A plea hearing was scheduled for today in Viera, Florida at the Harry T. & Harriette Moore Justice Center regarding the criminal case against a Disney cruise cabin attendant who is accused of luring a 13 year old passenger into an empty cabin on the last day of the cruise and molesting her.
Indonesian Ahmed Sofyan, age 36, worked on the Disney Dream as a state room attendant at the time of the incident.
The Disney cruise line steward is accused of false imprisonment and lewd and lascivious molestation of the little girl. You can read our initial article on the case here. Sexual molestation of minors is a problem on cruise ships including Disney Cruise Line which caters to families with children.
As WFTV reports, before the hearing could begin, a question arose over Sofyan’s alleged ability to understand English. The defense attorney claimed that his client has difficulty understanding English (notwithstanding Disney's requirement that all crew members must speak English fluently as a prerequisite to employment). The judge decided to make an attempt to locate an Indonesian interpreter in order to make certain that the defendant crew member could fully understand the nuances of the serious criminal charges pending against him. When an interpreter could not be promptly summonsed to the courthouse, the hearing was rescheduled until mid July.
The victim's mother and brother had driven 20 hours from another state to attend and speak at the hearing. They will return in three weeks.
As the local news station reported, each of Sofyan’s charges are felonies with the most serious charge carrying a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Photo Credits: Top - Jim Walker; Middle & Video - WFTV
At the hearing today before Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller regarding the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers," three women told the committee their horrific experiences on cruise ships.
All of their accounts involve the common theme of a lack of basic consumer protections. Laurie Dishman was a victim of rape, Amanda Butler's mother experienced medical neglect leading to her death, and Kimberly Ware travel led aboard the carnival Triumph that suffered a complete power loss.
Chairman Rockefeller has explained the purpose of the hearing as follows: “This hearing – along with the other hearings and inquiries I have made into the cruise industry since I have been Chairman of this Committee – are about one thing, accountability. When it comes to the cruise industry, we have been doing our job, while the industry has not. We have held hearings, we have analyzed the data, and we have talked to many different people with experience in this industry. This oversight has led us very clearly to the conclusion that we have to act and pass legislation to better protect consumers. No other passengers should have to suffer when there are basic steps that can and should be taken to protect their safety and health.”
Laurie Dishman (testimony here) was a victim of a violent rape aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship (photo right with her father, Bill Dishman).
Although she was strangled (with ligature marks left around her neck) and the rapist impacted her tampon while assaulting her, the FBI quickly ended its limited investigation the same day that the cruise ship returned to port. The cruise line acted outrageously after the rape, sending officers into the cabin who sat on the bed where the rape occurred and the ship doctor handed her garbage bags and instructed her to return to the crime scene and collect evidence.
Amanda Butler's (testimony here) mother was a victim of medical neglect aboard the Carnival Conquest. It took Carnival 15 minutes to send a nurse to the scene but she arrived without a defibrillator. The medical center was closed and it took additional time to open the infirmary. The Butler family flew Ms. Butler to a trauma center via a private jet but she died two weeks later. You can read an interview with Amanda here.
Ms. Butler explained at the hearing that Carnival sued her family for the $1,200 in medical expenses charged for the negligent medical care.
Kim Ware (testimony here) was a passenger aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph. Although a long time cruiser, she had no idea of the onerous terms, limitations, and disclaimers buried in the cruise ticket when the engine room ignited and the cruise ship lost power and drifted in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
There is evidence that things have gotten worse for crime and medical malpractice victims on cruise ships over the years. Ms. Dishman's testimony revealed that:
There is substantial under-reporting of crimes on cruise ships. For example, in 2011, there were 563 alleged crimes reported by the cruise lines but only 105 publicly disclosed.
Few cruise ship crimes are investigated and prosecuted. In 2012, the FBI opened only 18 cases and there were only 4 convictions.
The cruise lines do not disclose when a crime involves a minor. There are sexual predators (both passengers and crew members) on cruise ships. Passengers deserve to know if children have been sexually abused in child daycare centers and in their cabins on prior cruises.
The medical care on cruise ships is often substandard. Cruise lines try to isolate themselves when they main or kill passengers through incompetent doctors and bad medical care. Most cruise lines claim that ship doctors are “independent contractors” for whom they are not liable. Few consumers understand this, until it is too late.
