The House of Representatives passed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act (HR 3360) today. This cruise bill was previously part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2009, but was voted on today as a ‘stand alone" bill to speed up its enactment.
Congress approved the bill by a resounding vote of 416 to 4.
A number of "All Star" Congressmen and Congresswomen spoke at the hearing today. Here are the highlights of this historic event:
Cruise Ships – "Floating Pieces of Other Countries" – and the Need for U.S. Laws to Protect Americans
Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) explained the problem of a lack of accountability of the foreign flagged cruise ships which become "floating pieces of other countries" once the ships are outside of U.S. waters. He recognized the need for cruise lines to adopt reasonable safety measures to protect U.S. passengers. Some of the measures are simple and a matter of common sense, such as the requirement that all doors be fitted with peepholes so that passengers inside cabins can determine who is outside of their doors. Congress was previously provided with testimony of passengers who opened their doors and were raped by crew members.
Other safeguards include the requirements that cruise ships maintain supplies of anti-retroviral medications for rape victims (to prevent HIV / AIDS) and employ trained personnel to collect and preserve evidence following sexual assault. Cruise lines are also required to report sexual assaults and other crimes to the F.B.I. and U.S. Coast Guard and maintain a link to this data base on the cruise lines’ websites. This last measure is important because cruise lines have a well deserved reputation for concealing cruise crimes from the public.
A Cruise Victim’s "Courage, Conviction & Dedication"
Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), who introduced the crime bill, thanked her constituent (and our client) Laurie Dishman for her "courage, conviction, and dedication" after she was raped aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Ms. Matsui explained that after the crime, the cruise line provided no assistance whatsoever to Ms. Dishman in securing the crime scene, or identifying the attacker, or in prosecuting the crime. The ship doctor gave Ms. Dishman a trash bag and told her to return to the crime scene and collect the evidence herself. Congresswoman Matui characterized the need for the cruise crime bill as "urgent and necessary."
Cruise Line "Outrageous Conduct and Callous Disregard"
Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ) spoke of the "terrible story" of Merrian Carver who disappeared on a Celebrity cruise ship. Although this is any parent’s worst nightmare, Celebrity’s parent company Royal Caribbean tried to cover the disappearance up and then labeled it as a "suicide." (We have commented on the cruise industry’s nasty habit of claiming all "disappearances" are "suicides" in a prior blog "Suicide" – One of the Cruise Lines’ Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea)
Congressman Shadegg described Royal Caribbean’s conduct of obstructing the efforts of Ms. Carver’s parents to find out what happened to their daughter as "outrageous" and exhibiting "callous disregard." He urged the adoption of the cruise law to protect other families who lose loved ones on the high seas. A video of Mr. Shadegg is below.
"Disturbing & Startling" Large Number of Cruise Ship Crimes
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) criticized the cruise industry for concealing the large number of shipboard rapes. He mentioned a "disturbing and startling" article in the LA Times ("Cruise Industry’s Dark Waters") which revealed that in a period of only 32 months Royal Caribbean had over 250 incidents of where cruise victims were sexually assaulted, battered or sexually harassed. (Our firm handled the case where a Court in Miami ordered the cruise line to reveal this information under a threatened sanction of $1,000 a day).
Congressman Poe discussed Ms. Dishman’s case where Royal Caribbean did nothing to assist her but sent her a letter after the rape thanking her for her business and enclosing a discount coupon for a future cruise! He recognized Ms. Dishman for exposing the "atrocities" on this cruise line’s fleet of cruise ships.
Cruise Ship "Culture of Indifference" Toward Victims
Congressman James Oberstar, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also thanked Ms. Dishman who overcame her "terrible experience" with Royal Caribbean, found the "courage to testify" before Congress regarding her ordeal, and was "determined to see justice done." He praised her for working to change "the culture aboard cruise ships of indifference" toward crime victims.
On to the Senate!
The next step toward protecting the cruising public is a vote in the Senate.
Great thanks for the tireless dedication of the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization for supporting the introduction of this cruise safety bill!
Want to get involved in the ICV? Contact the ICV’s President Ken Carver firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have ordered the C-SPAN coverage of the hearing today and will be posting the ventire ideo in the next week. Below is the video of Congressman Shadegg’s comments regarding the daughter of one his constituients, Ken Carver: