(12:37 p.m. EDT) - The chairman of the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation once again called on the cruise industry to overhaul its safety policies and be more transparent about reporting the potential for and history of danger on its ships in hearing entitled "Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers."
"The cruise industry, I'm happy to say, is not happy that I'm holding this hearing," Senator John D. Rockefeller IV said during his opening remarks. No representative for the cruise industry was invited to give a statement or respond to any allegations made against it.
"Wrecks, fires, crimes onboard, we continue to see the same issues. I'm fed up with it. I'm fed up with them trying to stonewall us. We're going to win this one," he added.
Rockefeller held a hearing last year on the same issue, the passing of Bill S.1340 the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, during which the heads of several cruise lines as well as a representative of the Coast Guard testified.
Rockefeller made it clear he was not pleased with those testimonies, saying the cruise executives' assertions that cruises are among the safest vacations available doesn't tell the entire story and is "little comfort to the many people whose vacations, and in some cases, lives were ruined by the cruise line's failure to live up to its promise."
To illustrate his assertion, Rockefeller invited three witnesses to tell their stories. He also asked a personal injury lawyer to speak. Two witnesses told compelling stories, one of an onboard rape and another of onboard medical negligence resulting in death.
The Cruise Lines International Association released a statement in response to the hearing calling it "a distorted picture of an industry that has an exceptional guest care and safety record.
"It also did not provide a balanced view that would help policy makers and the public better understand the full implications of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act — and why it is not needed. The CPPA is a solution in search of a problem ... By any measure, cruising is very safe. The allegations made at the hearing do not represent the experiences of more than 22 million people every year that enjoy exceptional vacation value and a lifetime of positive memories."
"The cruise industry is already heavily regulated. Adding a new layer of federal regulation and bureaucracy at the expense of taxpayers, cruise lines and cruise passengers is both unjustified and unnecessary. It also unfairly singles out the cruise industry for punitive treatment that would not apply to competitors, and with no basis for doing so. The CPPA is unnecessary, anti-competitive, and would increase costs to taxpayers, cruise passengers, and cruise lines with no real value for the public."
Only three members of the Senate's committee were present for the hearing. While all indicated agreement that some changes are needed, two were not onboard with aspects of the bill as it stands now. Senator Roger Wicker said the bill shouldn't be tied to the Coast Guard Authorization Act, while Senator Mark Begich said he doesn't believe a DOT website with a list of past onboard crimes would be useful to prospective passengers, most of who would never think to look there while researching a trip.
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act calls for:
* The publication of all crimes alleged to have occurred on cruise ships on a dedicated DOT website;
* A plain-language summary of cruise contract terms and conditions in font easily legible for prospective passengers;
* The authority of the DOT to investigate consumer complaints against cruise lines;
* The creation of a toll-free hotline for consumers to register complaints;
* The creation of a victims' advocate position to help victims of crimes on cruise ships.
--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor