WASHINGTON - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced legislation intended to improve consumer protections for cruise passengers and close gaps in cruise crime reporting requirements.
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 protects passengers, he said.
"West Virginians who enjoy taking cruise ship vacations deserve assurances that the industry has their best interests at heart and that they'll be safe and secure onboard. 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," Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said. "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."
On Thursday, Rockefeller presided at a hearing to review the status of the cruise industry with a panel that included: Gerald Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines; Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International; Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, assistant commandant for prevention and policy for the United States Coast Guard; Ross Klein, professor at the School of Social Work at St. Johns College, Memorial University of Newfoundland; and the Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The hearing focused on challenges the cruise industry continues to face, including a lack of consumer protections, the need for accurate crime reporting and safety issues that continue to plague the industry, Rockefeller said.
While cruise lines sell the idea of a cruise as a "dream vacation," some passengers have faced serious issues without recourse while onboard, including fires, being stranded at sea and crime. At the same time, cruise companies continue to impose significant limits by requiring passengers to waive their legal rights when buying their ticket, which further restricts passengers' abilities to hold cruise lines accountable when things go wrong, he said.
A Closer Look at the Bill
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 would:
* Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts.
* Give the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers.
* Help passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships.
* Make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information.
* Help passengers who have been a victim of a crime on the cruise ship, since they have limited access to law enforcement.
In March 2012, after a series of safety incidents on cruise ships, Rockefeller held a hearing on whether cruise industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers. Since then, several serious incidents have occurred on cruise ships.
Among the most notable was the Carnival Triumph fire in February, which left passengers stranded at sea for days without power, plumbing, and adequate food sources.
After the incident, Rockefeller wrote the commandant of the Coast Guard and the 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, 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.
Upon receipt of Carnival's insufficient response, Rockefeller broadened his oversight efforts of the cruise industry. On May 7, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which represent 78 percent of the global cruise industry, were whether procedures for passenger safety and security were enough to protect consumers.