TODAY   |  January 14, 2014

Report: Some cruise crimes not acknowledged by FBI

A new report released by the Government Accounting Office says that of the 287 alleged crimes reported on cruise ships in a four-year period, only 81 have been publicly acknowledged by the FBI. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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>>> and now new questions about cruise ship safety, specifically crimes against passengers. according to a new report, you may not be getting the full story. let's get to kerry sanders at the port of miami this morning. what can you tell us about this?

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. if i were attacked standing here on land, that assault would be included in this year's fbi uniform crime reports . but if i were attacked on a ship at sea, that assault may not be included in the fbi statistics for years. a just released gao report says that is what makes it difficult for passengers to understand the crime rate on the high seas .

>> reporter: two years ago on the carnival cruise ship "victory," she says she was assaulted by another passenger.

>> a man came and grabbed me by the hair and beat my head against the wall.

>> reporter: because the ship was in international waters , fbi agents investigated. in addition to assault with serious bodily injury, there are seven other categories of cruise ship crime under the bureau's jurisdiction. while almost 11 million americans cruise each year, the government accountability office investigation reveals 78% of the crimes examined by the fbi were never listed in government crime reports. the gao disclosed there were 287 alleged crimes at sea in a four-year period, yet only 81 were publicly acknowledged. why the discrepancy? a 2010 law passed after the fatal costa concordia accident clearly says the only cases that will be reported are those the fbi closes. it was a law supported by the cruise ship industry.

>> they take advantage of their situation. they control the turf. they control the game. they're all the umpires.

>> reporter: the association that represents the industry issued a statement which says in part, cruising is one of the most enjoyable, affordable, and safe holiday vacation experiences available today. but it's that safety claim that passenger advocates question, and the published crime statistics they say have little value.

>> i don't even look at the report anymore because clearly it's inaccurate, misleading, and it's not -- there's no transparency to it.

>> reporter: she has cruised again since that incident, but she's more cautious.

>> if the safeguards aren't there, there's no law enforcement at all, the security guards on the cruise ship are not policemen. we just want to make it safe for everyone.

>> reporter: now, in janet powers' case, the carnival cruise line said the system worked as it was supposed to. the fbi did investigate and the fbi told her there was not enough evidence to prosecute. meantime, in an effort to be more transparent, last year, the cruise lines began reporting voluntarily their own crime statistics , and a gao report notes that all the cruise lines are, indeed, living up to the spirit of the 2010 law.