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Crime News Deadly Waters with Captain Lee

How Safe Are Cruise Ships Really? What to Know About the Popular Vacation Choice

A criminologist who studies the cruise industry gave his perspective on their safety.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On May 7, a cruise ship worker on the Norwegian Encore going from Vancouver to Alaska allegedly attacked a woman and two security guards with scissors on board the vessel, according to an Associated Press report. He was later arrested by the FBI.

How to Watch

Watch Deadly Waters with Captain Lee on Oxygen Saturdays at 9/8c and next day on Peacock. 

The scary incident raises a question that surfaces regularly: How safe are cruise ships really? After all, you are trapped on a vessel with many strangers.

But according to Dr. James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern University, the short answer is “very safe.”

“And,” he added, “relative to when people are on land, even safer."

Of course, Fox acknowledged that violent crimes “do happen,” but the relative rarity of murders and assaults makes the occurrences of them all the more noteworthy.

Those kind of disturbing stories of waterfront crimes are told on Deadly Waters with Captain Leewhich premieres on June 1 at 9/8c on Oxygen. The new series offers a deep dive into shocking crimes that have happened on lakes, rivers, seas, and more.

But before you get spooked about going on boats, here's what to know about cruise ship safety.

Are you safe on cruise ships?

Cruising is a $138 billion global industry, one that aims to always be about smooth sailing. But waters turn choppy and storms of every kind do arise, including ones involving acts of violent crime.

Last year there were about 31.7 million cruise ship passengers worldwide, per industry figures. Despite the vast numbers, the odds of dying on a cruise ship are roughly 1 in 6.25 million, according to a Forbes report. It's much more dangerous to drive in car, where the odds of dying in crash are about 1 in 645.

A Cruise Ship in the ocean

Those statistics indicate going on a cruise should be a safe activity, and Fox's numbers reflect a similar sentiment.

For about a decade, Fox has written a report comparing homicide, sexual assault, and aggravated assault rates for the cruise industry and U.S. mainland cities. Commissioned by the cruise industry’s trade association, it covers three categories: homicide, sexual assault, and aggravated assault.

“There's only two entities in this country that are required by Congress to report crime statistics," said Fox. "They are universities and cruise lines.” 

The report looks at crime rates per a population of 100,000. Fox’s current findings are based on figures from 2022. (A 2023 report is due out this summer.) In the category of homicides, the 2022 cruise homicide rate of 0 was down from .2 in 2017. The 2022 land homicide rate of 6.4 was up from 5.3 in 2017.


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In the category of sexual assault, the 2022 cruise rate of sexual assault (rape and other forms of assault) of 24.4 was was up from 18.6 in 2017,  while the 2022 rate of land sexual assault (just rape) of 40 was down from 41.7. In the category of aggravated assault, the 2022 cruise aggravated assault rate of 2.3 was down from 3.2 in 2017. The 2022 land aggravated assault rate of 268.2 was up from 249.2.

The relatively low crime rates when cruising is all the more noteworthy considering the high density of passengers on cruise ships, according to Fox.

“On the other hand, passengers are screened when they go on board ships,” he said. “It’s not easy to bring a weapon, or to make a quick getaway.”

That said, Fox added, common sense about staying safe goes a long way aboard a cruise ship — just as it does on dry land.

Find out more about crimes at sea when Deadly Waters with Captain Lee premieres  on June 1 at 9/8c on Oxygen.