Cruise Ship Safety Hearing: Senator Rockefeller Demands Accountability From Cruise Lines

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 Cruise Ship Safety Hearinghave 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. 

Senator Rockefeller Announces Witness List for Hearing to Examine Cruise Passenger Safety

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.
Senator Rockefeller Cruise Hearing Location: 253 Russell Senate Office Building

There are three cruise ship victims who will be testifying Laurie DishmanAmanda Butler and Kimberly Ware.

The hearing will address sexual assaults, unsafe conditions and sub-standard medical care aboard cruise ships. 

The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website.

Click on the website 10 minutes prior to the hearing. The comments by Senator Rockefeller and other senators, the victims testimony, and questions and answers will be streaming live.

I will be attending the hearing on Wednesday in support of my friend and former client Laurie Dishman. 

last year I attended the hearing before Senator Rockefeller with my youngest son, John. (See photo). This year I will be attending with my oldest son, Madison. 

Senator Rockefeller Schedules Another Hearing on Cruise Passenger Safety

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.  

I attended the hearing where Senator Rockefeller asked appropriately tough questions to the CEO of the cruise industry's trade organization, Christine Duffy. You can read about the hearing in my article Senator Rockefeller Blasts Cruise Industry: You Are A World Unto Yourselves

You can watch a video of the hearing here.

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 Carnival Splendor Fire 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 was later interviewed on NBC about the cruise industry's record of cruise ship accidents.     

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.

Senator Rockefeller Places Royal Caribbean & Norwegian Cruise Line Under the Microscope: Will Cruise CEO's Fain and Sheehan Be Honest?

Cruise lines hate U.S. governmental scrutiny of their business operations.  

The whole purpose of incorporating their businesses and flagging their cruise ships in foreign countries is to avoid U.S. taxes and the scrutiny of federal regulators. This business model permits the cruise lines to pay virtually no U.S. taxes and to avoid U.S. wage, labor and safety laws. Cruise lines often conceal shipboard crimes and the industry's abuse of crew members.

But one U.S. Senator, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, is taking the cruise lines' lack of transparency head on. Following Carnival's string of disabled cruise ships and nonchalant attitude towards its quests, Senator Rockefeller sent a letter to Carnival billionaire cruise CEO Micky Arison in March, inquiring into issues pertaining to the cruise line's avoidance of taxes as well as issues regarding the safety of cruise passengers. You can read the letter here

Carnival's letter back to Rockefeller dodged and weaved and argued and mostly avoided responding to Senator Rockefeller's concerns. Carnival refused to disclose, for example, the number of victims of sexual assault - a topic that the cruise lines strenuously try to avoid talking about.  We summarized Arison's defiant attitude in our article: Carnival CEO Arison's Letter to Senator Rockefeller: Screw You!

Undaunted, Senator Rockefeller has sent another letter to Arison and has also sent letters to the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises (Richard Fain) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (Kevin Sheehan).

NCL Cruise CEO Kevin SheehanIn his letters yesterday, the Senator is inquiring into the internal safety audits which the cruise lines and the cruise association are allegedly conducting. At the recent cruise trade show on Miami Beach, the Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL cruise executives talked at length about their ability to learn from their own internal investigations but never stated that they would release the reports from the investigations.

This is the usual cruise line ploy: assuring the public that they are busy at work investigating themselves after cruise ships sink or catch on fire; however, they never ever disclose the results of their alleged investigations. Carnival said that it was conducting an internal audit of its operations after the Carnival Splendor was disabled after an engine room fire in 2010.  But Carnival has never released the results of its investigation. The public remains in the dark.

Senator Rockefeller is also again demanding that the cruise lines disclose the number of crimes, particularly sexual assault, on cruise ships. The cruise industry has been notoriously dishonest in revealing accurate crimes statistics. It usually defaults to conclusory, self-serving opinions that crime is "rare" while simultaneously concealing the true crime statistics.

At a prior Congressional hearing, Royal Caribbean responded to a Congressional inquiry by stating Royal Caribbean Cruise CEO Richard Fainthat 66 women were raped during a three year period.  But in a court case we handled, the cruise line was ordered to reveal that the actual number of such crimes was much higher.

The LA Times reported on the cover-up in an article: Cruise Industry's Dark Waters.   

Royal Caribbean faced no consequence for misleading Congress back in 2006.  

The cruise lines' response to Senator Rockefeller in due on May 24th.  

Will RCCL CEO Fain and NCL CEO Sheehan be transparent? Or will they join Arison in a game of hide and seek?

Senator Rockefeller: Carnival's Response to Congressional Inquiry "Shameful"

Micky Arison - Senator Rockefeller - Cruise Ship TaxesAs I mentioned earlier, Carnival responded to Senator Rockefeller's letter inquiring into the cruise line's avoidance of U.S taxes and its refusal to reimburse federal agencies for services rendered with what I characterized the other day as a "screw you!" letter.

Today news sources are reporting that Senator Rockefeller characterized Carnival's response as "shameful."  

Carnival's letter dodged the central question of exactly what and how much the cruise line pays in taxes.

Senator Rockefeller - Micky Arison Cruise Ship Tax DisputeA recent audit of Carnival's finances on behalf of NBC News revealed that Carnival paid only 0.6% in taxes on the billions and billions of dollars collected from its passengers over the last five years. That's less than 1% in local, state, federal and international taxes. 

