Wading in Murky Waters

This year, more than 12 million people will book trips on cruise ships, hoping to relax and kick back onboard luxury liners. But sojourns on the high seas aren't always smooth, and in some cases they can even be dangerous.

Recent incidents of passengers falling overboard, mysteriously disappearing, falling victim to crime and abusing alcohol have made the cruise experience seem more murky than placid.

Earlier this week, a man and woman fell from their Princess cruise ship balcony into waters off the coast of Texas. Before that, in early March, Michael Menckmyer plunged 60 feet into the dark abyss of the Caribbean after drinking too much.

The high seas can also pose a risk of high crimes. According to the International Council of Cruise Lines, there were 178 complaints of sexual assault, four robberies and 24 missing persons aboard cruises between 2003 and 2005.

False Sense of Security

Terry Riley, cognitive psychologist and author of "Travel Can Be Murder: The Business Traveler's Guide to Personal Safety," believes that because of the sense of safety cruises provide, people onboard sometimes let themselves go a little too wild.

"They tend to feel secure because they're thinking, 'I'm not in a foreign country where all those other people are,' so they think they can relax," he said.

Because of this false sense of security, cruise passengers often make themselves susceptible to crime.

"They think, 'I'm around the pool, it's OK. I can leave my stuff here, because where's somebody going to escape to?' And they might not even notice how things are gone until they get home," Riley said.

Drinking only exacerbates that line of thinking. When alcohol is thrown into the mix, people are prone to make bad decisions -- like imbibing on a balcony floating 60 feet above the ocean.

In March, Michael Menckmyer let loose on a seven-day Bahamas cruise to celebrate a godson's birthday. Whether an adverse reaction, or just too much of a good time, Menckmyer blacked out.

"I had ordered some room service and beer, and I was drinking that. I don't remember much after that," he told ABC's "Good Morning America." "Apparently, the alcohol took over with the medication I was on."

Just after midnight, Menckmyer inexplicably leapt off the side of the ship found himself floating in the Caribbean. He was rescued and revived hours later.

Riley explained that passengers who drink too much can run into danger on deck, too.

"Criminals tend to narrow in on people who are drunk," Riley said. "They are followed from bars because that's where the drunks are and that's where the bad guys can see the behavior they're looking for."

Be Aware of Risks

Lawyer Charles Lipcon has made a career out of prosecuting cruise lines for crimes against passengers. He doesn't think the average person is aware of the risks that go along with a high-seas vacation.

"They don't understand the dangers," he said. "They mistakenly believe they're in a totally safe environment and nothing could be further from the truth. It's quite dangerous for themselves and for their children."

Because it's hard to prosecute a crime that happens in international waters, Lipcon believes sexual predators and other dangerous people flock to cruises.

"It's a great place to murder somebody and nothing will happen," he said. "Nobody investigates."

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