The cruise industry has come a long way in reforming its practices since the catastrophic Costa Concordia tragedy on Jan. 13, 2012, but for some U.S. politicians there's still much more work to be done.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced legislation in the Senate on Tuesday, seeking passenger safety at sea reforms under the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013. Meanwhile, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) introduced companion legislation in the House under the same name. Both aim for tougher reporting of cruise ship safety statistics, and both will build off of security measures implemented by the broad Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010.
Rep. Matsui said the 2010 legislation put in critical protections for thousands of Americans and was “a great first step,” but noted it was just that: a first step.
“The Cruise Passenger Protection Act … will continue to build upon the security and safety measures aboard our cruise ships and ensure that consumers have access to accurate information and victims are given the support and resources they deserve,” she stated. Rep. Poe added that the act would “protect victims of crime and hold their perpetrators accountable.”
The proposal would bolster FBI notification requirements when an alleged incident occurs onboard a cruise ship and ensure consumers are able to access more detailed information about crimes that occur on cruise vessels by making that information public. The CPPA also mandates more video surveillance requirements to ensure maximum protection for passengers and victims.
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“Through the substantial efforts of Reps. Matsui and Poe, historic legislation was passed in 2010 to protect passengers who become victims of crimes on cruise ships. International Cruise Victims Association members are most pleased that this new legislation will further strengthen this law to improve crime reporting and other provisions,” International Cruise Victims Association President Kendall Carver said
Under the CPPA, a cruise vessel owner would have to notify the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident and ensure that if something occurs while a vessel is still in a U.S. port, the FBI is notified before it leaves for the open ocean. The CPPA would also transfer authority for maintaining the website of alleged crimes on cruise ships from the Coast Guard to the Transportation Department, and it would charge the department with establishing a victims' advocate program, whereby each large vessel would have an assistant who could advise victims of their rights in international waters.
The FBI currently only reports crimes that are no longer under investigation. Last year, for instance, just 15 cases were documented on the Coast Guard’s website, while ICV claims it received hundreds of calls and emails from cruise passengers who said they were the victim of a crime. Critics say such underreporting creates serious confusion and represents a lack of transparency for potential passengers, who don't have accurate information about the safety of each vessel.
Sen. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has probed the cruise industry in recent months on everything from security to a lack of federal taxes. He introduced his latest legislation a day ahead of a committee hearing on Wednesday, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” where he will grill cruise line executives.
The panel includes Gerald Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines; Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International; Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, assistant commandant for prevention and policy for the U.S. Coast Guard; Ross Klein, professor at the School of Social Work, St. Johns College, Memorial University of Newfoundland; and the Honorable Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The hearing, Sen. Rockefeller said, will focus on “challenges the cruise industry continues to face,” including a lack of consumer protections, a need for more accurate crime reporting and safety concerns. The senator is expected to release a report on crimes reported to the FBI but never before made public.
“Sadly, when things go wrong on cruises, passengers are left with no recourse and no way of knowing ahead of time if there’s any history of crime onboard their cruise ship,” Sen. Rockefeller noted. “While I’ve been told time and again that the industry is going to change, that things will get better for passengers, it simply hasn’t happened. So I’m stepping in to make sure cruise lines make those critical changes to improve the safety and security of passengers.”
The West Virginia Democrat said the fine print on cruise contracts is growing, and in the process, new clauses restrict a passenger’s ability to hold cruise lines accountable when things go wrong.
Cruise Lines International Association announced in May that its directors had approved the adoption of a “Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights,” detailing the industry’s “commitment to the safety, comfort and care of guests.” The bill, voluntarily adopted by all major cruise lines, was largely seen as a reaction to demands from U.S. politicians following a series of high-profile incidents on Carnival ships, beginning with the Carnival Triumph fire in February.
Included in the new “bill” is the right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions can't adequately be provided onboard; the right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures (or a partial refund for a voyage that is terminated early due to mechanical failures); the right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary; the right to a ship crew that is properly trained for medical emergencies and evacuation procedures; and the right to transportation and lodging if a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures. Each cruise line is now required to publish these rights on their respective websites.
CLIA President and CEO Christine Duffy said the industry “appreciates the opportunity” to convey its safety record to the Senate, in a statement provided to the Miami Herald. “We believe the senators will see that the industry is not only effectively overseen and regulated by authorities and has an exceptional operational record, but that we also initiate policies and best practices on our own to ensure that we deliver exceptional vacation value for all guests.”