Florida Cruise Ship Bartender Accused of Sexually Assaulting Passenger | Miami New Times


Cruise Bartender Accused of Sexually Assaulting Sleeping Passenger in Stateroom

According to the FBI, the woman's friend said she awoke to find the bartender lingering over their naked bodies inside the cruise cabin.
The Margaritaville at Sea Paradise cruises from the Port of Palm Beach to the Bahamas.
The Margaritaville at Sea Paradise cruises from the Port of Palm Beach to the Bahamas. Photo by ShipHistory62/Wikicommons
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On May 5, as the Margaritaville at Sea Paradise cast off from South Florida to the Caribbean for a weekend voyage, a passenger and her friend were in a celebratory spirit, tossing back several drinks at a karaoke bar before hopping to another drinking hole aboard the ship. It was the first evening of the two-night, three-day cruise from the Port of Palm Beach to the tropical Grand Bahama island, known for its turquoise waters and pristine beaches. The pair were partying until around 1 a.m. when they retired to their stateroom.

While she lay in bed in their room, one of the women was allegedly awakened by a man "touching her breasts, kissing her neck, and vaginally penetrating her," according to an FBI affidavit.

During an interview with the FBI upon arriving back at the Port of Palm Beach, the passenger (referred to as H.B. in the case documents) said she recognized the perpetrator as a bartender from earlier in the evening. Her cabin mate recorded and took photos of part of the incident after she also awoke to find the man lingering in their stateroom, according to the affidavit.

On August 14, H.B. filed a lawsuit against Deerfield Beach-based Margaritaville at Sea and Classica Cruise Operator, seeking to hold them liable for the severe emotional trauma and psychological damage she suffered from the incident, according to the complaint.

"At no time did H.B. consent to any sexual activity," the lawsuit states.

The bartender, Hoobesh Kumar Dookhy, is criminally charged with abusive sexual contact in Miami federal court. His public defender, Peter Birch, declined to comment when reached via email.

According to the affidavit, Dookhy told agents H.B. had invited him to the room and that she was initially sleeping when he entered but woke up before they had sex. He claimed the cabin mate was passed out at the time. He said he left the room after H.B. told him to stop after a few minutes of intercourse.

The case adds to a long, disturbing history of sexual assault claims by passengers who say they were victimized aboard cruise ships. More than 500 sexual assault claims were documented aboard 13 major cruise lines between 2010 and 2022, according to a Business Insider report.

In a statement to New Times, the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line says it is cooperating with the FBI's investigation. The cruise line used to operate as Bahamas Paradise before revamping its operations under a partnership with Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville brand.

"On May 6, our staff onboard Margaritaville at Sea Paradise learned of an accusation regarding sexual contact between a male crewmember and a female guest onboard. Our staff onboard immediately offered assistance to the guest and notified the FBI, as is standard procedure regarding such allegations within the cruise industry," the cruise line wrote via email. "The safety and well-being of our guests and crewmembers is our top priority. We take this allegation very seriously and have zero tolerance for any form of harassment, abuse, or violence on our ship."

Dookhy gained access to the stateroom with H.B.'s room key, which was used to charge drinks at the bar, according to the affidavit. H.B. "recalled that Dookhy served her several drinks after her ten-drink allotment was reached on her armband" earlier at the karaoke bar, the FBI says.

The cabin mate told the FBI that when she woke up, Dookhy was making an advance on her by touching her face, according to the affidavit. After she questioned him about what he was doing inside their cabin while they were sleeping naked, he allegedly insisted H.B. had given him the room key.

"[The cabin mate] stated that she attempted to get Dookhy to exit the room, but Dookhy went over to H.B.'s bed where H.B. was sleeping and began to rub H.B.'s chest," the affidavit states.

The FBI alleges the roommate "captured photos of Dookhy as he touched H.B.'s face and breast while H.B. was asleep." The bureau says the incident happened while the ship was traveling in international waters en route to Freeport.

The federal statute under which Dookhy is charged carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A 2019 New Times investigation indicated that sexual assault is the most frequently reported felony crime on cruises, and that cruise lines have been repeatedly accused of trying to hush victims and impede investigations. (Margaritaville at Sea and its predecessor Bahamas Paradise were not among the cruise lines mentioned in the report.)

In December 2015, during a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise, a teenager was allegedly gang-raped by a group of men who plied her with alcohol and took her back to a cabin. In July 2016, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fitness instructor on a Carnival ship. And in 2018, a Norwegian Cruise Line employee used a master key to enter a stateroom and rape an 11-year-old girl, according to a lawsuit filed by her family.
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