(I want to point out here that the group of boys who I had seen staring at Lizzie on deck earlier, at the dance party, were in that restaurant before she and the other kids from the teen center went in.  It may also be significant that she left with two other girls, one of whom had no apparent connection to any of the boys but who later was found to be the girlfriend of the "handsome one.")
I picked up the house phone and called my cabin, telling my family that Lizzie was missing.  Already I felt sick with fear, and when my parents and husband came down we split up.  My father and I began roaming around the ship, searching.  I asked other passengers if they had seen my daughter; as I did, crew and security kept telling me: "Settle down."  There were a good number of security personnel around (the staff member at the teen center with whom I talked had made some calls), but they seemed more concerned about publicity than about my daughter. I shouted back that I would settle down once Lizzie was safely with me.
"I put too much of that drug in her drink..."

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