Analysis of legal cases describing SA/SH on commercial ships

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at the cases in a database of legal decisions to get an idea as to how many claims of sexual assault or harassment associated with commercial merchant vessels result in litigation. This is not a scientific survey, as there are many reasons why a SA/SH claim might not result in litigation or result in litigation that does not end up being reported in the database (for example, due to the settlement of a claim). Nevertheless, it provides at least a reference point, particularly when comparing the types of commercial vessels where SA/SH issues seem to arise.

Notably, litigation involving SA/SH incidents on the commercial ships that are the traditional platforms for the Academy’s sea year is virtually non-existent.

Based upon this analysis, I came up with one case aboard a U.S. flag commercial vessel involving SA/SH allegedly perpetrated by a crew member — it’s the second case in the table below, and it involved what had been a consensual sexual relationship.  When the female terminated the relationship while aboard the vessel, the male apparently would not accept the woman’s decision and (allegedly) crossed the line. All other incidents involving SA/SH perpetrated by a member of the crew on a U.S. flag commercial vessel involved smaller vessels:  ferries, fishing vessels, a crew boat, etc.

One  aspect of this research that may initially appear striking is the high number of SA/SH incidents aboard non-U.S. flag passenger vessels (14 of the 24 cases in the table below). Again, the finding is not scientific; because, given that there are typically 100 to 200 times as many people (crew and passenger) aboard passenger ships and the ready availability of alcohol on those ships, one would expect a higher number of incidents.

While this overall study is not scientific, it is significant — it supports the conclusion that SA/SH aboard commercial ships is not the issue that MARAD is trying to pretend exists.  It supports the logic and experience of the maritime unions as related here. It supports the immediate return of USMMA midshipmen to US flag commercial vessels for sea year as editorialized by The Maritime Professional  here.

The table below lists the result of my research. An explanation of the methodology follows the table.

Case Name Vessel type year of incident Summary
Hale v. Maersk Line Ltd., 732 S.E.2d 8 (Va. 2012) Non-US Tanker on charter to MSC 2008 A male steward went ashore with the 1st A/E , 3rd A/E and the two female cadets. The steward was drinking, apparently heavily, and separated from the group. Everyone else, including the two female cadets returned safely to the ship. Later on, the steward returned and when confronted about his condition, claimed he had been raped by Korean policemen. There were significant signs that the story was fabricated in an effort to avoid the consequences of the ship’s alcohol policy. 

From other Internet research, I can confirm that the cadets were from KP, one of whom is still sailing as a Chief Mate.