The cruise ship passenger tickets, drafted by cruise line defense lawyers, are one-sided, unfair and entirely anti-consumer and pro-cruise line.
To address these concerns, Chairman Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act. The proposed law will improve consumer protections by establishing the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the lead federal agency for cruise ship passenger protections. The bill will require the DOT to set standards for providing consumers with a clear language describing the passenger's rights in the cruise ticket. The bill will also establish a consumer website, provide the DOT the authority to investigate complaints, and create an advisory committee for passenger consumer protection.
The bill will further help consumers by requiring accurate crime data to be published by cruise lines on an internet database. The cruise line will have to reveal whether the victims is a minor. The legislation will strengthen requirements for surveillance cameras public areas and establish requirements for the retention of surveillance videos. The bill will establish a victim advocate to assist the victim, and help the victim understand her rights.
It's about time that Congress passed a bill like this.
This afternoon, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced the witness list for its Full Committee hearing this Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at 2:45 p.m. titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers.”
Date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Hearing Start Time: 2:45 p.m.
Location: 253 Russell Senate Office Building
Senator John D. Rockefeller has scheduled another hearing to address legislation designed to protect cruise passengers. The hearing is scheduled for next week.
The hearing is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in 253 Russell Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. (Some media sources erroneously report the hearing is scheduled for July 22nd).
The hearing is titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers.”
Senator Rockefeller has presided over hearings about the cruise lines in 2012 and 2013 following the Costa Concordia disaster and the Carnival Triumph fiasco. We attended both hearings. You can read our coverage of the hearings in our prior articles:
Senator Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act on July 23, 2013, in order to involve the Department of Transportation into overseeing the cruise industry and to provide greater protection to cruise consumers. The Senator announced that he intended to “close gaps in cruise industry consumer awareness and crime reporting."
At the last hearing, the cruise lines promised to voluntarily disclose crimes which occur on cruise ships, in response to Senator Rockefeller's request for transparency by the cruise industry. The cruise lines announced this last minute measure to stave off legislation. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines has refused to disclose all crimes against its crew members and guests over the course of the last year.
Carnival has been particularly sneaky. It lumps crimes on all of its cruise ships (Carnival, Cunard, Holland America Line, etc.) into one category. By doing so, it is impossible for consumers to learn how many crimes occur on which ships or even which brands. This is an effort to trick the public from not realizing that by far most crimes occur on Carnival ships.
The cruise lines have failed to re-write their passenger contracts to provide consumers with certain consumer protections that they promised to Senator Rockefeller that they would provide to the public. There is a big difference between what the cruise lines are telling the Senators at these hearings and what their defense lawyers are trying to enforce in a court of law.
Senator Rockefeller has rightfully pointed out that the cruise lines pay no federal U.S. taxes but rely heavily on the federal agencies to conduct their business.
I have attended seven Congressional hearings on cruise ship safety issues from December 2005 through March 2012. This is my eight hearing. For the past eight and one-half years, the cruise lines which attended these hearings have vigorously fought to keep the full extent of crimes which occur on cruise ships secret.
Senator Rockefeller has now introduced legislation which will require the cruise lines to disclose all crimes on a on line database which will be available to the public. The previous database was grossly incomplete after the cruise industry and the FBI watered the last cruise crime disclose down such that only closed files were disclosed (it seems like the FBI always says that most files are "open" even if it is not conducting an investigation). This incomplete and misleading database was a great disservice to the American public.
Senator Rockefeller released a comprehensive report which reveals that 959 crimes were alleged to have occurred on cruise ships and reported to the FBI since 2011, yet the U.S. public was informed of only 31 such crimes. That's less than 3% of the total number of actual crimes.
The proposed legislation is called the "Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013." It 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. Create a toll-free hot line 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 under reported 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.
Adam Goldstein, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, attended the hearing and promised that his cruise line would begin to voluntarily post crime data on the Royal Caribbean website. He announced that Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line would do the same.
This decision by the top three cruise lines comes only after an eighth Congressional hearing. Let's see if these three cruise lines will live up to their promises for a change. So far there is no word that any of the other 25 or so CLIA cruise line members will voluntarily release crime data.
