The House Merchant Marine subcommittee, headed by Congressman Mario Biaggi, will hold the first of two scheduled hearings about the cruise industry in Miami on April 11, in an attempt to develop legislation the committee hopes will revitalize the U.S.-flag industry. According to subcommittee Chief Counsel Cynthia Wilkinson, the first set of hearings will be held in Miami because that is where many of the dominant cruise lines are based.
Ms. Wilkinson reported that there are no large U.S.-registered cruise ships operating at the present time, and that with the exception of the Hawaiian-based U.S. Constitution and Independence, the U.S.-flag industry is virtually non-existent.
"Previous attempts to pass legislation that would have helped have gone nowhere," she said, noting that the hearings are an outgrowth of the controversy surrounding the proposed Cunard Bill. The bill, which would have enabled two British ships to be re-flagged American, was opposed by American shipbuilders who feared they would lose their only commercial market; and it stirred up controversy among the various labor unions concerned about who would get the 1,000+ jobs the new legislation would create.
Ms. Wilkinson said the subcommittee had no "pre-conceived notions" about the type of legislation it hoped to develop, noting it could range anywhere from "allowing U.S. companies to build ships in foreign yards, to enabling them to buy foreign ships and re-flag them American."
The committee has invited ASTA, several major cruise lines, the Seaman's Church Institute, and Miami' s Coast Guard, Port Director and Customs Service to testify; and will focus on foreign wage scales, shipbuilding costs, and health and safety rules for passengers, during the first hearing. The second hearing, scheduled for May 23, in Washington, will explore the types of legislation that will help stimulate interest in U.S.-flag cruise ships.