February 10, 2022

A cruise ship passenger awarded $97,000 for being locked up for five days in a windowless cabin as the suspect of an on-board sexual assault must return the payout to the cruise line following its successful appeal of a 2020 ruling.

Daniel Rawlings – a 28 year old Sydney tradie – departed Sydney for a 10-day Pacific cruise on 10 November 2016 aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Explorer of the Seas.

In the early hours of 15 November – while the ship was in international waters near Vanuatu – he became the suspect of a sexual assault upon “Amy”, an 18-year-old female passenger.

He was confined in the ship’s conference room and subsequently in a guest cabin, from around 9am that day until he disembarked back in Sydney 5 days later.

Amy had been found naked and disoriented in an unrelated guest’s room with no recollection of events of the previous evening. She reported her drink had been ‘spiked’.

Rawlings’ account was that he had been talking to another passenger – Tegan Miles – in Dizzy’s Nightclub when her first saw Amy who they both agreed was “attractive”. He suggested to Tegan they invite Amy to join them for “a threesome.”

Tegan is said to have reported back to Rawlings that Amy was agreeable, something Amy confirmed to him when he came over to her table.

Security footage revealed Amy had entered Rawlings’ cabin with another female guest at 2:10 am and left naked some two and a half hours later.

The cruise operator initially decided Rawlings be released on condition that he have no contact with Amy or her family.

But in response to an outburst from Amy’s mother that she would throw the suspect overboard if he were released, the captain decided to keep Rawlings in confinement and incommunicado until the ship docked in Sydney.

His NSW District Court false imprisonment action adjudged that the detention was justified only up to midday on 17 November 2016 that being a suitable period to ensure the “the preservation of order and discipline or the safety of the vessel or persons on board”.

Judge John Hatzistergos concluded the captain did not consider continued confinement was reasonably necessary for the preservation of order or for the safety of the vessel and had only kept Rawlings in following the outburst from Amy’s “not happy” mother.

The damages he awarded included aggravated damages of $20k for the period of unlawful detention. A claim for a PTSD injury was rejected

According to the appeal judges, the trial judge’s conclusions as to the captain’s state of mind for keeping the suspect confined were not supported by the evidence.

Rather, the evidence showed the captain continued to believe that it was reasonably necessary to keep Rawlings detained until arrival in Sydney to maintain the safety and security of passengers including that of Amy and her family.

Such action was permitted under Australian law.

But also under Australian law, the law applicable to a commission of a tort committed on a vessel while on the high seas is the law of the state in which the vessel is registered. The ‘flag state’ of the Explorer of the Seas is The Bahamas.

Such law is however presumed to be the same as the law of the forum unless the applicability of foreign law and its content is pleaded and proved.

As neither party pleaded the applicability of any foreign law or led evidence as to its content, the correct law to apply was that of NSW and Australia.

Thus the captain’s action was ruled to not to have constituted false imprisonment and the lower court decision was overruled.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd v Rawlings [2022] NSWCA 4 Bell P Meagher JA Leeming JA, 4 February 2022 Read case

Categories: Cruise ship injury

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