When you take a cruise, it's ostensibly to get away from real-life worries and not have them follow you on board. Yet the three major cruise lines published statistics last week that while showing the likelihood of being a victim of a crime while aboard a cruise ship is exceptionally low, it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Over the past three years, passengers on cruise-ship operator Carnival's (NYSE:CCL) ocean liners were the victim of alleged crimes about 127 times, while passengers on Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE:RCL) alleged 94 crimes and Norwegian Cruise Line (NASDAQ:NCLH) just 20. Disney (NYSE:DIS), which also has a cruise-ship operation, had 15.
The numbers are much larger than what were previously known, because before now, the cruise-ship operators only published statistics showing crimes reported to the FBI that were investigated and closed. But last month they decided to begin publishing all the data on their websites.
While the number of alleged crimes occurring on Carnival may sound like a lot, considering you're typically in a relatively confined space for only a week or two, with some 77 million people having traveled on its ships during the three-year period covered by the statistics, you can see it's a pretty unusual circumstance for crime to happen. Also, as the biggest cruise line, it's bound to have more crimes occur than its smaller rivals.
Moreover, these are just allegations of crimes having occurred -- according to Carnival, about half turn out not to be crimes at all -- and their instance of occurrence per 100,000 people is far lower than what you'd find in the national uniform crime reports made by police departments across the country to the FBI.
For example, sexual assaults are the most frequently reported crimes occurring on cruise ships (more than half the cases were rapes and sexual assaults), and in its latest quarterly report, Carnival reported that during a time when it carried 6.7 million passengers, it had nine cases per 100,000 people. Yet as troubling as that may sound, walking down the street by their homes, women would find such crimes three times greater per 100,000 people.
There's apparently no standardized way for the cruise-ship operators to report their statistics, but Carnival seems to be the most complete. Royal Caribbean, however, reported having two rapes among the 835,000 passengers it carried between April 1 and June 30, while Norwegian had no crime at all among its 380,000 passengers.
Disney reports its crime numbers slightly differently from the others but said last quarter it had four reports of a sexual assault occurring on its ships, during which time it carried 215,000 passengers. To the best of its knowledge, Disney says no charges were filed in any of the cases.
A few years ago, the FBI said that when it came to sexual assault cases, 37% of the suspects across the industry were actually ship personnel, two-thirds of whom were not U.S. citizens. Just beware that those individuals who you think are there to help you may not be what they seem.
The numbers of crimes alleged to have happened are much higher than what many passengers previously thought, but taking a cruise remains a safe adventure. While it's not like having to face down the Barbary pirates, just as at home you still need to take care when you're on the high seas.
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.