NY Times: Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Laws Vary Across the Globe

With the unorganized global patchwork of laws and regulations governing the prosecution of cruise ship sexual assault cases, many would argue that it was only a matter of time until an alleged perpetrator walked free on a technicality. That day came last week, when international press reported on an Italian man who walked free after allegedly raping a teen aboard a cruise ship. Now, the New York Times is shining light on the varying laws that govern how prosecutors across the world tackle cases of cruise ship sexual assault.


In last week’s case, a Spanish judge ruled that his court did not have jurisdiction because the alleged act was perpetrated by a foreigner, against a foreigner, and while the ship was in international waters. The Times’ article asks, if Spain could not prosecute, who could? To answer the question the Times asked Frederick Kenney, the director of legal affairs and external relations for the International Maritime Organization. Kenney told the times that at the moment “There is no international law that covers this situation.” 

The legal situation is made difficult because of the peculiarities of international maritime travel. For example, as the Times article notes, “a ship is subject to the laws of the country whose flag it flies. But for tax reasons and other legal advantages, few cruise ships are flagged with the countries of their home port, or even their corporate headquarters.”

In the case mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the alleged rape occurred aboard the MSC Divina, which is registered in Panama and for this reason is subject to Panama’s laws. But even if Panama were unwilling or unable to investigate the crime, some legal experts argue that other laws could have come into play, such as The Istanbul Convention on violence against women. 

This case highlights prosecutors’ lack of adequate legal tools in cruise ship sexual assault cases. It is  a situation that can only be made better by a concerted international effort to change the law. 

Perhaps this injustice will be enough to cause international governments and governing bodies to take this situation more seriously and put laws in place to prevent it from occurring again.