New Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 Introduced in Congress

Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 to protect passengers against violent crimes, inform them about crime rates aboard cruise ships, and to authorize the U.S. Coast Guard to dispatch personnel to monitor cruise ship waste discharges.

Most people don’t realize that if they become the victim of a crime onboard a cruise ship outside U.S. territorial waters, they may not be protected by the laws that protect them on land. Moreover, cruise lines aren’t even required to report incidents to law enforcement authorities. Nearly 10 million passengers took cruises from the United States in 2007 and that figure is expected to grow to more than 12 million passengers in 2009.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act would require cruise lines to report all deaths, missing individuals, alleged crimes, and complaints regarding theft, sexual harassment, and assault. The bill would also mandate peepholes in stateroom doors as well as security latches. Such safety features are standard in hotels, but do not always exist on cruise ships.

In addition, the bill would authorize the Coast Guard to deploy officers to monitor cruise ship waste discharges. According to the EPA, a single cruise ship can discharge more than 70,000 gallons of human sewage per day per vessel. Cruise ships are currently allowed to discharge raw sewage as close as three nautical miles from shore. This sewage, along with other wastes dumped from cruise ships, can infect fish and shellfish, harm surfers and other water-sport enthusiasts, and kill coral.

The Following are some of the highlights in the bill:

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 - Sets forth cruise vessel security and safety requirements concerning: (1) vessel design and construction; (2) crew access to passenger staterooms; (3) log book entry and reporting of deaths, missing individuals, and alleged crimes; (4) a database of crewmembers terminated due to commission of a crime; (5) maintenance of rape kits on board; (6) crime scene investigation training and certification for vessel crewmembers; (7) video surveillance to monitor crime; and (8) posting of certain safety information.

Sets forth penalties for violations of this Act.

Amends the Ports and Waterways Safety Act to revise the authority of the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating (Secretary) to dispatch Coast Guard personnel on vessels to deter or respond to terrorism or transportation security incidents. Authorizes use of such personnel to act as: (1) environmental observers to monitor compliance with federal laws regarding the discharge of waste into U.S. waters; and (2) public safety officers to assist vessel passengers and crew with reporting and investigation of crimes, securing of suspects, and collection of crime evidence.

Directs the Secretary to study and report to Congress on the security needs of a passenger vessel depending on the number of passengers on the vessel, with recommendations for security improvements.

Amends the Death on the High Seas Act to extend from 3 to 12 miles from the U.S. shore the high seas jurisdiction wherein a death by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of a person or vessel will allow the personal representative of the decedent to bring a civil action in admiralty.