Its too bad that Royal Caribbean and the others did not agree to voluntarily release crime data eight Congressional hearings ago.
Photo of Senate Hearing - Photo Credit: Jim Walker - I attended the hearing with my youngest son, John, who got to sit in the first row. That's him standing in the photo.
Whenever a news reporter covers a cruise ship fire, or a collision or sinking, or a sexual crime, or the disappearance of a cruise passenger or crew member from a ship, the reporter will ask how often these types of thing happen.
Cruise lines and the cruise trade group "Cruise Line International Association" (CLIA) will inevitably state that they don't keep such statistics. They will quickly claim that such incidents are "rare." They will always say something grandiose like "the safety of our cruise passengers is our highest priority." You can interrogate a CLIA or cruise line spokesperson for hours but they will never provide cruise accident or crime statistics.
But there is one person who has a good idea how often cruise ship rapes, fires, and overboards occur. He is Professor Ross Klein. He operates a website called, humorously enough, "Cruise Junkie."
Dr. Klein is a sociologist at Memorial University in Canada. The Telegram newspaper states that professor Klein is "recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the cruise ship industry."
He will testify as an expert witness about cruise ship practices and the frequency of fires, groundings, collisions, engine failures, and sanitation issues. Dr. Klein's appearance was requested by the committee’s chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller.
Dr. Klein has been a regular expert witness before Congress on the issue of cruise ship dangers. He appeared before the U.S. Senate in March 2012 after the Costa Concordia disaster last year. You can read his comprehensive written testimony before the Senate last year here.
Dr. Klein also testified before the Senate committee in 2008 and before a House of Representatives committee in 2007 on cruise ship issues.
I have attended the last seven Congressional cruise hearings. have watched Dr. Klein testify in person three times before Congress on important issues regarding passenger safety.
While the cruise lines are quick to always say that mishaps are "rare" and make happy talk that the cruise industry is dedicated to the health and safety of its passengers, Dr. Klein is the one person who will bring actual facts to the hearing. Senator Rockefeller trusts him to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the cruise industry.
The testimony will be broadcast live via streaming video. You can locate the website info for the live video here.
A year ago, following the Costa Concordia disaster, Senator Rockefeller convened a Senate hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to inquire into the safety and security of cruise ship passengers and environmental practices of the cruise ship industry.
The cruise industry promised that it was taking steps to protect the cruising public, but a series of highly publicized fires aboard Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships caught the Senator's attention. The most notorious event was the "poop cruise" after an engine room fire aboard the Carnival Triumph which disabled the ship. The Triumph had to be towed to Mobile Alabama from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. 4 days of coverage on CNN exposed a side of cruising which embarassed the cruise industry.
Senator Rockefeller wrote a letter to Carnival's CEO, in which Senator Rockefeller asked questions about Carnival's safety record and its non-payment of taxes. Senator Rockefeller characterized Carnival's response as "shameful."
Senator Rockefeller has now scheduled another hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for July 24, 2013. The hearing is titled “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection.” Senator stated:
“I’ve been told time and again that cruise lines will change, that things will get better for passengers. But according to our investigation, it doesn’t seem like things have changed. I’m coming to this hearing with an open mind, but so far the cruise lines haven’t been willing to make enough changes that matter on their own. I expect straightforward answers from our witnesses, not more empty promises about how things will get better after the next safety review.”
The hearing will start at 2:30 P.M. on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at the 253 Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC.
We will be attending the hearing and will report here on what happens.
Today's hearing in the packed theater in Grosetto regarding the Costa Concordia disaster adjourned. It was a curious day.
Captain Schettino previously denied all of the legal charges which been mentioned in the press: manslaughter of 32 passengers and crew members, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship. But the Chicago Tribune reports that when Schettino met face-to-face with some survivors and families of the dead, believe it or not, he apologized to them.
There appears to be a tactic acknowledgment, it seems to me, that Schettino admits to his part in causing the accident, notwithstanding his insensitive and egotistic rantings over the past many months. Now his defense lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, wishes to spread the blame around.
U.S. personal injury lawyers who attended the hearing are eager to help with that task. Two American lawyers were mentioned in the press, Mississippi lawyer John Eaves and New York lawyer Peter Ronai. Ronai's comment outside of the hearings "there was no reason for anyone to die" was widely circulated. It resonated with me.
