Senator Rockefeller Puts Cruise Industry on Notice

Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection

By The Maritime Executive 07-24-2014 10:49:00

Senator Jay Rockefeller is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The committee released this statement regarding cruise ship safety:

Millions of Americans enjoy taking cruises every year. And I completely understand why. Cruise lines sell people a fun-filled, once in a lifetime dream vacation. Sometimes that is what they get. But as we all know, sometimes cruises hit rough waters and that dream can turn into a nightmare.

In March 2012, after several very troubling safety incidents occurred on cruise ships, I held a hearing in this room to get answers about why passengers sometimes find themselves in harm’s way. The leader of the cruise industry’s trade association sat right where all of you are sitting and told me, basically, to trust her. To trust that the industry was engaged in a rigorous review of safety procedures that would fix everything.

I did not entirely believe her at the time, but felt like the industry needed a fair chance to correct their course. It has been sixteen months since that hearing, and I have not  seen much evidence that things have changed. Since that hearing, since those empty promises, serious incidents continue to plague cruise ships. This conduct should make us all angry.

If the industry is seriously working to improve the safety and security of its ships, why have we witnessed so many serious incidents in the last sixteen months? Is the industry really trying to adopt a culture of safety? Or are these safety reviews and temporary investments a cynical effort to counter bad publicity?

I believe the culture of safety that Americans expect – as they should – is clearly not always a priority for cruise lines. Cruise ships on fire and drifting at sea tend to make headlines, and we know how they impact passengers. But cable news doesn’t cover the many crimes committed against individual passengers on cruise ships, which are just as concerning to me.

We have been reviewing the industry for a while now and have found some sobering details. Consumers have the right to know what we have learned before they book their first, or next, dream vacation. For instance, if someone steals your property or assaults you on a cruise ship, you cannot call 911 and have the police there in a few minutes. You can only call the ship’s security officers – who also happen to be employees of the cruise line.

The cruise industry has fought to limit when and where passengers can file lawsuits, so it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to right these wrongs. To make things worse, under current law, cruise ship crime report data is not available to the public. That means consumers have no way to find out what their real risks are before they book a cruise.

During the past few months, my staff has been analyzing the FBI crime report data that does not get publicly released. They recently submitted a report to me on cruise ship crime rates. I ask unanimous consent to put this staff report in the record of this hearing. 

Our exhaustive oversight of the cruise industry, and the recent events that have left thousands stranded at sea, make it absolutely clear that more needs to be done. So, this week, I took action. I introduced new legislation to make the common-sense consumer protection improvements the cruise lines have not been willing to make on their own. Consumers deserve to know what rights and protections they have and, more importantly, do not have, on their cruise. 

I have been assured repeatedly by the industry that things will get better. Take a look at the events over the past sixteen months and tell me if this is what you think better looks like. Cruise lines are on notice that the safety and protection of passengers is now their number one priority, whether they like it or not.