AM 760 KFMB - Talk Radio Station - San Diego, CA - Fallbrook mother of lost passenger questions cruise ship safety

Fallbrook mother of lost passenger questions cruise ship safety

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FALLBROOK, Calif. (CBS 8) - A Fallbrook mother is speaking out about crime and safety of passengers onboard cruise ships after her son mysteriously went missing last year off the coast of Alaska.

By law, crimes and missing persons cases that occur on cruise ships are supposed to be reported to the FBI, but advocates for passenger safety question whether that is actually happening.

The January wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the coast of Italy that killed at least 16 people brought back painful memories for Fallbrook mother Merri Laursen.

Laursen's son, Blake Kepley, 20, went missing in July from a Holland America cruise ship during a voyage from Seattle to Alaska.

"He was an amazing young man and he is so missed," said Laursen.

Three months after Blake's disappearance, Laursen finally received a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard investigative report.

It included just one blurry surveillance image of a person walking on deck in the early morning hours when Blake went missing.

The face of the person in the image was blacked out, as were the names of witnesses who claimed to have seen Blake.

Laursen said officials told her there was no surveillance video available.

"There is no hope when you don't have surveillance. You don't have a body. You don't have any answers. You have nothing to work with," said Laursen.

Arizona resident Ken Carver lost his own daughter off a cruise ship in 2004, which is why he founded the advocacy group, International Cruise Victims.

"Nobody should go over a ship without video picking it up," said Carver. "Unfortunately, time after time, the cruise lines say there is no video."

In 2010, Carver's organization helped pass the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which mandated more surveillance cameras on cruise ships, installation of man overboard detection systems, reporting of crimes onboard cruise ships to the FBI, and online posting of cruise liner crimes and missing persons statistics.

"The whole purpose of the bill was to make information available, which unfortunately, it is not," said Carver.

He says the crime statistics currently posted on the U.S.Coast Guard web site are grossly under reported by the FBI.

"On a cruise ship, there is no police force," Carver said. "They might have security officers but they work for the cruise line."

The head of San Diego's FBI office told News 8, nationwide, his agency investigates about 50 crimes onboard cruise ships per year.

"You're talking about a pleasure vacation-type activity that usually does not lend itself to crime. So the numbers are fairly low," said Special Agent in Charge, Keith Slotter.

"Most crimes that occur onboard a cruise ship on a four, five, or seven day cruise are going to be investigated by the security staff onboard, as it should be," Slotter said.

Back in Fallbrook, Merri Laursen still wonders about what happened to her son and what more could have been done to investigate his disappearance seven months ago.

"Crimes do get committed. People do disappear, like Blake," she said. "And it's not acceptable. It is 2012, with the technology we have, it's not acceptable."

Many cruise liners still have not installed man overboard detection systems or adequate surveillance cameras, in part, because of delays by the Coast Guard in getting systems approved, Ken Carver said.

Carver plans to meet with FBI officials in Washington D.C. this week to discuss why cruise ship crime statistics are not being accurately reported.

A Holland America cruise line spokesperson declined to be interviewed for this report.

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