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August 24, 2009

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Chinese cruise-ship tourists hit by cash thefts left high and dry

Four Chinese tourists, including a Shanghai resident, have suffered cash thefts on the high seas - and there is little, if anything, they can do about it.

As the crimes happened on a cruise ship, they come under international public law, a notorious legal minefield.

On behalf of the victims, Liu Bo, the Shanghainese, phoned Shanghai marine police early on Saturday as soon as their cruise ship, Costa Classica, owned by Italian Costa Cruises, docked at the city to end a week-long tour from China to Japan and South Korea.

Liu, traveling with his wife, told Shanghai Daily they had US$700 and 10,000 yen (US$106) stolen from their cabin safe.

Liu said he was the first victim to alert the ship's management and soon after two Beijing tourists and another from southern Guangdong Province also reported losses of cash.

One Beijing tourist said US$300 was missing from his safe, while the others lost about 2,000 yuan (US$293) in cash from wallets left behind on their beds.

"One thing in common about our losses is that only part of our cash was stolen," Liu said.

"In my case, I lost US$700 of US$1,700 cash, while the Beijing tourist had US$300 of US$900 taken out of his safe.

"The thief was obviously cunning, trying to make the losses less obvious."

In a bizarre twist, both victims of safe theft had chosen the same -and very simple - six-digit numbers to open it.

The victims suspected a middle-aged Filipino, the cleaner of all four rooms hit by the thefts.

Ship officials searched the man and his cabin but told the tourists they only found a small amount of cash.

"Upon my request, the waiter under question was suspended from duties several days later," Liu said.

The ship carried nearly 2,000 passengers and crew.

Shanghai marine police spent nearly four hours completing Customs steps before they were able to board the vessel about noon on Saturday.

Not surprisingly, the marine police found inquiries difficult as the ship, packed with new tourists, set off on Saturday afternoon on a new cruise.

Liu, who works in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, said he would stay in Shanghai for another week, waiting to hear from the city police and Costa Cruises' management.

A senior lawyer agreed it would be difficult for victims to recover the cash. "The case may be small in value but comes under international public law," said Liu Chunquan, of Guangshen & Partners' Shanghai Office.

One avenue would be to file a report with police in Italy, the lawyer said.

Costa Cruises' Shanghai office could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Liu Bo said he understood the frustrations for Shanghai marine police.

However, he believes he has no hope of recovering his cash.


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