JULY 25, 2013 — U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D. WV), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced legislation July 23 that, he said, would improve consumer protections for cruise passengers and close gaps in cruise crime reporting requirements. The next day, July 24, he chaired an oversight hearing of the Commerce Committee titled, "Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection."
Senator Rockefeller's legislation and the hearing build on the Senator's ongoing oversight of the cruise industry.
In March 2012, after a series of safety incidents on cruise ships, he held a hearing on whether cruise industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers. Since then, several cruise ship incidents hit the headines, including the Carnival Triumph fire in February 2013, which left passengers stranded at sea for days without power, plumbing, and adequate food sources. After this incident, Rockefeller wrote Admiral Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, and Micky Arison, Chairman of the Board and then-CEO of Carnival, to express his serious concerns surrounding recent cruise ship incidents.
"Rather than take these legitimate oversight questions seriously," says the Senator's office, "Carnival's response played down concerns about recent incidents and ignored questions about whether Carnival intended to reimburse the Coast Guard and Navy for its cost of responding to several incidents – an issue the company later reconsidered when it chose to reimburse federal taxpayers."
On getting Carnival's "insufficient response," Senator Rockefeller broadened his oversight efforts of the cruise industry. On May 7, 2013, he sent letters to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which represent 78 percent of the global cruise industry, to determine whether their procedures on passenger safety and security were enough to protect consumers.
He has now followed this up by introducing legislation to "compel the cruise industry to implement strong consumer protections."
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 would:
- Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts. The Secretary of Transportation would develop standards for the cruise lines to provide prospective passengers with a short summary of the key terms in the contract. Consumers would be able to read a plain language summary of the key rights and limitations that passengers have during their cruise so they are fully aware of what rights they have, and don't have, before they book their tickets.
- Give the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers. The Department of Transportation would be the lead federal agency for cruise ship consumer protection, similar to the role it has in aviation consumer protection. Passengers would also have additional protections in the event of a problem by giving the Department the authority to investigate consumer complaints.
- Help passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships. The Department of Transportation would establish a toll-free hotline for consumer complaints. An Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection would be created to make recommendations to improve existing consumer protection programs and services.
- Make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information. The FBI currently only reports crimes that are no longer under investigation. This causes the number of alleged crimes to be severely underreported and does not give potential passengers accurate information about the safety of cruises. Cruise lines would also be required to place video cameras in public areas and would set requirements for cruise lines to keep the video footage.
- Help passengers who have been a victim of a crime on the cruise ship, since they have limited access to law enforcement. The Department of Transportation would establish a victim advocate who can provide assistance to victims on board a cruise ship, make sure the victim is aware of his or her rights in international waters, and get access to appropriate law enforcement officers.
In conjunction with the hearing, Senator Rockefeller released a staff report described as exposing "critical barriers to public access of important cruise ship crime and safety data."
The report says that the number of alleged crimes cruise lines have reported to the FBI since 2011 is 30 times higher than the number of crimes the FBI is required to report publicly and that crimes committed against minors are not publicly reported at all.
Under existing law, the FBI is only required to disclose crimes that have been solved, not alleged crimes. The Senator's staff reviewed those alleged crimes and discovered that since 2011, cruise lines have reported 130 of such alleged crimes to the FBI, while only 31 alleged crimes were reported publicly.
You can access the report HERE
Christine Duffy, the President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), released a statement in conjunction wiith the hearing that outlined a number of proactive measures that CLIA's members have taken in the areas of safety, self-regulation and training, including:
- Conducting the 2012 Global Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review, which resulted in 10 industry-wide safety policies, each of which exceeded current international regulatory requirements upon its announcement.
- Launching the ongoing industry-wide Preparedness Risk Assessment Initiative to improve redundancies and preparedness regarding main and emergency power.
- Holding a three-day training and joint contingency planning exercise in April 2013 with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and other key parties to test emergency response and evacuation procedures involving cruise ships, medical treatment operations, and land-based passenger care facilities.
- Adopting the Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights in May 2013 which details CLIA members' commitment to the safety, comfort and care of guests in a number of important areas.
You can access her statement HERE