BOSTON — Team 5 Investigates has learned that cruise ship companies are not required to report crimes committed on board if their ships are 12 or more miles from shore.

It’s a painful lesson that countless families have learned the hard way, including Kendall Carver, whose 40-year-old daughter, Merrian, disappeared while on a cruise in 2004. “We’ll never know what happened to Merrian,” said Carver in a recent interview in Cambridge with Team 5 Investigates’ Cheryl Fiandaca.

After the free-spirited Harvard student and mother vanished, Carver said the cruise company failed to notify the FBI for five weeks, ignoring evidence that she hadn’t come back to her cabin, he said. “The (ship’s) steward had reported Merrian missing daily, for days, and his supervisors told him to ‘forget it and do his job,’ said Carver.

What To Do If Cruise Crime Happens

He immediately launched an international investigation into his daughter’s disappearance, spending, he said, $75,000 in legal fees before his attorney was allowed to depose that steward. “You wouldn’t do this unless you loved her,” said Carver.

Angela Orlich, of Massachusetts, is another victim who has testified about the matter before Congress. Orlich went on a cruise with friends, never realizing a scuba diving trip would change her life. She said the instructor sexually assaulted her. “He took of the top of my bathing suit and started molesting me,” she said. “He shut my air tank off. It was a struggle. I could have died underwater.” Orlich stayed calm and managed to get back to the ship, where she told two cruise ship employees what had happened.

“In my case, they didn’t do anything,” she said.

And then there’s the still unsolved case of George Smith. Five years ago, the handsome newlywed from Connecticut vanished from his honeymoon cruise. His body has never been found. “When something happens on land, you have the police involved,” said Carolyn Latti, a maritime attorney in Boston who has represented hundreds of victims of crimes on board cruise ships. “When you’re on a cruise ship, when you leave the port, you basically leave your rights.”

Currently, cruise ship companies are not required to report crimes to any American law enforcement. The FBI tells Team 5 Investigates there is no way to know how many vacationers become victims. “People have no idea,” said Latti. “They think, ‘I’m a United States citizen, I’m going to have the same rights apply to me once I get on the boat.’ And it doesn’t. And that’s the sad part.”

Sen. John Kerry proposed a new law, Senate Bill No. 588, which would force cruise ship companies that do business in the U.S. to report crimes to the FBI. It would also require measures to improve passenger safety be taken on board, for instance, installing peep holes on the doors of all cabins.

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