Is It Safe To Use Hotel Safes?
It’s a situation many cruisers find themselves in: you’re about to leave your stateroom. You want your valuables to be in the safest place. Is the safe in your cabin adequate? Should you leave it in the ship’s master safe at the purser’s desk? How safe are cruise ship safes?
As floating cities, cruise ships face problems with theft just like anywhere else. Thefts from stateroom safes are uncommon, but become more likely if you have problems setting your password or closing your safe properly. Thefts from the purser’s master safe are very rare.
Stateroom safes are usually big enough to fit your valuables. For example, Carnival’s are 10 inches wide by nine inches tall by eight inches deep.
They usually have a touchpad pin code or are activated by your keycard or something else with a magnetic strip. The instructions for how to set or reset the combination are usually detailed nearby. If you forget your combination, inadvertently lock yourself out, or can’t close your safe then the ship’s security or purser can help you.
One of the most common problems with cabin safes is the battery. If your safe needs a new battery a designated member of the crew will come and replace it, and for this procedure they will not even enter your room unless you are present. On top of this additional rules often require the crew to come in pairs.
Make sure any problems with your safe are resolved before you disembark for an excursion or even ideally before you leave your room.
In the unlikely event that a theft does happen from a stateroom safe, it’s usually linked to an improperly secured safe. It can be a crime of opportunity by a passenger walking by your room when the door is open for cleaning and the steward is distracted. Or it can be the ship’s crew who notice your safe is not properly secured.
Because most staterooms today are controlled by keycards, if something turns up missing from your cabin safe the ship’s security officer can pull the electronic records for your room to see every keycard that was used to enter. Everyone – staff and passengers – are issued a unique and traceable keycard. And on top of that security cameras are usually mounted to cover the passenger deck hallways and all public areas.
Cruise lines take instances of theft seriously. If someone files a report of a stolen item security will work to isolate a suspect, who will be searched. If the stolen item is found to be in the suspect’s possession the result can be incarceration with criminal charges at the next port-of-call, a one-way ticket home, or both.
Is It Safe To Leave Valuables In a Hotel Room?
Thefts From The Master Purser’s Safe
It’s exceptionally rare that someone would be able to get away with stealing from the ship’s safe deposit box, let alone attempt such folly.
In 2006 an Australian women working as the chief purser for an Alaska-bound cruise was caught with $400,000 hidden in a cardboard box by her cabin bedside.
She had stolen it from the ship’s master safe and was arrested upon arrival in Ketchikan, eventually sentenced to four months in jail.
In another case a night auditor was arrested in 2014 after over a cumulative $10,000 turned up missing from three cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale in Florida. He subsequently confessed to stealing the money and wiring it to a foreign bank account.
While Rare, Stateroom Safe Thefts Can Happen
In 2013 a crew member was arrested in Florida, accused of stealing $7,900 from two of his fellow crew roommates. He allegedly found a safe key in one of their bunk drawers and used it to open two safes where they stored their valuables.
The ship’s security were able to determine the approximate time of the thefts and then cross-referenced room key swipe information with surveillance camera footage to identify the third roommate as the prime suspect.
While this involved a crew-on-crew theft, passengers have also reported major thefts from their rooms. But the bizarre circumstances of the following most recent example from 2017 illustrates just how rare thefts from passenger stateroom safes are, to the point of being unbelievable.
The story goes that over two nights, two friends had incredible luck and won over a million dollars at the cruise ship casino. As told by one of the passengers, on the second night two of the ship’s officers broke into his room and stole $430,000 from his cabin safe. His friend was staying in a nearby cabin and when he heard the commotion he escaped in time with $600,000.
The ship’s security officers tell a different story, saying they were acting on orders from the cruise company and claimed that the two friends won the money fraudulently. The case is still ongoing.
While stories like these are few and far between, Travel Insurance Review – a company cited by major national and international news outlets – cautions against the use of your stateroom safe. While it says the safe in your room is, “better than nothing,” it recommends that instead you should take along your own safe (and then links to a company that sells safes).
In making this recommendation Travel Insurance Review seems to disregard the fact that ship security has access to card swipes and video surveillance, as well as the fact that the crew who are capable of accessing your safe are strategically limited. It justifies its advice by citing unnamed “experts,” and bases its gravitas on the fact that there are a lot of cruise ship staff who are, “armed with the ability to open your safe.”
It’s Hard To Come Up With Exact Statistics For Safe Thefts on Cruise Ships
It’s difficult to come up with reliable statistics about thefts from cruise ship safes because cruise companies are only required to report alleged thefts over $10,000. Thefts of smartphones, credit cards, or hundreds of dollars in cash go unreported by the cruise ship companies, who have an incentive to minimize these types of unpleasant statistics.
In 2014 WPTV in West Palm Beach reported an investigation by Scripps into the cruise industry that found a stark contrast between crimes reported by cruise companies and calls made to the police. Investigative reporters analyzed data from four major cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Norwegian – and found that together they reported a total of 78 crimes nationwide in 2013. Scripps then made public records requests to law enforcement in Florida and found they had been called to investigate over 300 crimes in just the five biggest ports in Florida alone.
It’s hard to find good information on minor thefts in general on cruise ships, let alone thefts from cruise ship safes. Because of the sensationalist nature of a safe crack one might expect such instances to be featured in the news. But if there are such cases they aren’t making a splash.
What can be said for certain is that between January 2010 and September 2018 the major cruise lines operating in the US reported 37 instances of serious theft on board. That is, theft of valuables worth over $10,000, according to the US Department of Transportation.
About a quarter of those involved passengers, while 41 percent involved crew members:
- Passengers – 9 instances
- Crew – 13 instances
- Other – 15 instances
And that’s not to say those instances of theft were from ship safes.
Naturally the cruise companies themselves have made their own statements on this subject.
What The Cruise Companies Say About Safes
Even if stateroom safe thefts are rare, most of the major cruise companies themselves don’t want to take any chances. When you read the fine print of your ticket you will likely find an indemnity clause about your cabin safe.
Holland America has wording that says, “…a safe to store your valuables and important documents is available in your stateroom. Holland America Line assumes no responsibility for the items [passport, medication, tickets, cash, credit cards, jewelry, gold, and more] listed above. If Holland America Line, due to any cause whatsoever, is liable for loss of, damage to or delay of your property, the amount of Holland America Line’s liability will not exceed US$100…”
Disney Cruise Line’s policy is that it shall, “… in no event be liable for the loss of or damage to cash, negotiable securities, gold, silverware, jewelry, ornaments, works of art, photographic/video/audio equipment or supplies, laptop computers, cellular phones or other valuables…” that are stored in your stateroom safe.
These are typical among all cruise lines. From a consumer standpoint indemnity clauses are a necessary risk you must accept if you want to step aboard a cruise ship. However even with all of its indemnity clauses a cruise company still must fulfill its end of the contract to you, which is generally understood to be a safe ride. If it ever comes to interpreting exactly how and if the cruise company has breached its contract you will be looking at hiring legal help.
And even if a cruise company is fully protected by its legalese that doesn’t mean they’re not subject to market pressure. When a man came back to his cabin room to find his engagement ring box floating empty in the toilet, the unlucky groom-to-be said Carnival initially blamed him for leaving the ring out in the open. However after negative media attention Carnival refunded the cost of the ring.