Alaska cruise ship crew member accused of lying about alleged sexual assault

the norwegian jewel
The Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Jewel approaching Icy Strait Point near Hoonah in 2002. (Courtesy Jack Hayes/CC by SA)

A former crew member of an Alaska-bound cruise ship is accused of lying to federal investigators last week after a passenger claimed he massaged her against her will, according to a charging document.

Neeraj Bhatt is charged with one count of making a false statement in the case. The charges say Bhatt was working as a cabin attendant at the time, and after the victim’s report, he was initially investigated for abusive sexual contact.

Anchorage-based federal authorities declined to comment this week whether there are any further charges pending against Bhatt.

A federal complaint against Bhatt, filed Tuesday, does not explicitly identify the ship aboard which the incident occurred. But the dates of the cruise, which will depart Vancouver on May 15 and arrive in Seward on May 22, match only one ship’s itinerary on the Alaska cruise line agencies’ calendar for the month: the Norwegian Jewel from Norwegian Cruise Line.

Norwegian Jewel, launched in 2005, can carry about 2,400 passengers and a crew of 1,100.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to questions about Bhatt’s charges.

According to the charges, FBI and US Coast Guard investigators visited the cruise ship in Seward on Monday. The victim told them that Bhatt had made her uncomfortable by unpacking her clothes after she said she could do it herself, then knocked on her door and repeatedly knocked on her cabin.

On May 16, the victim told investigators, Bhatt followed the victim into her cabin and locked the door, which cruise line staff told the FBI was a violation of company policy. He then allegedly commented on her legs, offered to massage them, and left briefly before she could respond, returning with two bottles of lotion or oil.

“(The victim) indicated that she ‘didn’t know how to say no’ and therefore allowed Bhatt to begin massaging her, hoping he would ‘finish it off and leave me alone,'” an investigator wrote in the Los Angeles Times. charges. .

The victim said Bhatt then told her to remove her culottes, a slip skirt, and a pair of shorts, to continue the massage. She threatened to report him if he continued.

The charges say Bhatt then hugged and attempted to kiss the victim, who again threatened to report him. Bhatt eventually left, and the victim reported the encounter the next day.

According to the charges, surveillance video from the ship showed Bhatt entering the victim’s cabin three times, spending more than 20 minutes alone with her with the door closed.

But when investigators spoke to Bhatt on Monday, the charges say he claimed to have entered the room only twice. He also denied locking the cabin door and said he used the doorjamb to prop it open. Even after being told that lying to investigators was a federal crime, he repeated those claims.

According to the charges, Bhatt admitted those statements were not true when confronted with surveillance video.

The charging document says the cruise line also fired him.

Bhatt was initially incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, according to the charges. He made his first court appearance in the case on Friday afternoon.