Russo v. APL Marine Servs., Ltd., 135 F.Supp.3d 1089 (C.D. Cal. 2015) US Container 2012 Male captain and female cook had a consensual sexual relationship for at least a year. The cook ended the relationship mid-voyage and captain allegedly continued to pursue it. Cook was terminated and sued, asserting allegations of  sexual harassment and retaliation.
 State v. Jack, 67 P.3d 673 (Alaska App. 2003) US passenger ferry 2001 Sexual assault on a passenger. Not clear if assailant was passenger or crew.
 Leitzke v. Nicole, Case No. 15-cv-439  (W.D. Wash. Apr. 27, 2016) US fishing vessel (commercial) 2011 and 2012 Allegation of male (crew)-on-male (crew) sexual harassment.
 Thompson  v.  Trident  Seafoods  Corp., Case No. 11-cv-120 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 16, 2012) US fishing vessel (commercial)
2008 Female crew member alleged that captain sexually harassed her and another female crew member and that she was fired in retaliation for reporting it.
 United  States  v.  Cusick, Case No. 11-cr-10066  (D. Mass. Feb. 9, 2012) US fishing vessel (commercial) 2010
Male crew member convicted of sexually harassing female federal monitor assigned to vessel.
Malo v. Alaska Trawl Fisheries, Inc., 965 P.2d 1124 (Wash.App.Div. 1, 1998) US fishing vessel (commercial) 1992
Male captain alleged he was terminated in retaliation for telling male relief captain that his behavior towards female crew was improper.
 Cash v. Tidewater Marine, Inc., 34 F.Supp.2d 448 (S.D. Tex., 1999) US crew boat 1995 and 1996 Female seaman reported that she was a victim of several sexual assaults and harassment incidents by male crew on at least two vessels.
Mato v. Baldauf, 267 F.3d 444 (5th Cir. 2001)
US research vessel approx. 1994 A land-based employee of Texas A&M alleged retaliation for assisting five women with filing sexual harassment claims. One of those claims allegedly involved harassment by a drilling superintendent on a drilling ship that took core samples for research.
Brown v. NCL (Bahamas), Ltd., Case No. 15-cv-21732 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 9, 2015) non-US cruise ship 2014 Male passenger allegedly sexually assaulted female passenger.
Schell v. Carnival Corp., Case No. 10-cv-22890 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 21, 2010) non-US cruise ship 2010 4 year old passenger allegedly sexually assaulted by another child passenger.
Doe  v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 860 F.Supp.2d 1337 (S.D. Fla. 2012) non-US cruise ship
not stated Female passenger alleged male crew member sexually assaulted her.
Doe v.  Princess Cruise Lines, 657 F.3d 1204 (11th Cir. 2011)
non-US cruise ship 2009 Female crew member on passenger ship alleged other crew members raped her.
Doe v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 394 F.3d 891 (11th Cir. 2004) non-US cruise ship 1999 Female passenger alleged male crew member raped her.
 Doe v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., Case No. 11-cv-22230 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 14,  2012)
non-US cruise ship
  2011 Female passenger alleged sexual assault by unknown assailant.
Panchal v. Ethen, 648 So.2d 245 (Fla.App. 4 Dist. 1994)
non-US cruise ship early 1990s Female passenger alleged sexual assault by male crew member on passenger ship.
Rutledge v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., Case No. 14-cv-23682 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 3, 2015) non-US cruise ship 2013 Female crew member (photographer) alleged sexual assault by supervisor aboard passenger ship.
Spinola v. Costa Line, Inc., 637 F.Supp. 4 (D.P.R. 1985)
non-US cruise ship 1983 Female passenger alleged sexual assault by male crew member.
U.S. v. Curtis, 380 F.3d 1311 (11th Cir. 2004)           non-US cruise ship before 2004 Male crew member convicted of sexually assaulting female passenger.
U.S. v. Neil, 312 F.3d 419 (9th Cir. 2002)  non-US cruise ship 2000 Male crew member convicted of sexually assaulted minor female passenger.
U.S. v. Roberts, 1 F.Supp.2d 601 (E.D. La. 1998)
non-US cruise ship 1997 Male crew member  allegedly sexually abused a minor (sex not disclosed) passenger
United States v. Dickerson, Case No. 6:12-cr-228 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 12, 2012)
non-US cruise ship 2012 Male passenger and several teenage male passengers allegedly gang raped a female minor (passenger) aboard a passenger ship.
York v. Commodore Cruise Line, Ltd., 863 F.Supp. 159, 1995 AMC 339 (S.D.N.Y. 1994)
non-US cruise ship 1991 Two female passengers alleged sexual assault by male crew member.
Sanders v. Cambrian Consultants (CC) Am., Inc., 132 F.Supp.3d 853 (S.D. Tex. 2015) Non-US Seismic vessel not stated
Alleged sexual assault by captain on female crew member.


I have access to the FastLaw database of cases from federal and all state courts.  It picks up all decisions where a judge writes “for publication” and many decisions that are not “for publication.” But, it does not pick up every single case. (Many cases settle without the judge ever having to write an opinion.) You can do Boolean searches in the database.  I did a search in all state and federal jurisdictions for:

(“sexual assault” or “sexual harassment”) within 50 words of (ship or vessel or tanker)

This search returned 98 cases total. After screening out duplicates and cases that did not involve commercial ships (for example, one case was included in the initial results because it involved sexual assault and someone with the last name “Vessel”), I was left with the list of cases in the table above.