Carnival? Try Criminal

What happens when a female passenger is assaulted on a cruise ship? Not much.

"He came over around 9:30 p.m.," Jane wrote in a statement for the Imagination's security department describing that night's events. "He was very nice, bringing me soda and getting ice for my knee. I was unable to bend my knee at all, and was very uncomfortable. We were watching TV and talking. He had brought a bottle of wine with him and he drank the whole bottle as the night progressed." Senes said he had to work at 5:00 a.m. in the engine room and begged to be allowed to sleep in her cabin until his shift began. There would be no hanky-panky, she said. He promised to be good. "He was nice and respectful to me and acted like a gentleman, so I felt I had no reason to fear him," she wrote. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, Jane prepared to go to sleep. Because of her injured knee, she allowed Senes to help her climb into bed. As he tucked her in, he tried to kiss her. "I told him to just leave if he couldn't keep his hands to himself," she wrote. Senes apologized and said "he just wanted to be near me." She allowed him to stay.

At 4:00 a.m. he got up to go to work. Before leaving he asked her for a kiss. He was insistent, she stated. She allowed one kiss, hoping that would get rid of him. Then he wanted another one. He began groping her. She told him to stop. "He kept saying he likes me very much, he needed me, and 'wanted to feel my skin.'... He did not stop; he kept touching me and pulling at my clothes. He turned me over, even though I told him he was hurting me.... I constantly said, 'Stop, I don't want to do this. Just go away.'" Senes held her down, she wrote, covered her mouth with one hand, and sodomized her. "It only lasted a few minutes," she recalled. By then she was crying hysterically. He tried to comfort her and made her give him a kiss before leaving for work.

Jane was hysterical throughout the morning. At 8:30 a.m. she went to the infirmary to talk to a fellow nurse and friend, Cathy Wieland, but couldn't find her. Jane returned to her room, then walked again to the infirmary at 11:00 a.m., to no avail. Eventually she found Wieland, who convinced her to tell the ship's officers of the rape. By 2:00 p.m. Jane was recounting the episode for the ship's chief of security, José Buelto. A little later, to prove her story, she lured Senes to an empty cabin and secretly turned on the intercom. Buelto, Wieland, and staff captain Vito Giacalone listened in.

Carnival president Bob Dickinson is proud no employee has been successfully prosecuted for rape
AP/Wide World Photo
Carnival president Bob Dickinson is proud no employee has been successfully prosecuted for rape

"She asked him, 'Why did you do this when I kept telling you no?'" Wieland says. "His exact words were, 'Because I am an egoist.'"

There's a debate about what happened next. Carnival attorney Curtis Mase contends Jane hesitated, asking Buelto to wait before contacting law-enforcement agencies. "Carnival had wanted her to go to the authorities," Mase says. "Carnival at all times was convincing her to proceed reporting this to authorities." Company lawyers advised Jane's superiors to do nothing without the victim's consent, he says.

But Fox and Wieland dispute Mase's account. "That's complete bullshit," Fox says; he argues the company attempted to discourage her reporting the crime by stalling. Adds Wieland: "I was with her the whole time. They didn't encourage her to report it. They just kept saying, 'What are you going to do? What are you going to do?' I kept telling them that she doesn't need to make a decision right away."

On the day before the Imagination docked, August 14, the company came up with two reasons to fire Senes: He drank wine before work and showed up late. Ostensibly the rape allegations were irrelevant. By the time the ship cleaved the waters off Government Cut, sailing past South Beach to its pier at the Port of Miami, the captain had already signed the termination notice.

Once Senes was fired, his visa automatically expired and the clock started ticking on his stay in the United States. According to federal rules, Carnival had to send the engineer home immediately, the company contends. But Fox and Wieland argue Carnival should have held Senes or turned him over to authorities.

About 7:00 a.m. Carnival corporate security agent Kenneth Bissonette boarded the vessel and interviewed both Jane and Senes. Bissonette handed Jane a letter stating, "We understand that you may have experienced a problem with Mr. Senes Yurij [sic].... Please note that if you intend to make a report to the authorities, Carnival will cooperate fully...." He asked her to sign. She did.

The agent was not helpful, Wieland says. "We had to really press him to make arrangements for her to go ashore and get medical attention," she recalls. "Bissonette said we don't know how we can arrange for this, pay for it, and keep her name out of it. He kept putting it off."

Jane then made a decision. She told Bissonette she wanted to go to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Rape Treatment Center and meet with the FBI. Although Senes at that point became a suspect in a major felony, Carnival did not put the brakes on plans to deport him. By then Carnival higher-ups were exchanging a flurry of phone calls. After interviewing Jane, Bissonette called Robert Beh, vice president of surveillance and security. Beh in turn called Brendan Corrigan, vice president of operations. Bissonette, Beh, and Corrigan all phoned the Carnival agent who was holding Senes.

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