An Italian man accused of raping a British teenager on a Mediterranean cruise has been released without charge by Spanish authorities because of a legal loophole.

The 17-year-old girl was travelling with her parents on the MSC Divina when her alleged attacker, an 18-year-old, forced her into his cabin in the early hours of Thursday morning.

But the suspect was freed after a judge ruled he did not have jurisdiction over a case committed on a Panama-registered vessel in international waters by an Italian against a British person.

The incident took place when the vessel was in international waters halfway between Mallorca and Valencia, Spanish newspaper Levante EMV reported.

The complainant was examined both on board the vessel, which is operated by MSC Cruises, and by medics at Le Fey hospital when it docked at Valencia.

The cabin was also examined by forensic officers and the complainant’s clothing taken for analysis, while the suspect was arrested after he returned from sightseeing in Valencia.

Police investigated whether the suspect had an address in Spain, which would have given the Spanish authorities the power to deal with the case.

The vessel departed Valencia for Marseille at about 4.15pm on Thursday afternoon with the complainant and her family but without the suspect who was still being held by the Spanish authorities.

Although the suspect has been freed, the forensic investigation is ongoing and the forensic samples and clothing are being processed by the Legal Medicine Institute of Valencia, Levante EMV said.

A spokesman for MSC Cruises said: “As there is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide any additional comment on this matter.”

He added: “Our company is fully cooperating with the authorities overseeing this investigation, but is not itself in any way subject to it.”

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Our consular staff are providing support and assistance to a British woman and her family following an incident on board a cruise ship.”

The MSC Divina has 1,750 cabins and can carry 4,345 guests.

MSC Cruises states on its website that the ship’s design was inspired by Italian actress Sophia Loren.

The MSC Divina. Pic: Wikipedia

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