Congress Calls for Tighter Cruise Crime and Passenger Rights Oversight

July 24, 2013
(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- Legislators introduced two Cruise Passenger Protection Acts into Congress designed to make cruise crime reporting more transparent and increase consumer protections while at sea. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Richard Blumenthal introduced one version of the act; Representatives Doris Matsui and Ted Poe introduced the other.

Both proposals call for all crimes alleged on cruise ships to be made available to the public. Under current law, the FBI makes public only crimes that are no longer under investigation. Cruise lines also would be required to have video surveillance of all public areas.

The bills were introduced a day before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which Rockefeller chairs, is to hold a hearing entitled "Cruise Industry Oversights: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection." Witnesses at the hearing will include Carnival Cruise Lines President and Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill and Royal Caribbean International President and C.E.O. Adam Goldstein; U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio; Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and a member of the Cruise Lines International Association's independent panel of experts; and professor Ross Klein, a noted critic of the cruise industry who tracks cruise ship crime.

The Senate's bill also calls for cruise lines to provide passengers with a plain-language summary of cruise contract terms and conditions; give the Department of Transportation the authority to investigate consumer complaints against cruise lines; and create a toll-free hotline for consumers to register complaints and create a position for a victim advocate who could help victims of crimes on ships.

The House's bill is more far-reaching and would ensure a cruise ship notifies the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident; require that if an alleged incident occurs while the ship is in a U.S. port, the FBI is notified before the ship can leave port; require cruise lines to report alleged crimes to the U.S. consulate in the next port of call if the offense is by or against a U.S. national; allow individuals to access video surveillance records; mandate that all video records be kept for 30 days after the completion of a sailing; and transfer authority for maintaining the Web site of alleged crimes on cruise ships from the Coast Guard to the DOT.

Representative Matsui was responsible for introducing the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which Congress passed in 2010. That law, as originally written, required the Coast Guard to publicly post an account of all cruise ship crimes reported to the FBI. Shortly before the law was passed, language was inserted allowing the FBI to reveal only crimes that are investigated and closed by the FBI.

In May, CLIA adopted a Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights. The bill comprises of 10 specific areas in which the CLIA's 22 North American members pledged to consistently ensure passenger safety, comfort and care.

Stay tuned to Cruise Critic for the latest news from the hearing, and follow our live coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. today on Twitter at #CruiseHearing.

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor