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by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment

The cruise industry has been a favorite target for Congress and the media whenever bad things happen on the high seas, even though these occurrences are fairly rare. The latest attack from Washington, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in particular, focuses on the risk of criminal victimization on board cruise ships that carry millions of vacationers ever year.

As a consultant to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), I recently examinedcrime incident data for the three largest cruise companies, which together represent nearly 90 percent of the industry, along with their crew and passenger counts adjusted for time on-board ship. I compared the rate of violent crime aboard cruise ships for 2010-12 against benchmarks for dry land drawn from FBI crime statistics for the only three offense categories for which comparable data are available–homicide, rape and serious assault.

As it happened, there were no homicides aboard the vessels operated by the cruise companies that combined had served nearly 45 million passengers during the three-year time frame. There were 74 reported rapes over the three-year period; but without minimizing the seriousness of any of these incidents, the rate per 100,000 was less than one-quarter the rate for the U.S. overall. Finally, the assault rate on cruise ships was a small fraction of that on land.

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