An Italian teenager who allegedly raped a British teenager on board a Panamanian-flagged cruise ship was allowed to walk free without charges from a Valencia courtroom, largely due to a technicality in centuries-old maritime law.
As The Independent reports, the international incident involving at least three countries took place on Thursday aboard the MSC Divina as she sailed through the Mediterranean. The purported victim, described by Spanish-language newspaper Levante-EMV as being 17-years-old, says the suspect, an 18-year-old Italian, forced his way into her cabin and raped her.
The girl told authorities, and when the ship docked in the Spanish port of Valencia, the suspect was arrested and brought before a judge. DNA samples were also taken from the victim’s clothing and cabin and sent to a forensics lab.
However, it appears that the victim won’t get justice, at least not from Spain. The Spanish judge reviewing the case determined that he has no jurisdiction over the alleged crime, and allowed the accused Italian to walk free, largely on a legal technicality.
For centuries, nations have attempted to manage the difficult business of regulating and policing what goes on on the high seas, and of prosecuting crimes committed there. Unfortunately, it’s a morass of conflicting laws, and in Spain, prosecuting crimes committed on the high seas is even more difficult.
That’s because since 2009, Spanish law has held that the nation’s courts can only prosecute crimes committed on the high seas if the victim or suspect lives in Spain. And after hours of interrogating the suspect, Spanish police determined that neither he nor the purported victim has ever had any connection to the country.
What that means for both the victim and the accused moving forward remains unclear. The Spanish judge suggested that perhaps a British court could take up the case, considering that the victim is British, or perhaps taken up by a Panamanian court since the vessel is Panamanian-flagged.
After docking in Valencia, the ship continued its planned itinerary. The victim, meanwhile, is believed to have stayed on board the vessel with her family.
Millions of people sail on cruise ships every year, the vast majority of which are not criminally victimized by crew or other passengers. However, that’s not to say that a cruise ship is 100 percent safe. In fact, as Quartz reported in 2017, sexual assaults made up 70 percent of the crimes reported on cruise ships that sail into or out of the United States, and most of the victims were minors.