One thing is clear to me at this point. Senator Rockefeller is not going to drop the issue after receiving a blow-off letter like this from Carnival's CEO Arison.  

Rockefeller convened a hearing last year after the Costa Concordia disaster and grilled the cruise line's representatives at that meeting about the non-payment of taxes, non-payment for the services of the Coast Guard and other federal agencies, and pollution.

Rockefeller seems likely to schedule another one soon. 

This may be a good time to introduce legislation to create some meaningful oversight of foreign cruise lines given the public's loss of confidence in Carnival following its streak of cruise ship fires and disabled ships.   

 

Tonight on NBC: Carnival CEO Micky Arison Comes Under Congressional Scrutiny

Tonight NBC will take a hard look at Carnival CEO Micky Arison who I have written about on this blog. 

Micky Arison is well liked here in Miami, mostly for bringing a couple of NBA basketball championships to South Florida - first with Shaq and later with D-Wade and Lebron James who he has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on. He is extraordinarily wealthy with somewhere between 5 and 6 billion dollars.

Arison is also extraordinary in his ability to exploit crew members from impoverished countries like India and the Caribbean islands who work over 350 hours a month for as little as $550.

Carnival Cruise CEO Micky Arison - Tax Cruise ShipsAt 10:00 PM EST tonight, NBC's Rock Center television program will air its investigation into Carnival's cruise line business and how Arison has profited greatly from it. 

Carnival's CEO Micky Arison has incurred the wrath of Senator Jay Rockefeller who expressed his outrage to NBC over Carnival’s abuse of the loopholes in the tax system. Rockefller recently sent a letter to Arison which you can read about here.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told Rock Center's Harry Smith that he regards Carnival “very poorly” as a corporate citizen. Rockefeller says Carnival's extremely low tax rate is "disgusting" particularly  because of the cruise line's extensive use of federal agencies like the US Coast Guard.

NBC points out that the cost of US assistance to the fire-disabled Triumph cruise ship was $779,914.26. And another Carnival ship, the Splendor, suffered an engine fire two years ago that required assistance from the US Coast Guard and the Navy. That cost each service more than $1,500,000 which Carnival did not pay.

During the program tonight, you will see veteran newsman Harry Smith interview me as well. You can watch the video here or wattch the video below.

Will CEO Arison be on the program? No. He's a no-show, just like he has never appeared at the scene of a cruise fire, collision, or catasrophe involving his cruise line guests.

 

 

Interested in this issue?  Here are some other articles I wrote on Micky Arison:

Carnival CEO Micky Arison's Net Worth Increases from $4,700,000,000 to $5,700,000,000, Notwithstanding Costa Concordia Disaster

Hard Times For Carnival? Hardly.

Profits Over People: Carnival's Exploitation of Crew Members is Standard Industry Practice

Cruise Crisis Management FAIL - How Carnival is Ruining its Reputation Following the Costa Concordia Disaster

Is Carnival's Micky Arison a Greedy Corporate Pig?

 

Art Credit: Nickolay Lamm from MyVoucherCodes.co.uk

Senator Rockefeller to Cruise CEO Micky Arison: Carnival's Failure to Address Safety Issues - "This Needs to Stop"

Senator John Rockefeller TwitterTwitter Smack Down!

A few minutes ago Senator John Rockefeller tweeted to Carnival CEO Mickey Arison:

".@USCoastGuard responded to 90 incidents with Carnival ships in 5yrs- with passengers onboard. This needs to change" http://1.usa.gov/152nF2x "

Senator Rockefeller linked his tweet to a letter he sent to Micky Arison today expressing his deep concerns regarding the safety of Carnival ships and indicated that he was not surprised by the latest incident today regarding the Carnival Dream.  He also sent the Carnival CEO a list of questions and Carnival Triumph Cruise Shiprequested documents.  You can read the remarkable letter here

Senator Rockefeller also posted a Coast Guard spread sheet listing a "string of 90 marine casualty incidents with passengers onboard Carnival ships in the last five years." You can see the list here.

Senator Rockefeller wrote "just today, we’ve been reminded of Carnival’s dismal safety record with reports that the Carnival Dream is experiencing problems. The ship is stranded in a Caribbean port with no power and thousands of passengers trapped onboard. Last month, the Coast Guard spent almost $780,000 in responding to the Carnival Triumph incident – costs that are paid by federal taxpayers.” 

Rockefeller held a Commerce Committee oversight hearing in March 2012, following the Costa Concordia disaster, to examine deficiencies in the cruise line industry’s compliance with federal safety, security, and environmental standards and review whether cruise ship industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers and the environment.

We attended the hearing and blogged about the hearing where Senator Rockefeller said to the cruise Micky Arison Twitterline representatives: "You Are A World Unto Yourselves."

Senator Rockefeller's stinging rebuke of Carnival comes as the cruise industry just ended its annual cruise convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center.  The cruise executives all touted the safety of the industry and how "rare" cruise mishaps allegedly are.

So far, no tweets by Arison in response to Senator Rockefeller's tweet.

Arison spends most of his time on Twitter tweeting about his Miami Heat basketball team.