Sen. Jay Rockefeller introduced a bill targeting the cruise industry’s handling of consumer issues and crime reporting Tuesday, the day before he was set to grill cruise line executives during a hearing on the same subject.
The West Virginia Democrat has stepped up his criticism of the industry following a string of fires and other technical problems on ships in recent months, asking CEOs of the world’s largest cruise companies to release detailed information about safety, security, health and taxes. The last cruise industry hearing called by Rockefeller, in March 2012, focused on safety in the wake of the deadly Costa Concordia shipwreck in Italy.
“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,” Rockefeller, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said in a press release. “During our hearing 16 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.”
Called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, the legislation would:
• Change crime reporting standards to make information about all crimes that are alleged on to have occurred on cruise ships publicly available. Cruise lines would also be required to keep video footage from surveillance cameras, which would have to be placed in public areas.
• Provide passengers with a clear summary of cruise contract terms and conditions.
• Give the Department of Transportation the authority to investigate consumer complaints against cruise lines.
• Create a toll-free hotline for consumers to register complaints.
• Create the position of a victim advocate who could help victims of crime on a ship, inform them of their rights in international waters and help get in touch with the appropriate law enforcement officers.
Rockefeller’s bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; California Rep. Doris Matsui, a Democrat, introduced a similar bill with Republican Rep. Ted Poe, of Texas.
Wednesday’s committee hearing, set for 2:30 p.m., will stream live online at commerce.senate.gov. At the hearing, Rockefeller also expects to release a report on crimes reported to the FBI but not released to the public. Currently, only crimes that are no longer under investigation by the FBI are included in statistics that the public can see.
For the first time at a Senate hearing, the CEOs of Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International will answer questions. Spokespeople for both operators said it is the first time Royal Caribbean’s Adam Goldstein and Carnival’s Gerry Cahill have been invited to testify; other representatives from the lines have been witnesses in the past.
Other scheduled witnesses Wednesday are U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, the agency’s assistant commandant for prevention and policy; Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and a member of the Cruise Line International Association’s independent panel of experts and Ross Klein, a professor in the School of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland who studies the cruise industry.