A former crew member on 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 accused of one count of making a false statement in the case. The charges say Bhatt was working as a stateroom 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 on whether further charges against Bhatt are pending.
A federal complaint against Bhatt, filed Tuesday, doesn’t explicitly identify the ship aboard which the incident took place. But the dates of the cruise – departing Vancouver on May 15 and arriving in Seward on May 22 – match only one ship’s itinerary in a Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska calendar for the month: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel.
The Norwegian Jewel, launched in 2005, can carry nearly 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 U.S. Coast Guard investigators visited the cruise ship in Seward on Monday. The victim told them that Bhatt had made her feel uncomfortable by unpacking her clothing after she said she could do so herself, then knocking on her door and repeatedly calling her cabin.
On May 16, the victim told investigators, Bhatt followed the victim into her cabin and closed 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 briefly left before she could answer, returning with two bottles of lotion or oil.
“(The victim) indicated that she ‘did not know how to say no’ and, therefore, allowed Bhatt to begin massaging her, hoping that he would ‘get it over with and leave me alone,’” an investigator wrote in the charges.
The victim said Bhatt then told her to remove her skort, a combination skirt and 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 stateroom three times, spending more than 20 minutes alone with her with the door closed.
But when investigators spoke with Bhatt on Monday, the charges say he claimed to enter the room only twice. He also denied closing the stateroom’s door, saying he used a door jamb to keep it open. Even after he was told lying to the investigators was a federal crime, he repeated those claims.
According to the charges, Bhatt admitted those statements were untrue when confronted with the surveillance video.
The charging document says the cruise line also fired him.
Bhatt was initially jailed at Anchorage Correctional Complex, according to the charges. He made his first court appearance in the case Friday afternoon.