Nautilus Article: Remember Rebecca

This article was published in the Nautilus International telegraph vol. 44 no. 11 November 2011 on page 25. Lost at sea, Search continues for missing Disney Cruises youth worker

Remember Rebecca

Following their appeal for help in last month’s Telegraph, the family of missing cruise worker Rebecca Coriam sadly seem to be no nearer to getting answers about her disappearance. But while they wait for information from the authorities, they have been tirelessly campaigning to improve personal safety and raise the standard of criminal investigations in the cruiseship sector.

A youth worker onboard the Disney Wonder, Rebecca Coriam disappeared from the vessel off the Mexican coast in the early morning of 22 March this year. Nothing appears to be known about what happened to her. An investigation is underway by the Bahamas, the vessel’s flag state, but the Coriam family have concerns about the way this is being conducted — and have become increasingly disturbed by the way crimes at sea are handled by the industry.

‘Cruiseships are mini-cities, but only one policeman is assigned to deal with all the 59 vessels under the Bahamas flag, and that’s not even his whole job,’ said Rebecca Coriam’s uncle PeterLancashire. Rebecca’s parents Mike and Ann were also surprised to be presented with the possessions their daughter left on the ship, wondering why these were not being retained to form part of the investigation.

In their effort to get justice for Rebecca, the Coriam family have been faced with the bewildering array of laws and jurisdictions which complicate any crime investigation at sea, and they have been shocked to learn about the high frequency of assaults, rapes and suspicious deaths onboard cruiseships.

The family turned to the International Cruise Victims Association for support, and have become strong advocates for the Association’s campaign for the UK and EU to adopt legislation equivalent to the US Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010. ‘We’re still looking for answers,’ says Mr Lancashire, ‘but there isn’t that much we can do while the case is under investigation in the Bahamas, so while we wait, we’re trying to get laws changed in Rebecca’s memory.’ The US Vessel Security and Safety Act  2010 applies to all cruiseships carrying over 250 passengers on international voyages which embark or disembark passengers in any US port.

Vessels are required to:

  • have visitor identification peepholes on cabin doors
  • set the minimum deck rail height at 42 inches
  • have information packs on how to report a crime
  • have examination kits for alleged rape victims onboard, as well as medication to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
  • train medical staff to deal with assaults
  • provide confidential access to sexual assault helplines
  • keep a log of all shipboard crimes and immediately report serious incidents to the FBI or US Coast Guard
  • have at least one crew member certified in maritime crime scene preservation

The International Cruise Victims Association was instrumental in getting the Act adopted in the US, and is optimistic about persuading the UK and EU to follow suit. In addition, there are numerous other crime prevention measures that should been forced or introduced, says Association spokesman Mike Groves. ‘We know there are consistent breaches of ILO regulations onboard cruiseships,’ he points out, ‘and in Rebecca’s case, it seems that they didn’t even stop the ship, as required under SOLAS. And why aren’t cruise companies doing CRB [Criminal Record Bureau] checks for employees who will be working with children, as they would in the UK?’

It is difficult to be sure exactly how many of the crimes that take place at sea are being reported or recorded, continues Mr Groves, but figures from the investigative website http://www.cruisejunkie.com suggest that a crew member or passenger goes missing from a cruiseship as frequently as once every two weeks, with a serious sexual assault taking place once a week.

Action is clearly needed, and both Mr Groves and the Coriam family are appealing for help from all quarters. At a meeting early last month with the family, UK shipping minister Mike Penning was said to be sympathetic, but did not give a firm commitment to back a British version of the US Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010.

The Coriams’ MP Stephen Mosley has been supportive, and a meeting has been arranged with shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle. Efforts are also being made to get the Bill onto the legislative agenda for the European Parliament.

 

Can you help?

  • If you think you may have seen Rebecca Coriam since she disappeared on 22 March, please call +44 (0)7747 359 968 and leave a message with your contact details, or email help@rebecca-coriam.com.
  • If you are a UK national, please add your signature to the official petition calling on the government to introduce a Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the government will be obliged to put a Bill before Parliament. See http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1061.
  •  There is also a petition urging action from the EU at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/eucruisesafety/.
  • For more information, see www.rebecca-coriam.com and http://www.internationalcruisevictims.org