The U.S. lawyers are on the scene looking to cull evidence that may help their lawsuits filed against Costa and parent cruise line Carnival in the U.S. Eaves filed a highly publicized lawsuit against Carnival in Galveston and even temporarily seized a Carnival cruise ship earlier this year. Ronai made the news by filing a lawsuit on behalf of 4 Hungarian dancers employed on the Concordia in which he sued for the astronomical sum of $200,000,000.
None of these lawsuits filed in the U.S. will make it to trial, as I have stated before, and will be dismissed with leave to re-file them in Italy. But the focus of the lawyers for survivors and Schettino are united: point the finger at the executives ashore in Italy as well as in Miami where Carnival is based. Yes, Schettino's negligence is obvious and his attitude is maddening. But there many factors that played a part in 32 people dying unnecessary, just a few hundred feet from the little port of Giglio.
Poor training, out-of-date maps which lacked detail, malfunctioning equipment, language barriers, and a corporate culture of recklessness have all been cited as examples of corporate malfeasance which may have played a part - perhaps a secondary part - in causing the deaths.
Experts selected by the Italian magistrate presiding over the investigation into the Concordia disaster have criticized the Costa cruise line in addition to the Concordia cruise ship's reckless captain.
Notwithstanding the cruise industry's media campaign to portray the incident as solely the result of Captain Schettino's renegade conduct, the Italian experts included criticisms of Costa in their initial opinions submitted to the magistrate in Genoa.
The experts studied black box data, recordings of conversations of the officers, and nautical maps.
The criticisms include:
Costa delayed alerting coastal authorities of the emergency.
Costa's "fleet crisis coordinator," Roberto Ferrarini, did not promptly inform Schettino to order the passengers and crew to abandon ship when he learned that three compartments were flooded which compromised the vessel's stability.
The crew members were untrained, unprepared and not certified for emergencies.
Language barrier between crew members compromised the navigation of the ship and complicated the evacuation of the ship. Indonesian helmsman at one point before the crash veered to the right despite being told to go left.
These criticisms seem rather restrained to me. Costa did not even have a protocol to require muster station drills before sailing for goodness sake! The cruise line has been criticized in the press for permitting and approving "fly-bys" or "salutes" which is the root cause of the disaster.
Costa categorically denied all responsibility for the deaths and dismissed all of these criticisms.
I returned to Miami from Washington DC this afternoon after attending the cruise safety hearings convened in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week.
These hearings were the sixth and seventh Congressional hearings regarding the issue of cruise ship dangers I have attended since 2005.
I met my friends and former clients in DC from the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization: ICV CEO Ken Carver, ICV President Jamie Barnett, and ICV Board member Laurie Dishman who has traveled to DC over 30 times.
Professor Ross Klein was invited to speak at the Senate hearing and he objectively laid out the cruise industry's history of cruise ship collisions, groundings, sinkings and fires. His written submission is the most impressively thorough and complete list of cruise ship related maritime disasters I have ever seen. Professor Klein's hard work and detailed analysis of cruise ship mishaps contrasted sharply with the self-serving opinions of the cruise line advocates who talked in conclusory phrases ("cruising is incredibly safe"). I will be linking to Professor Klein's research as soon as he uploads the information to his website.
During the hearings I met a half-dozen survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster, who traveled from Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts.
The hearings left me with a realization of the polarization of our Congress, and perhaps our country.
The meeting in the Republican controlled House on Wednesday was not unlike a big cocktail party. The cruise line representatives & cruise industry lobbyists back-slapped and joked around with Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen like it was their five year college reunion. The Republicans extolled the cruise industry's great "entrepreneurs" without even a fleeting thought or concern of the cruise industry's disastrous effect on the environment, or the cruise industry's exploitation of foreign crewmembers, or the fact that the cruise industry pays virtually no U.S taxes although it relies heavily on U.S. agencies to conduct its business.
Contrast this freak show with the serious attitude of the Senate hearing on Thursday, which was presided over by a well respected Democratic Senator like Jay Rockefeller who has dedicated his life protecting the coal mine workers from his state of West Virginia and consumers across the U.S.
As long as there are responsible consumer-oriented leaders like Senator Rockefeller in Congress, the victims of cruise ship malfeasance have a fighting chance to force the cruise industry to be accountable when they injure and kill passengers and crew and destroy our environment.
