Last updated: 02:26 PM ET, Tue July 07 2015

Senators Call for More Cruise Ship Safety Regulations

Impacting Travel | Royal Caribbean International | Theresa Norton | July 07, 2015

Senators Call for More Cruise Ship Safety Regulations

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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal renewed a call for man-overboard detection technology aboard all cruise ships, saying such equipment could help save lives.

Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 (CPPA) that mandates cruise ships install modern safety technology and requires consumer protection measures for passengers who are victims of crime or require medical attention. A U.S. House companion of the legislation will be introduced by U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas).

Blumenthal joined the family of George Smith IV in a press conference calling for more cruise safety measures on July 7. Smith, of Greenwich, Conn., disappeared 10 years ago from a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship.

“Although 10 years have passed since George Smith IV’s disappearance, the cruise lines have done virtually nothing to implement life-saving technology to prevent such tragic deaths,” Blumenthal said. “For the more than 23 million Americans who take cruises each year, this simple technology — as well as long overdue measures to protect cruise passengers who become victims of crime or require medical attention in international waters — cannot be further delayed. With serious health and safety incidents continuing to occur, passengers aboard these floating cities need and deserve need basic protections. Federal action is needed now.”

The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 would require ships to install technology to detect and capture images of people going overboard, improve medical standards, require sea marshals, and establish the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the lead federal agency for consumer protection for cruise ship passengers. The bill would also create a consumer complaints toll-free hotline and establish a victim advocate to be the primary point of contact to help victims understand their rights in international waters, access appropriate law enforcement and consulate services, and get victim support services.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) maintains that the cruise industry operates safely under existing laws and regulations.

“CLIA respectfully disagrees with the senator’s view of the cruise industry,” the organization said in a statement. “Cruising is one of the most heavily regulated sectors of the travel and hospitality industry, and it has an outstanding record in operational safety and customer care. In fact, the cruise industry enjoys a nearly 90 percent customer satisfaction rate and nearly 70 percent repeat customer rate. Singling out a high-performing segment of the travel and hospitality industry to impose a new and costly layer of federal consumer regulation is both unnecessary and punitive.”

CLIA said publicly available data shows that allegations of serious crime on cruise ships are rare and “a tiny fraction of corresponding rates of crime on land.” CLIA-member cruise lines report any allegations of serious crimes to law enforcement, assist authorities and since 2013 voluntarily post on their websites the number of serious crime allegations, by category, on cruises worldwide.

What’s more, CLIA said man-overboard incidents “are also very uncommon, and nearly always known to be the unfortunate result of intentional or reckless acts.” Out of the more than 22 million cruise passengers in 2014, there were 18 overboard incidents, or about one incident per 1.2 million passengers. Uniform minimum railing and balcony heights and structural barriers mean passengers who are acting responsibly can’t simply “fall off” a cruise ship.

But George Smith’s sister, Bree Smith, said more legislation is needed.

“Our son and brother George was murdered on his Royal Caribbean honeymoon cruise 10 years ago this week. His murder investigation has resulted in no arrests and no indictments. The lack of answers and justice for George is a perfect example of why the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 is so important,” she said in a press release. “Cruise passengers must be protected by our federal government because cruise companies have shown time and time again that their incentives are to protect their reputations and stock prices, and not to protect those Americans that choose to go on cruise vacations.”

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