The family of a British teenager has accused a man of rape while they were on a cruise holiday – but the judge has been forced to release the suspect, claiming he was unable to make a ruling on a crime committed in international waters.

The Sun reported the unnamed 17-year-old claimed she was attacked in her cabin aboard the Panamanian registered ship.

An 18-year-old Italian man was arrested in connection with the incident, and taken to a Spanish court in Valencia.

However he was later released because the judge said the incident had happened outside of his court's jurisdiction.

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Local newspaper Levante-EMV explained it was Spanish law said the judge was forced to let the accused go free due to the involvement of two foreign nationals on a Panamanian vessel, which was at the time in international waters.

It is hoped the court will now appeal to law enforcers in Panama, Italy and the UK – the nationalities of the ship, the defendant and complainant – a to take up the trial.

According to The Sun, the incident took place at 5am on Thursday 11th, in the Baleariac Sea on passage between Palma to Valencia.

'Ciutat Justicia, Valencia': City of Justice court in Valencia, Spain. Photo / Pablo Blazquez Dominguez, Getty Images
'Ciutat Justicia, Valencia': City of Justice court in Valencia, Spain. Photo / Pablo Blazquez Dominguez, Getty Images

The whereabouts of the suspect is currently unknown, and he is believed to have been released after the trial was abandoned.

The UK foreign office has released a statement on the incident.

"Our consular staff are providing support and assistance to a British woman and her family following an incident on board a cruise ship," it said.