Photograph above: ICV President Jamie Barnett, ICV Director Laurie Dishman, Cruise Expert Professor Ross Klein, Costa Concordia survivor, Jim Walker, ICV member Shari Cecil, and ICV CEO Ken Carver.
Unlike the love fest between the Republican members of Congress and the cruise line representatives at the hearing before the House on Wednesday, the hearing before the U.S. Senate was certainly not warm and fuzzy.
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, started the hearing off questioning why the highly profitable cruise lines pay virtually no U.S. income taxes although they extensively use the resources of some 40 Federal agencies. Senator Rockefeller continued saying that he was suspicious of the cruise industry which uses antiquated laws and onerous contractual terms to deny fair compensation to families who die or are injured during cruises.
Senator Rockefeller also questioned the ethics of an industry which dumps human sewage just three miles off the coast of the U.S., creating floating islands of untreated sewage.
The exchange between Senator Rockefeller and Christine Duffy, the CEO of the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA") was remarkable. Ms. Duffy read from a prepared script which touched upon all of CLIA's "talking points," but she would not respond directly to Senator Rockefeller's tough questions.
Senator Rockefeller asked Ms. Duffy to admit that Carnival Corporation pays only 1.1% in taxes in the 11 billion dollars in profits made over the course of the last three years. She would not directly respond and she also skirted the question whether she considered that to be fair. Ms. Duffy would also not immediately agree to provide income tax returns to the committee, until he threatened to use the subpoena power of the Senate.
Senator Rockefeller drew an analogy between what happens deep in the coal mines of his state of West Virginia with what happens on the high sea beyond three miles. He questioned Ms. Duffy's credibility and admonished her to "speak more truth." Referring to the cruise industry, he stated "You are A World Unto Yourselves."
What a difference a day makes, between the Republican party heaping praise on Ms. Duffy the day before at the House hearing, and the tough questions posed by a Democratic Senator the following day.
Yesterday the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened a hearing on the Costa Concordia disaster.
As I mentioned in prior articles, I was concerned that the Chairman of the committee, John Mica, a Republican from Florida who is an unabashed supporter of the Florida-based cruise industry, would use the hearing as a platform to praise the cruise lines and help them try and rehabilitate their tarnished reputation.
I was right. The hearing yesterday began with the committee members praising the cruise industry and "applauding" the cruise lines for what they described as an "excellent" safety record. Chairman Mica described cruising as a "joyful," "pleasurable" and "incredible" experience. Congressman Young from Alaska trumped the Italian investigators and announced that "there was nothing wrong with that ship." He applauded the industry's "great safety record," and warned against against "casting aspersions" on the cruise lines. Congresswoman Maxine Brown, also a cruise lines supporter from Florida and a former travel agent, praised the cruise industry as providing the "safest" form of transportation in the world.
The cruise line and CLIA representatives touched on all of their "talking points," and then scurried out a back door behind the hearing room to avoid the press.
Although Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA) and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) asked some tough questions, the hearing was mostly a pep rally for the cruise industry.
Most disappointing was the involvement of Congressman Elijah Cummings (photo left) who, like all of the other committee members never mentioned the dead U.S. passengers (Gerald Heil, age 69, and Barbara Heil, age 70, of Minnesota) by name.
How can the U.S. House of Representative conduct an inquiry into a cruise disaster which kills two Americans where no one even mentions the names of the dead couple?
Congressman Cummings, usually an even keeled legislator who has treated cruise victims with respect, made clear that his primary concern was for the reputation and economic interests of the cruise lines. He brought up the issue of what he described as avoiding "collateral damage." He said to the C-SPAN audience that he wanted to make certain that no one came away from the hearing with an impression that cruise lines were not safe.
Collateral damage? Thirty two people dead or missing and Mr. and Ms. Heil's bodies remain trapped in the bowels of the Costa Concordia. And Congressman Cummings is concerned that the cruise industry's reputation may be collaterally damaged by the investigation?
Later this morning, the Senate will be convening its own hearing on the Concordia debacle. Let's hope that the Senate takes the tragedy more seriously and asks some tough questions.Maech
Republican John Mica (R - Fla.) (photo left) is the chairman of the committee. Unfortunately, he is no fan of cruise victims. His allegiance is squarely to the cruise industry.
