Ahead of today's hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee on cruise industry oversight, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced legislation that would improve consumer protections for cruise passengers and close gaps in cruise crime reporting requirements.
“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,” said Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “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.”
Rockefeller introduced legislation, The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, that would compel the industry to provide critical consumer protections for passengers.
Additionally, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-sponsored the new legislation to close gaps in cruise industry consumer awareness and crime reporting. Serious incidents continue to occur on cruise ships, yet the industry has not prioritized consumer awareness, safety, and security. The bill would provide the nearly 21 million Americans who plan to take a cruise this year with critical information about the limited scope of their current consumer protections and would take steps to improve accountability in the industry. The bill was introduced by U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV).
“When Americans board cruise ships headed for international waters, they need to know where their rights begin and end,” Blumenthal said. “This bill will make sure consumers are given clear notice of the risks associated with cruise ship travel before they buy a ticket; and if their rights are violated, this bill will help ensure that they have a place to seek recourse.”
“This bill is the only way we’re going to make consumer awareness and protection a priority, since the cruise industry seems to refuse to take action on its own,” said Rockefeller. “During our hearing sixteen months ago, after a number of high-profile incidents, the industry promised to make real changes, but I had my doubts. Once the TV cameras turned off, and the more our inquiries uncovered, it became clear that nothing was going to change without Congressional action.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) also plans to introduce similar cruise consumer protection legislation today in the House.
Today, Rockefeller will chair an oversight hearing of the Commerce Committee to review the current state of the industry before a panel that includes Gerald Cahill, President and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines; Adam Goldstein, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International; Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, Assistant Commandant for Prevention and Policy for the United States Coast Guard; Dr. Ross Klein, Professor at the School of Social Work, St. Johns College, Memorial University of Newfoundland; and the Honorable Mark Rosenker, former Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection”, will focus 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.
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.
Rockefeller’s legislation—and Wednesday’s hearing—builds on the Senator’s ongoing oversight of the cruise industry. In March 2012, after a series of alarming safety incidents on cruise ships, he held a hearing on whether cruise industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers. Since then, several serious incidents have occurred on cruise ships. One of the most notable was the Carnival Triumph fire in February 2013, which left passengers stranded at sea for days without power, plumbing, and adequate food sources. After this incident, Rockefeller wrote Admiral Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, and Micky Arison, 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, 2013, the Chairman sent letters to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which represent 78 percent of the global cruise industry, to determine whether their procedures on passenger safety and security were enough to protect consumers. Rockefeller followed up on his oversight work by introducing legislation that would compel the cruise industry to implement strong consumer protections.
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 would:
Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts. The Secretary of Transportation would develop standards for the cruise lines to provide prospective passengers with a short summary of the key terms in the contract. Consumers would be able to read a plain language summary of the key rights and limitations that passengers have during their cruise so they are fully aware of what rights they have, and don’t have, before they book their tickets.
Give the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers. The Department of Transportation would be the lead federal agency for cruise ship consumer protection, similar to the role it has in aviation consumer protection. Passengers would also have additional protections in the event of a problem by giving the Department the authority to investigate consumer complaints.
Help passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships. The Department of Transportation would establish a toll-free hotline for consumer complaints. An Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection would be created to make recommendations to improve existing consumer protection programs and services.
Make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information. The FBI currently only reports crimes that are no longer under investigation. This causes the number of alleged crimes to be severely underreported and does not give potential passengers accurate information about the safety of cruises. Cruise lines would also be required to place video cameras in public areas and would set requirements for cruise lines to keep the video footage.
Help passengers who have been a victim of a crime on the cruise ship, since they have limited access to law enforcement. The Department of Transportation would establish a victim advocate who can provide assistance to victims on board a cruise ship, make sure the victim is aware of his or her rights in international waters, and get access to appropriate law enforcement officers.