Sunday, 13 May 2018

Murder on a Cruise Ship: A Photographer's Lawsuit

In July 2017 Kristy Manzanares, 39, was found dead in her Princess Cruise Lines cruise ship cabin. Her husband was arrested and charged with murder; he's awaiting trial in Alaska in November 2018, since the crime took place in Alaskan waters.

That's not what I'm going to talk about. This post is about what happened next.

As part of the on-board investigation, one of the cruise ship's security detail demanded that a ship's photographer make record of the crime scene. Jean Luc Van Wyk, who only signed on to take happy snaps of smiling families, was directed to take 100 photos of the very bloody cabin where a woman had been beaten to death. [Pre-trial discovery indicates 541 pictures in total, which suggests Van Wyck didn't take them all.] The security agent told Van Wyk what to shoot, and not to shoot. I'm guessing Van Wyk objected, given what happens next, and the security agent told him to shut up and get on with it.

Van Wyk has filed a lawsuit for damages alleging post-traumatic stress, making claims of Jones Act negligence, general maritime law negligence, maintenance and cure, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He wasn't up for photographing bloody crime scenes, and I for one don't blame him; it's hardly the sort of thing he expected to be asked to do. He must have been wondering, all the while he's snapping blood spatter, whether earlier in the cruise he'd caught some candids of Ms. Manzanares in happier, pre-murder times.

He filed that claim in a California court and the ship is Bermuda registry, so the cruise line's holding him to an agreement he signed on taking up the job: any and all disputes are to be arbitrated in Bermuda. Van Wyk would prefer to fight the claim in a California court, since he'd get more damages if he won a court case in California.

The latest word, as far as I can determine, is that a California judge told Van Wyk to go to arbitration.

Initial thoughts: why the hell the security guy didn't just borrow a camera and take his own photos? It's not as if Van Wyk had specialist forensic training; he's a happy snaps, let's-all-make-nice-for-the-camera shutterbug. The guard's shaky-cam couldn't have been any worse than Van Wyk's shaky-cam.

So what happens next to the security agent who caused all this mess? It's the one bit of the story I really want to know more about. Though I suppose if the cruise line is going to hang him from the yardarm it'll do it after the Van Wyk business settles, not before. Doing it before might look like an admission of guilt.

I see that according to this piece about security guard licensing the requirements for security personnel aboard a cruise ship may vary. Senior people will often, but not always, need to have law enforcement credentials. Your average guard need only be physically fit and proficient in English.

It's odd: you seldom see cruise liners in gaming or in mysteries any more. When liners were the only way to travel - broadly from the nineteenth century up till the jet age - there were any number of detective stories, romances, even ghost stories, set on liners. Charlie Chan had his murder cruise, Hercule Poirot set sail down the Nile, Wodehouse's idiots wooed and won, or lost, aboard queens of the sea. My favorite romantic comedy, The Lady Eve, begins with crooked gamblers aboard a cruise ship. These days whether it's a movie or a game when you do see cruise liners it usually means everyone on board is dead.

Which is a pity, because setting a scene aboard an ocean liner provides a complex yet artificial setting that can be adapted to any eventuality. Do you want to stage an elaborate heist? Imagine trying to crack a safe inside one of the luxury cabins, with all those cameras everywhere and thousands of potential witnesses on-site. Do you want to have a scene at a ski resort without all the fuss of actually going to a ski resort? Not a problem: there's a cruise ship that does that - or will do that. Luxury bars? Check. Casinos? Check. Elaborate theatres, robot bartenders, scuba diving, escape rooms? Not a problem.

Most of all, do you want an artificial setting where all the usual rules don't apply and the police presence is amateur hour at best? Cruise lines have you covered.

That's it for this week!

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