I have been to five Congressional hearings regarding cruise crime and passenger disappearances over the last six years. My clients - three women raped on cruise ships, a family whose father was killed in a cruise ship fire, and a widow whose husband disappeared during a cruise - appeared in Washington and testified. Very serious and somber stuff. But when Congressman Mica presided over one of the hearings, it was an ugly event. Disrespectful is an understatement. He mocked some of the cruise crime victims to the point that the audience began booing.
It was to my surprise therefore that shortly after the Costa Concordia disaster last month, Congressman Mica announced that he was going to convene a hearing to examine the Costa Concordia crash and determine whether cruise ships operating out of the U.S. were operating safely. I wondered had Congressman Mica found his soul? Or did he plan on conducting a publicity stunt for his cruise line friends and supporters in Florida by assuring the public that everything with the cruise industry was safe and sound.
I received my answer last week when I received a copy of the list of witness who would testify - five cruise line representatives and one Coast Guard witness. But no survivors of the Costa disaster. No cruise victims. No cruise critics. No neutral cruise experts.
Congressman Mica seemed to have designed the hearing be a Congressional love fest between the Congressional cruise supporters and the cruise line employees & lobbyists. Consider the line up of cruise supporters:
Christine Duffy (photo above left) - President of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA)
Michael Crye - Lawyer for the Cruise Line International Association.
Vicky Rey - (photo left below) PR person and customer care representative for Carnival Cruise Lines.
George Wright - Operations Department of Carnival subsidiary, Princess Cruises.
Ms. Duffy and Mr. Crye, employees of the cruise industry's trade organizations CLIA, are paid cheerleaders for the cruise line whose testimony will consist of repeating the cruise industry's "talking points" and alternating between saying that "cruising is incredibly safe" and the "safety & security of cruise passengers are CLIA's highest priority." Ms. Rey has no technical knowledge about anything and is Carnival's happy face for publicity purposes. The two cruise employees with maritime knowledge, Mr. Wright from Princess and Captain Hoyt from NCL, have no first hand knowledge of the Costa Concordia debacle.
Where were the survivors of the Costa Concordia? Frightened families who cried as they explained the terror and confusion of the ill-fated cruise have appeared in documentaries on the Discovery channel, on ABC's 20/20 cruise special, CNN's Anderson Cooper and all of the major networks. But Congressman Mica couldn't find one single cruise victim anywhere?
It was only after member of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization learned of the stacked deck and protested to the subcommittee did Congressman Mica agree that one couple who survived the cruise horror could testify. Sameer and Divya Sharma (photograph right, on cruise ship) were added as last minute witnesses.
Mr. and Ms. Sharma family are wine and spirit shop owners in the Medford / Stoneham area in Massachusetts who were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary when disaster struck. To obtain a glimpse of their anticipated testimony at the hearing tomorrow, watch the video below and consider what they explained to a reporter in a local newspaper in Medford:
We were lied to,” said Sameer Sharma. “They said this is just an electrical mistake, we’re working on it, generators being kicked in, everything under control, stay calm, don’t panic and enjoy your dinner. They had the audacity of making the same announcement right when we were waiting to board the lifeboats when it was very obvious the boat was going down.”
The Sharmas said they heard announcements made “on behalf of the captain” throughout the evening, not realizing until the next day that Captain Franceso Shettino had already fled the ship. As reassuring announcements blared over the speakers, Divya described a clustered group of men, women and children waiting to board lifeboats with no sense of organization. She called it “mass hysteria.”
“I’ve never seen anything so unorganized and chaotic in my life,” Divya said, adding several adults wore child-size life jackets because there were not enough adult-size life jackets to go around.
Certainly insight like this will be more revealing to the subcommittee of the dire circumstances the cruise passengers faced than the happy talk of the cruise line PR people. I'm sure that Congressman Mica would prefer that the Sharma family stay in Massachusetts.
Video credit: wamcadoo YouTube
Photo credit: Sameer Sharma
Newspaper credit: Wicked Local Medford / Medford Transcript
The U.S. House and Senate have scheduled hearings for February 29 and March 1, 2012 to address whether the cruise industry has taken adequate steps to protect cruise passengers and comply with newly enacted laws designed to make cruising safer.
