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Cruise ship crime to receive more public scrutiny

8:07 AM, Jul 25, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON  -- Hundreds of crimes on cruise ships in the past two years have not been publicly reported despite a 2010 law designed to provide consumers better information about the industry's safety and security record, data released by a Senate panel shows.

A report issued Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation found that of the 959 alleged crimes the industry voluntarily logged with the FBI - including 130 that were serious enough to require reporting - only 31 were made public.

Committee Chairman John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said it was troubling that improvements promised by industry representatives, including increased transparency, during a hearing more than a year ago remained unfulfilled in his view.

"Consumers have no way to find out what their real risks are before they book a cruise," he told a panel of witnesses that included executives from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International.

To close the disclosure gap, Rockefeller this week introduced a bill that would provide the almost 21 million Americans who plan to take a cruise this year with "critical information" before they board a vessel.

The measure would make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information, require cruise lines to place video cameras in public areas, and direct the Department of Transportation to establish an advocate who can provide assistance to victims on board ships.

Cruise line representatives say they are working on improving transparency.

The three largest cruise lines - Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian - already have pledged to post crime data on their websites by Aug. 1 that will give consumers more information than the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) of 2010 calls for.

"We will report allegations of all the CVSSA categories of crime for all customers anywhere in the world that we go, which is beyond the requirements of anything," Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean International president and chief executive officer, said after the hearing.

Crime wasn't the only issue Rockefeller raised at the hearing. The chairman also criticized the industry for a safety record he says needs to improve.

Recent high-profile incidents, including the power outage that left the Carnival Triumph and its roughly 3,000 passengers stranded in the waters off Mexico for several days in February, indicated that the industry has fallen short of the promises it made to senators last year.

"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 16 months?" he asked, referring to the time since the previous hearing. "I believe the culture of safety that Americans expect - as they should - is clearly not always a priority for cruise lines."

But Mark Rosenker, former National Transportation Safety Board chairman and now a safety adviser to the cruise ship industry, called cruise lines safe and responsive.

Rosenker is a member of a panel advising the Cruise Lines International Association that was created in the wake of the January 2012 partial capsizing of the 4,000-passenger Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Thirty two people died and hundreds more were injured in that incident.

The panel recommended 10 policy changes, including improved crew training, tighter security and more lifejackets, that the industry is adopting and all of which exceed current international regulatory requirements, he told the senators.

"As an avid cruiser, I also know that cruise vacations are not only quite enjoyable but, most importantly, extremely safe."

USA Today

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