Should US law protect cruise clients on cruises departing from US ports?


For the past year, Travelers United has worked closely in Congress with the International Cruise Victims organization as it has strived to add protections to cruise passengers against crimes at sea and through published passenger protections.

Ken Carver, the chairman of the organization, has worked tirelessly to keep the plight of cruise victims in front of congressmen and senators. Essentially, once a cruise ship exits the territorial waters of the US, it enters a no-man’s land when it comes to protections under law.

This edited release from International Cruise Victims outlines its main efforts that are showing signs of success, with a new hearing being scheduled by the Senate Commerce Committee in the near future. This litany of objections from the cruise industry will be part of the focus of the Commerce Committee during its hearing.

Cruise industry officials are quick to tell the public at large – including the media, Congress, the IMO and anyone who dares to doubt — how heavily regulated the cruise industry is.

Therefore, they say, no need for increased regulations. In case that doesn’t convince the intended party, they then resort to their go-to closing argument — the cruise industry provides many job opportunities in port cities which adds untold dollars (although they are actually quick to tell how many) to the economy.

No new legislation is needed. Cruise lines claim, “We are already models of safety and concern.”

Obviously, International Cruise Victims (ICV) sees beyond what the cruise industry uses as its dispositive argument. Existing regulations are paltry and jobs generated by the industry should not exempt them from continued oversight and additional regulations. ICV finds it “objectionable” that cruise lines have structured their corporations and ship registries to avoid regulations, taxes and transparency, including something as simple and seemingly harmless as the disclosure of all alleged shipboard crimes.

Furthermore, we strongly believe that the time has come to end their ability to avoid laws and regulations which would protect passengers.

In the current session of Congress, legislation was once again introduced (H.R. 2800 and S. 1340). This bill would require the reporting of ALL alleged crimes, including sexual crimes against minors, in addition to better video standards in public places and a victims’ rights advocate for any passenger or crew member who becomes a victim of crime.

The cruise industry continues to oppose this and any type of legislation to protect victims or to give them the rights they deserve, as demonstrated by their actions described below.

1. The cruise industry fails to disclose crime rates for each cruise line. Though the cruise industry promised to disclose alleged crimes, their definition of transparency is different from ours – Carnival Corporation combined four of their member cruise lines’ (Carnival Cruises, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Seabourn Cruises) crime statistics into one reported number. It is impossible to determine the different and distinct crime rates for each line. In truth, Carnival Cruises represented 88 percent of the total crimes, which explains why Carnival Corporation did not wish to disclose these crime rates per cruise line. Congress should not be pacified by this empty gesture.

2. A Bill of Rights for passengers does not provide passengers or victims any real additional rights. It was a PR move born of style but lacking substance. Interestingly, before the cruise industry’s self-aggrandizing press release of this Bill of Rights, Senator Schumer (NY) reasonably requested further information and a clarification of the industry’s claims and intentions. To the best of our knowledge, Sen. Schumer has yet to receive a response.

3. There is no federal regulation of the industry.While other transportation industries such as airlines and railways are subject to federal regulations, the cruise lines, having cleverly placed their corporations in underdeveloped and ill-equipped countries like Panama and Liberia, manage to avoid US regulations. They also avoid much US taxation even though they avail themselves of more than 20 US federal agencies like the Coast Guard, Navy and FBI. This flag of convenience operation also allows cruise lines to avoid American safety standards such as OSHA.

4. A new media focus on cruise safety. The June 2014 issue of the maritime trade organization Nautilus International magazine, Telegraph, in an article called “Safety at Sea,” expresses concern with the fact that, “Failings in the system are undermining safety and flag states must be required to have adequate resources to carry out full and transparent investigations.” The conclusion of this two-page article indicates the following:

“Lack of effective accident investigation is indicative of an industry and regulatory process that has little regard for safety. The process is not so much corrupt as bankrupt. There is insufficient financial incentive to conduct proper investigations and bring about change to the quality of design, construction and operation of ships.”

“Meanwhile, those who profit from the industry’s disregard for safety continue to exploit an ineffective accident investigation process and bankrupt regulatory system. There is a need for change — now — and not when the level of loss becomes so unacceptable that the public and political pressure can no longer be ignored.”

Through a freedom-of-information request, ICV has obtained the names and donation amounts these foreign cruise line corporations have made to over 50 congressional representatives in key positions during 2013 to May 1, 2014. It appears these highly effective lobbying efforts have allowed cruise lines to avoid doing the right thing.

It is time that passenger safety becomes one of the cruise lines’ top priorities in earnest and not just in PR moves. We will continue our work until we see people rather than profits as the cruise lines’ number one concern. Please take the time to contact your congressional representatives and ask them to stand up for stronger regulations over the cruise industry.

Should cruise lines departing from US ports and returning to the US be subject to US law?

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