Cruise Lines Change Course to Support Cruise Safety Act

July 9, 2009

Safety Bill
(4:53 p.m. EDT) -- Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has done an about-face and has agreed to support Senator John Kerry's proposed Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009, according to reports in the L.A. Times and Miami Herald. Previously, CLIA -- which represents 24 major cruise lines in an effort to promote the cruise industry -- had opposed government regulation of the industry.

That's because, as cruise lines have typically countered, cruising is one of the safest vacations, with crime rates much lower than on land. Meanwhile, however, organizations such as the International Cruise Victims have been lobbying for more government control over cruise ships with respect to the reporting of crimes and deaths that occur on the high seas, as well as safety precautions to protect passengers against physical or sexual assaults and accidental deaths. These groups claim that cruise ships get away with lax policies because they are foreign-flagged and skirt U.S. regulations.

So, why the sudden change of heart on CLIA's part? Lanie Fagan, a representative for the organization, told Cruise Critic that "the cruise industry has indicated it supports the revised version of S.588, which contains a number of changes from the original bill." Bottom line: CLIA has agreed to support a proposed revise of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 -- just not the original.

Here are some of the key points that appear in the revised version of the bill:

The bit that could have the most impact on the most passengers has to do with the height of railings on balconies and open decks. The bill states that ship railings must conform to a minimum height requirement: 4.5 feet high in the original version, but 3.5 feet high in the revision. For perspective, Carnival Cruise Lines' railings are 44 inches high, in compliance with international and federal regulations -- actually two inches taller than the minimum height stated in the amended bill. The bill as it was originally written would require about another 10 inches to be added to those railings.

As for other onboard changes, the bill states that cruise ships must add peepholes (some lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, already have them), safety latches and time-sensitive key technology to cabin doors. Also, medical staff must be trained to conduct sexual-assault examinations.

The bill also clarifies the procedures for reporting cruise ship crimes, including contacting the FBI as soon as possible and submitting a written report to the Coast Guard. Ships must also keep logs of onboard crimes and make them available to the FBI, Coast Guard or other law-enforcement officials. The information will also be published on the Coast Guard Web site.

One important change from the original to the revised version is the removal of an amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act that would allow the families of passengers who died while cruising to sue the cruise lines for pain and suffering.

We'll keep you posted on whether the revised version is accepted as the final bill and whether it passes into law. The timeline for final approval is dependent on senate and house votes and is uncertain.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor