Cruise Laws

Juneau, Alaska, USA – July 26th 2017: FBI officers from the Evidence Response Team are going inside the Emerald Princess Cruise Ship docked in Juneau to investigate a crime.

When you are on a Cruise Ship, what laws do you adhere to?

The law of the land doesn’t seem to apply to the floating city of swim-up bars, slot machines, and exotic ports of call. Which is great news for state residents looking to get into some gambling on vacation, but not for the victim(s) of a crime on-board a cruise ship.

Sexual assault is the most common crime reported on cruise ships, according to data from the Department of Transportation (DOT), and in the past three years around 200 people have reported cases of sexual misconduct or assault, 28 people have disappeared on the open seas (only three have been found), and four people have been victims of grand theft (over $10,000).

That might not seem like much when you consider the tens of millions of people who take cruises each year, until you realize they have no police. This concern grows when you consider the difficulty of enforcing the law on the open seas because very few of those cases have been thoroughly investigated, let alone solved.

Who’s to Blame?

Generally, a cruise ship is obligated to maintain the duty of safe transportation to its passengers, so any passenger aboard a ship may file suit against the owner of the cruise ship, the company that chartered the cruise ship, the company that operated the cruise ship, and the company that sold the ticket as an agent of the cruise ship owner, charterer, or operator. 

However, such claims may be subjected to certain cruise ship laws that affect when and where the passenger may file suit, as well as the applicable law.

Filing the Suit

When a cruise ship passenger suffers injuries or is the victim of a crime may sue to recover for damages, including medical expenses and lost wages.

However, the court in which the suit must be filed may be governed by the terms on the cruise ship ticket. Most cruise ship tickets contain a forum selection clause and a choice of law clause. These clauses are usually printed in small type on the back side of the ticket, and specify the state in which a passenger may sue the cruise line, as well as the law that will be applied in such case. Typically, cruise lines require passengers to bring suit for any injuries occurring on the ship in either: Seattle, Washington; Miami, Florida; or Los Angeles, California, depending upon where the cruise line is based. 

Failure to follow the rules on the ticket, which acts as a contract between the passenger and the cruise line, may result in a court refusing to hear the suit. A passenger may object to the suit being heard in a court far from his or her home state, but such challenges will most likely fail. 


As such, the law of the country of registration may apply to events on said cruise ships. Most cruise lines register their ships with foreign countries and fly foreign flags. Additionally, for cruises departing from a U.S. port, the laws of the state where the ship departed, U.S. federal law, and various international treaties may apply as well.

Special maritime jurisdiction may apply pursuant to 18 U.S. Code Section 7 when an offense is committed by or against a U.S. national in a place outside the jurisdiction of any country, and cover foreign vessels that have a United States arrival or departure port.

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