April 15, 2014
Violent sexual abuse aboard cruise ships has been featured in the news over the past couple months, underscoring a larger issue – who exactly is working on vacation cruise ships?  Many of them are non-U.S. citizens, with questionable credentials prior to their hiring.  This is serious cause for concern for vacationers when they are underway.

Last week, news broke in Cape Canaveral, Florida of Disney Cruise Line crew member Ahmed Sofyan’s arrest on accusations that he had molested a 13-year-old girl aboard the ship, and is also accused of false imprisonment.  The facts are few thus far, but they do know that Sofyan is an Indonesian citizen, and his employment with Disney has been terminated.  The questions are many though; how did this happen?  Did Disney conduct a background check on Sofyan?  Could they even conduct one on a foreign national?  What is the vetting process in general?

February 14, 2014: Holland America Line cabin attendant Ketut Pujayasa was arrested and is facing federal charges of attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault.  While providing room service to a woman aboard the ship, Pujayasa felt insulted by the reply from the woman.  Allegedly, he staked out the woman’s room, and forcibly entered the room – violently raping the woman and attempted to throw her overboard.  The woman fought back and fled the room to security.

February, 2013: A woman claimed she was brutally and repeatedly raped aboard a Carnival cruise by two members of the crew in their cabin after a heavy night of drinking.  The crew contends the sex was consensual and Carnival Cruise Lines has not disciplined the accused crew members.  In a subsequent investigative interview by Inside Edition, it was discovered that the lines that divide the staff and guests were significantly blurred.

August, 2010: Kaloyan Kaloyanov, who was on the Fremont, CA Most Wanted List for eight years, was arrested aboard Carnival Splendor while working as a personal fitness specialist and the manager of the ship’s hair salon.  Kaloyanov, a former Bulgarian international gymnast, assaulted a 15 year old gymnast he trained at a local gymnastics school.

Sexual abuse aboard cruise ships rarely comes up in the news; yet, being aboard a ship provides a predator with a high rate of success.  In state rooms, there are no cameras; ditto for the balcony areas on the ship.  Add in that people are on vacation and likely to drink alcohol on these trips, and the result is that a ‘perfect crime’ could be committed by throwing somebody over the balcony, and using a believable alibi that the person might have drunkenly fallen overboard.  There is little proof to suggest otherwise – it’s quite real that a person could literally get away with murder in the high seas.

In the above cases where the person was identified, each was a foreign national – not uncommon in the vacation cruise industry.  This underscores a scary thought; these companies could have no idea what type of person they’re hiring.  Cruise officials claim that foreign-born workers first undergo a screening by the U.S. Embassy (or consulate) in that country, along with screening done by the native country.  Subsequent reviews may also be conducted by potential docking countries, along with continual vetting by the company every 90 days.  In the Pujayasa case, his background check came with no performance issues, and good references.  This does not even begin to discuss the actual merits of the person’s application, which could easily be falsified with fake jobs.

This sounds good and all, but there’s a nasty underbelly – most countries don’t have the extensive computer networks to track criminal records of their citizens like the U.S. does, which makes it a crapshoot for other nations to identify criminals applying for these jobs.  Companies will claim that their workers have legitimate US visas to work on their vessels – a partial truth.  In reality, these workers are given Transit Visas, which is a simple administrative function without any screening, and rarely turned down.  Tourist Visas, on the other hand, are much more difficult to get, and subjects applicants to rigorous screening.  Another issue when hiring third-country nationals is that the hiring agent could be susceptible to bribery.  Take Jamaica for example; an applicant has to obtain a certificate from a constable to prove their clean record.  Yet, that constable might only be making $250 a month – a little extra cash sent their way could clean up a criminal record pretty quickly.

At Estey & Bomberger, we represent all victims of sexual abuse, and tirelessly work to hold accountable those responsible for providing a safe environment.


Background Checks: Who’s Working on Your Cruise Ship?

Human Resources FAIL: Cruise Lines Don’t Conduct Background Checks of Their Crew Members

Assaults on cruise ships happen, but not often

Woman alleges cruise ship sex assault by angry crew member

INSIDE EDITION Investigates Alleged Sexual Assault on Cruise Ship

A Vicious Sexual Assault By A Crewmember On A Passenger Aboard Holland America Cruise Ship

Disney Dream crew worker accused of molesting teen on cruise ship

Man sought longest on Fremont’s “Most Wanted” list finally caught