One Year Later: Senate Committee to Reconvene over Continued Lack of Safety within Cruise Industry (Part 1)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Life saver Last year around this time, the cruise industry was receiving a lot of negative attention following the Carnival Triumph fire in February, 2013, the Costa Concordia crash in January, 2012, and not to mention, a host of other cruise ship accidents and crimes. Though the cruise industry has never been 100 percent free of turmoil, the past few years have been wrought with an uncharacteristically large number of incidents involving passenger injuries, sexual assaults, overboard accidents, and deaths, along with several accounts of mechanical malfunctions, cruise operator negligence and crew member misconduct.

And while the cruise industry claimed several times it would improve safety features, new accidents and crimes have continually occurred and the industry had failed to provide any tangible evidence showing it had made good on the promise to improve safety. This prompted U.S. Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to call a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on July 24, 2013 so the issues stemming from a lack of safety within the cruise industry could be addressed. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly online and provided shocking statistics regarding the discrepancy between cruise ship crimes and accidents and actual crime and accident reporting.

Several industry experts and notable figures testified during the hearing, including the “Cruise Junkie”, Professor Ross Klein. Prof. Klein’s website, cruisejunkie.com, offers statistics and the latest news on maritime accidents, environmental issues, illness outbreaks, and other incidents at sea or in port. During the hearing, he shared his research, explaining that in 2013 alone, the cruise ship industry experienced 2 collisions, 2 passenger bumps, 3 groundings, 5 cruise ship fires, 8 failed health U.S. inspections, 10 cancelled port calls and/or itinerary changes, 16 delayed embarkations/disembarkations, and 19 mechanical issues.

Prof. Klein also noted a severe lack in crime statistics reporting. In some instances, cruise lines were not disclosing crime reports to the FBI, and in other instances, the FBI was not disclosing the reports to the public. Though some of the major cruise lines voluntarily revealed their crime reports, not much else has changed in the wake of the hearing.

In light of several new cruise ship accidents and crimes that have occurred since last year’s hearing, Sen. Rockefeller has decided to schedule another hearing to address the continuing problem. The hearing, titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers,” is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM and will be broadcasted live for the public via the Senate Committee’s website.

Senator Rockefeller has dedicated much of his life to improving maritime safety, especially within the cruise industry. Last year, he introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act before the hearing, which he had hoped would provide greater protection to those sailing aboard a cruise ship as well as afford the Department of Transportation the ability to oversee the cruise industry itself, but not even the legislation has been able to drastically reduce the number of accidents and crimes on ships, which is likely what next week’s hearing will touch upon.

Back in March, our maritime attorney, Jason Margulies, reported on Sen. Rockefeller’s continued efforts to improve cruise ship safety, as well as the senator’s continued disappointment in the way cruise operators handle emergency, accident and crime situations.

According to Sen. Rockefeller, despite the number of cruise ship accidents and crimes that have occurred in recent times, the cruise industry has yet to “commit to fostering a long-term, industry-wide safety culture “commit to fostering a long-term, industry-wide safety culture.”

But why is that? Why do cruise passengers continue to suffer from accidents and crimes while the cruise industry seemingly refuses to engage in an active effort to reduce these incidents?

The maritime lawyers at our firm will explore this matter in our next blog.