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Will the FBI investigate a cruise ship crime?

| Nov 11, 2020 | Maritime Law |

If you are the victim of a serious cruise ship crime, you may seek justice via every possible avenue. One such avenue involves the assistance of the FBI. 

Whether the FBI can help you depends on a few different factors. The Federal Bureau of Investigations explains when it has jurisdiction over criminal offenses that occur on cruise ships, and when it must rely on help from other nations. 

When the U.S. has criminal jurisdiction

Per section 7 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. has the right to exercise its authority in the high seas if one of four statements is true. Those four statements are as follows: 

  • The crime occurred within the U.S. territorial sea, which is 12 nautical miles out from the coast, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator, victim or vessel 
  • Regardless of the ship’s flag, it is owned, either in whole or in part, by the U.S. and is within the maritime dominion and admiralty of the United States and outside the authority of any one state 
  • The offense did not occur within the jurisdiction of another nation, and either the perpetrator or victim is a U.S. national 
  • The perpetrator or victim of the crime is a U.S. national, and the ship either sailed from or plans to dock in an American port 

If none of the above applies, and if the crime occurs while the ship is outside of U.S. territorial waters, several other factors will determine whether the FBI has investigative rights. 

When the crime occurs outside of U.S. territorial waters

Unfortunately, the U.S. cannot board a foreign flag vessel or enforce its laws without the flag state’s consent. Exceptions to this only apply when a limited number of universally recognized offenses occur. When an exception does not apply, the FBI must seek the cooperation of a Legal Attache, or “Legat.” A Legat is a senior level FBI agent who works in conjunction with his or her host country’s security and law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations that are of interest to both countries. 

The success of the investigation depends largely on the U.S.’s resources and relations in the host country. If the relations are bad, the Legat may request that the vessel dock in a country in which the availability of resources or relations with the host country will better serve the investigation.