Stay Safe on the High Seas

Elisha Cuffe was a valued, ten-year employee of Princess Cruise Lines. She had recently been promoted to the position of senior purser. This position handles all the financial matters on a cruise ship.

Pursers share information about the ship to both passengers and crewmembers and the Purser’s Desk is typically centrally located in the ship for easy accessibility to passengers and crew.

The problem was, this position as purser gave Elisha the opportunity to line her own purse by stealing $400,000.

After the crime was discovered, Elisha was removed from the Princess Cruise ship upon $400,000 being found in her cabin. The Australian citizen had access to more than $1.5 million in cash according to a criminal complaint.

She violated the trust of her position by stealing $400,000 in U.S. cash, $40 in Canadian cash, $4,660 in U.S. travelers checks, and $9,700 in credit card payment slips. She took the money from the ship’s safe, and stored it in a cardboard box in her cabin.

The investigation unfolded after senior crewmembers of the ship noticed the financial book numbers didn’t add up, and began looking into where the funds had gone. When arrested, Elisha’s passport was seized, and given to U. S. Customs.

According to what the Elisha told investigators, over the course of several weeks she noticed the ship’s computer records were not showing the correct totals of the cash that was actually on hand. So she took the extra money out of the safe to her cabin, stored it in a cardboard box, and placed it near the foot of her bed.

After her arrest Elisha’s lawyers negotiated with prosecutors, and she agreed to plead guilty, at a reduced charge, resulting in a four-month prison term. She also agreed to be deported from the U.S. at the end of her four-month jail stint.

In 2017, U.S. federal authorities reported a total of 106 crimes, including 76 sexual assaults, 13 serious assaults, eight thefts of more than $10,000 and two kidnappings that occurred aboard cruise ships that were reported to U.S. authorities.

With that in mind, one of the issues when it comes to prosecuting criminals, is maritime law establishes that a ship is subject to the laws of the country whose flag it flies.

The problem is, for tax reasons and other legal advantages; few cruise ships are flagged with the countries of their homeport, or even their corporate headquarters.

For instance, many popular cruise ships that originate from the U.S. are flagged in countries such as the Bahamas, Panama, Bermuda, and the Netherlands.

My point is if you are the victim of a crime aboard a cruise ship, not only is the crime itself horrific, but you will have difficulty getting justice depending on the legal system of the country that the ship is flagged to.

Sadly, if you were the victim of a crime, would you rather have police in Bermuda investigate? Or have the full resources of the FBI to investigate and prosecute the bad guy?

Since being a victim of a crime while at sea is much more stressful than your everyday pickpocket I want to share with you a few safety tips for your next adventure on the seas.

Buddy system. I realize we aren’t in elementary school but if you’re a solo traveler, find a friend early on. That way they can look out for you. You’re also less likely to be a target when traveling in a pair than you are solo.

Don’t advertise the fact you are traveling alone, and don’t walk around solitary areas by yourself late at night. If traveling with a friend, make sure you have a buddy system in place, and make a plan to meet up at certain times.

Take your own alarm. If you’ve been on a cruise before you probably noticed that not all cabin doors automatically close, so give them a pull when you leave and a push when you are inside to make sure they click shut.

Also, consider taking your own doorstopper alarm such as the one made by GE. When inside your cabin you can place this at your door in case someone tries to enter your cabin.

Be careful on the balcony. Of course, there is nothing like listening to the sound of the sea while you sleep, but for safety’s sake, keep the balcony door locked at night.

In addition, check your balcony before you go to sleep, and don’t leave the door open when you are not in your room, especially in port. Contractors who clean while in port and do maintenance can easily gain access to your balcony.

Take care of your steward. Get to know your steward on day one. Ask their name and establish a rapport. With that being said, you want to tip them appropriately, but don’t make it seem like you have a lot of cash on hand. The idea is they will hopefully notice if someone other than you is trying to get into your room.

Don’t mingle with the crew. Unfortunately, I hear countless stories of people who mingle with the crew and someone ends up getting in trouble. Now, I’m not saying crewmembers are bad people, but they do know the ins and outs of the ship and they obviously know more about the ship than the customers.

This is not a good idea, ever. It could result in instant firing for the crew, and you will likely be asked to leave at the next port stop.

Cruise ships are one of the safest forms of travel, and the vast majority of cruises pass without incident.

But the fact is on any vacation, it’s worth taking basic precautions because there is no question that tourists are often the targets of bad guys. Even when the bad guy is on a cruise ship.

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