Senate Hearing on Cruise Industry Accountability Reveals Less Than 3% of Cruise Ship Crimes are Revealed to the Public

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Washington DC. attending the hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation titled "Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection."  

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 Cruise Lines Senate HearingFBI 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.

You can read the report here.

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.

Senator Rockefeller released crime data on line under a series of reports and appendices entitled Cruise Ship Crime: Consumers Have Incomplete Access to Cruise Crime Data

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.

"Cruise Junkie" to Testify Before Senate Committee on Cruise Safety Issues

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.

Cruise Expert Ross KleinBut 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."

For example, If you want to know how many people have disappeared from cruise ships in the last ten years, he has the startling information here. Or you can read that around 50,000 people on cruise ships reported sick due to illness outbreaks (norovirus, e-coli, etc.) in the last ten years. 

Dr. Klein has been invited to attend a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. EST titled, "Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection."

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.   

 

Photo by Jim Walker

Cruise Law & International Cruise Victims Return to Washington DC (Again)

International Cruise Victims - Cruise Ship Safety  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.   

Congressional Hearing Cruise Safety - Costa Concordia

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.  

Senator Rockefeller Blasts Cruise Industry: "You Are A World Unto Yourselves"

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.

Senate Cruise Safety HearingThe 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. 

 

Don't forget to read:

Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash