There is a surge in the number of sexual assaults on cruise ship passengers this year, according to the latest government data.

The annual figures published by the U.S. Department of Transportation said that between July 1 and September 30 there were a total of 35 assaults that marked a 32 percent increase over the previous year.

Of those, 27 involved passengers, five incidents had crews as accused, and three figured unspecified others. The figures for this year show a significant rise over the same period last year in which 21 incidents were reported.

Out of them, 14 had the involvement of passengers.

According to cruise news, cruise ships owned by American cruise line Carnival Cruise topped the assaults in 2019. It is the largest cruise operator in the world in terms of passenger capacity on an annual basis. There were eight incidents on ships operated by Royal Caribbean, the second-largest cruise line.

Carnival cruise is also noted for its promotions via airships, per BBC News. But the data showed a small decline in other crimes, especially in thefts.

Alcohol driving crimes

The reasons for the spurt in assaults are not known. But links are traced to sexual assaults on cruise ships with the availability of cheap booze as part of the all-inclusive cruise deals.

Asserting the role of alcohol, Maritime lawyer and cruise ship expert Jim Walker said: “We see a direct correlation between excessive alcohol served on cruises and violence, in general, and sexual violence against women, in particular.”

The lawyer noted that bartenders and waiters on cruise ships receive tips and gratuities and are motivated to sell excessive amounts of alcohol to make quick bucks.

The absence of an independent police force also compounded the situation on huge cruise ships leading to a lawless environment. It puts girls and young women vulnerable to sexual abuse, the maritime lawyer pointed out.

Adding to the problem is difficulties in prosecuting crimes committed on cruise ships as most occur in international waters.

The law mandates that crime has to be prosecuted in the country where the ship is flagged. But ships are often flagged in small countries to avoid taxes and those countries do not have the resources to prosecute all crimes aboard the ships registered with them.

The new data was published weeks after congressman Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure moved a bill seeking effective tracking to prevent sexual assault across all public transport in the U.S.

Norwegian cruise passenger booked by FBI

Meanwhile, the FBI arrested a Norwegian cruise line passenger in Port Canaveral during his Bahamas cruise. The booked passenger was carrying child pornography.

Cruise ship
A cruise ship is pictured in the Marseille harbor on September 20, 2012. Gerard Julien/AFP/GettyImages)

Michael Harrison aboard the Norwegian Sun was on a cruise trip to the Bahamas which departed Port Canaveral on November 14.

Per the FBI affidavit at the Middle District of Florida, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) performed routine records check of the cruise ship manifest and found Harrison as a registered sex offender in the state of Nevada.

The search on Harrison’s luggage and electronic equipment led to the discovery of child pornography that had visuals of boys below 15 on his laptop computer. More child pornography was recovered from Harrison’s computer that included images of girls as young as ten years old.