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Children on Family Cruise Ships: Are You Putting Their Lives at Risk?

Family on a Cruise Ship

Are spending a lovely, relaxing vacation with your spouse and enjoying the company of your children mutually exclusive? Granted, in the past there weren’t a lot of options for vacationers if they didn’t want to be called “Mom” and “Dad” or have to change diapers in between guided tours. But then, cruise ships came along, with their one-of-a-kind offer, and revolutionized the world of vacationing as we knew it: they introduced the perfect family vacation, without compromising adults’ relaxation or children’s fun. 

The Perks of Fun-Filled Family Cruise

“Family cruises” is how they’re called, and they allow both parents and children to be happy in their own age-related manner. The parent of a toddler, for example, might be the happiest if the cruise line puts at his/her disposal child-care facilities at flexible hours. The fully-equipped nurseries, bathtubs replaced with showers to streamline access with little children, and separated pools especially addressing diapered toddlers are some of the most incredibly useful perks offered by Disney Cruise Lines, the most popular for families with children ages 1-3.

,p>For children ages 3 to 7 tagging along their parents for vacation will be most happy on any of the Disney, Carnival, or Royal Caribbean International cruise ships, as they all provide a wide array of fun activities to attract youngsters their age. Disney sets up elaborate stage shows with renowned characters such as Captain Hook and Snow White, Carnival puts at parents’ disposal daily babysitting services and counselors, while the Royal Caribbean offers plenty of hands-on, educational activities such as art projects, drama classes, science experiments, and many other fun ways to capture children’s attention.

Of course, teens between 12 and 17 are not forgotten. The Royal Caribbean has a dedicated teen room and many other teen-only spaces, such as the Back Deck, the Living Room, and the Fuel Nightclub. Scavenger hunts, basketball, surfing, and on-board surfing are quite enticing for adventure-seeking teens who want to get a break from their parents, but without getting into trouble. Dance video games, karaoke machines, plasma TVs, juice bars, and lounge chairs are all effective ways to cater to the needs of this demographic.

This seems more than the perfect arrangement for parents, who can while knowing their children are occupied and well-taken care of. But at some point during the cruise, they may discover child safety is not cruise lines’ top priority. And then a child gets sexually abused on board. 

Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse on Carnival Cruise Ship

In the summer of 2004, on a Carnival Cruise ship’s last night before reaching destination, a cabin steward was called by the cabin occupied by two teenage girls (whose parents were sleeping next door) to bring some Cokes up to their room. Instead of bringing the sodas as instructed, the cabin steward returned with beers and, when gaining access to the open door, attempted to kiss and undress the girls, of whom one was 12 years old and the other one 18.

Minutes after the assault, the girls came crying to their parents’ cabin and told them all about the incident. Shocked and upset, parents immediately contacted the Purser’s Desk to file a report about the assault. But much to their surprise, the cruise personnel was neither appalled by the steward’s conduit, nor surprised about the whole incident. In fact, the parents were asked to keep their voices down while narrating the facts and, at the end, were pitched to book their next cruise with Carnival, as well. 

This is the story of John and Chantal Hopkins as they reported it to the International Cruise Victims organization, but it’s not nearly as appalling as that of Carnival Corporation employee Paul Trotter, 34, who pleaded guilty to molesting and carrying out sex attacks on 13 boys, most of which were under 13 at the time. Despite having his background reviewed and criminal record checked, Trotter managed to get hired by the corporation as a supervisor for a children’s activity area. Between November, 2007, and August, 2011, the cruise ship employee took and kept indecent photos of the children, sexually assaulting one of the boys and engaging in sexual activity with another.

The cruise line admitted to having their policies and procedures flawed, but for the parents of the abused children, it was a little too late: “Paul Trotter was able to avoid detection despite all of our youth staff, including Mr. Trotter, having had their criminal records checked. We have closed circuit TV onboard all of our ships, including all of the children’s clubs, and our own rules dictate that a minimum of two members of staff are to be with children at all times. […] Our safeguards were strict but sadly did not stop this one individual from managing to circumvent the system and manipulate those around him.”

Based on data provided by RCCL and extrapolated to all other cruise lines, it is revealed that, between 1998 and 2005, there were 216 sexual harassment and 235 sexual assault reports. The problem, however, with most sexual report filings, is that the age of the minor is rarely mentioned, making it impossible to establish an accurate estimate.

In terms of perpetrators, room stewards were most often caught red-handed: in 34.8 percent of the cases, they were found guilty of sexual assault, followed by waiters (25%), bar workers (13.2%), officer (8.1%), musician/entertainer (5.1%), and cleaner (2.9%). Regarding location, sexual abuse of both minors and adults usually takes place in the passenger cabin (36.4%), crew area (7.3%), bar (7.3%), dining room (6.6%), spa (5.7%), and disco (5.1%). 

The cruise line improves its child protection policies and procedures, parents of abused children try to overcome their pain, and then the child dies on board.

Child Death on Board

Child Death on Board Cruise Ship

At its launch in May, 2013, the Norwegian Breakaway received international praise for its many offerings, industry experts deeming it “the best ship in the company’s 47-year history.” For the little ones, it provided the perfect aquatic experience, putting at their disposal several large pools, a supervised program called the Splash Academy (dedicated to children ages 3 to 17), and an entire aqua park with a play area for younger children.

And it was in this particular area that, months later, a 4-year-old child would lose his life after being pulled out of the water without having any vital signs. Crew members also found another 6-year-old boy in the pool, but they managed to get him airlifted to a hospital, where his condition was stabilized. Although Norwegian cruise ships have pools specifically designed for the use of children, water parks and pools are usually not supervised by lifeguards, and swimming is usually a risk the parents should assume.

What compensation should the family of the 4-year-old expect? Legally, the family’s rights are contained in several provisions of the maritime law that has a damages cap for an accidental death on the seas, mainly due to the potential income the victim could earn. Considering the victim was 4 years old, there’s almost nothing to be obtained from here. If the other hospitalized victim regains conscience and decided to file a lawsuit, he may seek compensation for pain and suffering. has a listing of the number of death on each major cruise line. According to data on their website, Carnival Cruise lines have the record with 68 deaths all on their ships (most deaths on Carnival and Inspiration), followed by Costa Lines, with 31 deaths – Costa Concordia, evidently, holds the record with 28 dead people – followed by Royal Caribbean cruise lines, with 19 deaths, Norwegian with 12, Princess with 11, P&Q with 7, Holland America with 6, Celebrity Cruises with 5, Cunard with 4, and Disney cruise lines with 2.

The numbers are grim, and it simply cancels any thought of security we might have had if we were to believe in cruise lines’ advertisements. Sure, each death will perhaps force these big corporations to enhance security on board, perform thorough background checks, limit children’s access to alcohol and unsafe areas, and update their policies and procedures to ensure passengers’ maximum safety and security.

Cruise Ship Child Abuse Injury Lawyer

Cruising with children is definitely a wonderful time for families to have a lovely time, bond, and create memories to last a lifetime. But at sea, there’s a whole new world and different rules, and it’s cruise lines’, as well as parents’ duty to make sure their children are safe and sound at all times.

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