Congressman John Mica - Republican The U.S. House of Representatives will be holding a hearing on cruise ship safety on Wednesday, February 29, 2012.  The hearing will begin at 10:00 AM in the 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

A subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (the subcommittee on Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation) will conduct the hearing and will focus on the Costa Concordia disaster.  The hearing is called "A Review of Cruise Ship Safety and Lessons Learned From the Costa Concordia Accident."

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. 

Christine Duffy - Cruise Line International AssociationIt 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.

Vicky Rey - CarnivalGeorge Wright – Operations Department of Carnival subsidiary, Princess Cruises.

Captain Evans Hoyt – Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) Captain.

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?

Sameer and Divya Sharma - Costa Concordia survivorsIt 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