After more than a year of cruise ship catastrophes catching public attention this year, Congress moves to pass stricter regulations for the cruise lines. On July 23rd, U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced legislation that he says would improve consumer protections for cruise passengers and close gaps in cruise crime reporting requirements.
This issue gained initial attention from Rockefeller when he held a hearing to discuss passenger protection after a chain of safety incidents on several cruise ships occurred in March of 2012. Since then, issues with cruise line safety and passenger protection have been down played by the industry, and yet have continued to occur and gain public attention. Rockefeller contacted Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines, who together make up 78 percent of the global cruise industry. The senator also discussed his concerns with Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Papp. With information from these meetings he was able to gain insight into what this new bill needed to include.
Goals of the bill are to give the federal government more power to investigate consumer complaints, create a hotline for the complaints and end a current practice that prevents information about alleged onboard crimes from being publicly available. The current paperwork given to passengers regarding their rights and the cruise lines’ liability is lengthy and complicated, full of legal jargon that can be confusing. This legislation would require the federal government create standards for giving passengers a clear, plain language summary of their rights onboard.
Christine Duffy, President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and other members of the cruise industry have pushed back on this legislation and the surrounding criticism, claiming to have taken a number of measures working to improve passenger safety.
If passed, 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.
Access Christine Duffy’s CLIA statement here: http://www.cruising.org/sites/default/files/regulatory/pdf/CLIA-Statement-for-the-Record07-24-2013.pdf