How the New Cruise Safety Act Affects You

July 27, 2010

Update, 5:20 p.m. EDT: It's official -- President Obama has signed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act into law. In a statement today, Cruise Lines International Association maintains its support for the legislation, pointing out that while many ships already feature, for example, 42-inch railings and peepholes, the new law will make these and other provisions consistent.

Read on for more information on how this legislation could impact you.

(July 23, 5:15 p.m. EDT) -- The long-awaited and oft-controversial Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act is inches from the finish line. The proposed legislation has passed the U.S. House and the Senate, and is now awaiting the signature of U.S. President Barack Obama to become law.

Organizations such as the International Cruise Victims Association 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.

The bill, originally introduced by Senator John Kerry, is supported by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) -- which represents 24 major cruise lines -- but only because of revisions made to the proposal last summer. CLIA, which had opposed the original proposal, maintains that cruising is one of the safest vacations, with crime rates much lower than on land.

How will these new regulations impact your next cruise? In some cases, you may notice changes to the physical hardware of the ships on which you sail. For example, the legislation requires that:

Cabin doors must be outfitted with peepholes or other means of visual communication as well as security latches and time-sensitive key technology. Some lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, already have peepholes; others' ships will need to be retrofitted with them within 18 months of the bill being signed into law.

Cruise ship railings must be at least 42 inches (that's 3.5 feet) tall. That's slightly higher than the current international regulation of 39.5 inches, according to CLIA, but many cruise ships already meet or surpass the new requirement. Carnival Cruise Lines' railings, for example, are 44 inches above walking level; other lines that are already in the clear include Disney and NCL. Cruise lines that do need to make adjustments will have 18 months after the legislation is signed to do so. (Interestingly, the original proposal called for 4.5-foot-tall railings -- which would have required more vessels to be retrofitted.)

In other cases, however, items in the bill simply codify existing regulations and industry practices, such as:

Cruise ships must stock medications designed to prevent sexually transmitted diseases after a sexual assault and the materials needed to conduct a medical examination in such cases. CLIA spokeswoman Lanie Fagan tells us that the organization's member lines already meet this requirement as they follow the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) guidelines for appropriate emergency care and health care maintenance. ACEP guidelines state that each ship must carry a minimum of two sexual evidence collection kits as well obstetric, gynecological and urinary tract disorder medications.

CLIA member lines are already required to report all allegations of crime to appropriate law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI; this legislation clarifies this requirement with a black-and-white policy that includes 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. A new requirement is that this information must also be published on the Coast Guard Web site.

Most of the requirements go into effect on the date of enactment -- when the bill is signed into law -- though, again, some that require retrofitting (like the peepholes) or instruction (for example, all crewmembers will need to be trained in crime scene preservation) have a lead time of a year or more.

You can read the full bill on the Library of Congress' Web site.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

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