A series of events prompted the Congressional hearings.
First, and most obvious, is the Costa Concordia disaster. There is not much debate that the cruise ship engaged in a reckless maneuver of showboating near the rocks of Giglio - apparently with the blessing of the cruise line - which endangered the lives of thousands of passengers who were further imperiled by the irresponsibility of the vessel's officers and the disorganization of its crew. Chaos and confusion caused by a cowardly to-hell-with-the women-and-children captain who managed to place his mistress in one of the first lifeboats to safety.
17 dead and 15 missing are the result.
Only after these deaths did the public learn that the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is suppose to oversee the cruise lines, did not even require lifeboat drills before the departure of ships from port. So much for the "stringent requirements" of this toothless United Nations' maritime fraternity. This is the madness which results when cruise lines are left to their own devices.
Secondly, and equally importantly, is the failure of the cruise lines, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Coast Guard to comply with the newly enacted Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.
The new cruise safety law was designed to require the cruise lines to do things as simple as bore peepholes in passenger doors, and to have at least one crewmember certified in crime scene preservation. The Coast Guard was required to post accurate crime statistics on a web page based on crimes reported to the FBI. The purpose of the crime statistics was for the public to finally see truthful crime statistics of the thefts, homicides, suspicious deaths, assaults and sexual assaults which occur during cruises.
The cruise lines have failed to comply with many aspects of the new law.
This year alone I have seen a cruise line destroy evidence more thoroughly and brazenly than I have ever seen; refuse to release a rape victim's medical records to the victim as required by law; and refuse to report crimes in a timely and accurate manner.
The reporting system in place by the FBI and Coast Guard is a joke. Over the years we have obtained (through court orders) lists of rapes on cruise ships. We know that cruise lines historically have over 100 sexual assaults a year, in addition to thefts, disappearances suggesting foul play and physical assaults. But take a look at the FBI / Coast Guard on-line report of the last quarter of 2011 here - only 3 sexual assaults and not one single theft, physical assault, homicide or suspicious death for the entire cruise industry!
The problem is that the FBI is disinterested in involving itself in shipboard rapes, disappearances and murders and is leaving the dirty work to the cruise line security to investigate the crimes. But there is an inherent conflict of interest in delegating law enforcement duties to the cruise ship's security officers who have already failed the cruise passengers. One of our clients was raped by a security guard. Do you think the cruise line security department is going to build a case against one of their own? The bottom line is that many cruise crimes remain unreported by the cruise lines or not investigated by the FBI.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the FBI does not report crimes to the Coast Guard database whenever there is an open file. One thing that the FBI is good at is keeping its investigations open, even if there are no investigations ongoing. The Department of Justice rarely prosecutes cases after FBI investigations.
The International Cruise Victims (ICV) has worked hard over the past 6 years to bring the new cruise safety law into effect. Our firm has attended 5 Congressional hearings since 2005, 4 in the House and 1 in the Senate, before the new law came into effect. We have seen the dedication of the ICV members over the years. One of our clients, Laurie Dishman, has traveled to Washington over 30 times to lobby Congress for a law to protect the cruising public.
Its a real shame that the goals of the new legislation - greater accountability and transparency of the cruise lines and greater safety of passengers in the process - are being subverted by the cozy relationship between the self-regulating cruise industry and the FBI which has little interest in investigating cruise ship rapes.
So far, the entire cruise industry has refused to commit to send one single cruise line president or CEO to attend the cruise hearings at the end of this month. Instead the cruise industry will send Christine Duffy, the president of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), who has been giving talking points on how to sell cruise tickets to travel agents by overcoming customer fears about cruising following the Costa Concordia debacle.
We will hear about how wonderful cruising is and how the safety of the passengers is the cruise industry's highest priority. Ms. Duffy will make these remarks while 2 Americans and 13 other passengers from other nations remain trapped dead in the sarcophagus of the Costa Concordia.
Hopefully the House and Senate will see through this happy talk.
The Concordia crash should be a wake up call that this is a self-regulating industry which needs a tight rein. The cruise line / FBI / Coast Guard reporting system is a failure. Congress needs to take a hard look at the cruise industry and the federal agencies which are making a mockery of the cruise safety law.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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