Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today introduced a bill that would close gaps in cruise industry consumer awareness and crime reporting.

"Serious incidents continue to occur on cruise ships, yet the industry has not prioritized consumer awareness, safety, and security," said a prepared release. "Rockefeller’s bill would provide the nearly 21 million Americans who plan to take a cruise this year with critical information about the limited scope of their current consumer protections and would take steps to improve accountability in the industry."

“This bill is the only way we’re going to make consumer awareness and protection a priority, since the cruise industry seems to refuse to take action on its own,” said Rockefeller. “During our hearing sixteen months ago, after a number of high-profile incidents, the industry promised to make real changes, but I had my doubts. Once the TV cameras turned off, and the more our inquiries uncovered, it became clear that nothing was going to change without Congressional action.”

A copy of Rockefeller’s legislation, which is cosponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), is here. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) also plans to introduce similar cruise consumer protection legislation today in the House.

“When Americans board cruise ships headed for international waters, they need to know where their rights begin and end,” Blumenthal said. “This bill will make sure consumers are given clear notice of the risks associated with cruise ship travel before they buy a ticket; and if their rights are violated, this bill will help ensure that they have a place to seek recourse.”

The introduction of Rockefeller’s legislation and the cruise industry oversight hearing this week build on his ongoing work to bring more accountability to the cruise industry through rigorous oversight, and to create a more informed passenger.

The release goes on to state:

In March 2012, after a series of alarming safety incidents on cruise ships including the Costa Concordia grounding in Italy that killed 32 people, Rockefeller held a hearing on whether the cruise industry was doing enough to protect passengers. During the hearing, the cruise industry’s trade association representative told Rockefeller that upcoming industry safety reviews would adequately protect passengers.

In the sixteen months since the hearing, several serious incidents have occurred on cruise ships that raise questions about the industry’s safety practices. One of the most notable was the Carnival Triumph fire in February 2013, which left passengers stranded at sea for days without power, plumbing and adequate food. After this incident, Rockefeller wrote Admiral Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, and Micky Arison, Chairman of the Board and then-CEO of Carnival, to express his serious concerns surrounding recent cruise ship incidents. Rather than take these legitimate oversight questions seriously, Carnival’s response played down concerns about recent incidents and ignored questions about whether Carnival intended to reimburse the Coast Guard and Navy for its cost of responding to several incidents – an issue the company later reconsidered when it chose to reimburse federal taxpayers.

Upon receipt of Carnival’s insufficient response, Rockefeller broadened his oversight efforts of the cruise industry. On May 7, 2013, the Chairman sent letters to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which represent 78 percent of the global cruise industry, to determine whether their procedures on passenger safety and security were enough to protect consumers. Rockefeller followed up on his oversight work by introducing legislation that would compel the cruise industry to implement strong consumer protections.

The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 would:

  • Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts. The Secretary of Transportation would develop standards for the cruise lines to provide prospective passengers with a short summary of the key terms in the contract. Consumers would be able to read a plain language summary of the key rights and limitations that passengers have during their cruise so they are fully aware of what rights they have, and don’t have, before they book their tickets.
  • Give the federal government more authority to protect cruise ship passengers. The Department of Transportation would be the lead federal agency for cruise ship consumer protection, similar to the role it has in aviation consumer protection. Passengers would also have additional protections in the event of a problem by giving the Department the authority to investigate consumer complaints.  
  • Help passengers who encounter problems on cruise ships. Create a toll-free hotline for consumer complaints. An Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection would be created to make recommendations to improve existing consumer protection programs and services.
  • Make all crimes alleged on cruise ships publicly available information. The FBI currently only reports crimes that are no longer under investigation. This causes the number of alleged crimes to be severely underreported and does not give potential passengers accurate information about the safety of cruises. Cruise lines would also be required to place video cameras in public areas and would set requirements for cruise lines to keep the video footage.
  • Help passengers who have been a victim of a crime on the cruise ship, since they have limited access to law enforcement. The Department of Transportation would establish a victim advocate who can provide assistance to victims on board a cruise ship, make sure the victim is aware of his or her rights in international waters, and get access to appropriate law enforcement officers.