I don't know the technical term for it, but some people actually have told me a thing exists where people board cruise ships from the middle of the sea without paying.

Given that there's no jail/confinement facility on these ships and the company will probably not cancel a whole trip just to take one buffoon back to the land and arrest them, ruining everyone's paid trip/jobs/etc.

Would such an act even be illegal? Would they maybe just restrict the hopper from any events/amenities and make them stay out port? I ask because somethings like this are probably rare, but totally possible, especially with massive cruise lines where you may be likelier to go unnoticed and get off easier too.

Even if the cruise line did tell the authorities, it's not like boat police are always present, especially if the ship is near international waters/boundaries/not in one specific geological region/etc.

I'd imagine that even if someone did get caught doing this, or if they actually did enforce this rather than simply forget about the hopper, punishment would be very minimal/petty.

  • "punishment would be very minimal" - I would expect this to count as piracy, and punishment for piracy is very definitely not minimal. Sep 16, 2019 at 11:30

1 Answer 1


First of all, cruise ships are not lawless zones. At all times, the law of their country of registration applies. In addition, if they are in sovereign waters, that country's law applies. Also, many countries impose their law on ships that depart from their ports until they dock in another country's port. And finally, international maritime law applies (IML). In many ways, ships are some of the most heavily legalised places on Earth. Actions can be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction and that court will decide which law to apply. For example, a UK ship en route from Sydney to Noumea is governed by IML, UK law and NSW/Australian law while in NSW/International waters and will also be governed by New Caledonian law when it enters New Caledonian waters.

Second, cruise ships do have a brig where people can and will be confined. The normal practice when someone commits a crime (like boarding without paying) and or breaks their contract with the cruise company is that that person is confined to the brig or their cabin and put off the ship at the next port of call. If there was a crime involved, they would be handed over to local law enforcement for investigation, prosecution and possibly extradition. If not then they would just be left on the dock - they would need to find their own way home. Usually, the cruise company would hand them a bill for the cost of their confinement, food etc.; if they pursue this debt or not is a different matter. A person without valid travel documents may find themselves in trouble with local immigration as well.

Finally, boarding a cruise ship at sea without the cooperation of the ship would be damn near impossible. Even small cruise ships have 10 or more decks with the places where the ship can be accessed 2 or more decks (say 6-8m) above the waterline. If the ship was stationary it might be possible to throw up a rope I guess but if it was cruising at 12 knots, forget about it.

  • Wouldn't leaving someone on the dock require their being able to clear immigration controls? Most countries won't accept someone who might not be in a position to "find their own way home," even if they do have valid travel documents. As to the last paragraph, you could always drop down from a helicopter. But if you can afford to do that, you can also afford to pay for a cruise.
    – phoog
    Mar 7, 2016 at 23:14
  • @phoog No, if they can't clear immigration then the country they are in will deport them; the cruise ship doesn't have to take them back.
    – Dale M
    Mar 7, 2016 at 23:40
  • @Dale You sure about that? That's not how it works with planes -- if an airline delivers you somewhere and you aren't admitted to the country, the country can demand that the airline take you back home (the airline then seeks reimbursement from you, but the country doesn't have to deal with them).
    – cpast
    Mar 8, 2016 at 0:18
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    The airline had a contract for transport with the person. The cruise ship has no contract with the person whatsoever. I suppose it would be different if you booked a cruise and paid for it, started a huge brawl in the bar so they want to get rid of you, in that case the same situation as with the airline might apply. But as described, there is no legal relationship between the person and the cruise line.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 8, 2016 at 8:59
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    @gnasher729 but the airline's responsibility to return the person arises from its agreement with the country in which it operates, not the contract with the passenger. It's conceivable that cruise lines have similar agreements, but it's also conceivable that international law has different provisions for this situation, being as it is a mode of transport that (a) doesn't bring people deep into a country's territory and (b) is centuries older than the nation-state itself, let alone air travel.
    – phoog
    Mar 8, 2016 at 13:20

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