A bill addressing crime, safety and accountability on cruise ships was signed by President Obama late last month, but that has not stopped industry officials, victims’ advocates and frequent cruise passengers from debating the legislation’s merits.
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 calls for more government control of reporting crimes and deaths that occur on cruise ships and it also steps up safety precautions to protect passengers against physical and sexual assaults and accidental deaths, such as falling overboard.
“The legislation for the first time is going to require some accountability,” said Kendall Carver, the president of the International Cruise Victims Association, who has been lobbying for the new law for at least four years. “It’s a historic step.”
Not everyone thinks the new legislation is helpful, or even necessary.
Larry Jackson, owner of Cruise Holidays of Viera, said that the new law could damage the industry’s reputation.
“If we have to report more crimes on a ship or alleged crimes, it’s going to look like there’s more crimes on a ship,” he said. “I am totally in favor of anything that makes cruising safe, but if we look at the rate of incidents on cruising as supposed to other vacations, they are safer.”
Under the measure, cruise ships will be required to carry rape kits, keep logs of all on-board crimes and provide those logs to the FBI. The FBI already handles crimes at sea, but the new law makes it a requirement that the incidents are reported as soon as possible, and also requires the logs to be published on the Coast Guard’s Web site.
Carver’s daughter disappeared on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship while on vacation in 2004. There is no record that she ever disembarked during the cruise.
The cruise line was not penalized in association with her disappearance.
“I came to the conclusion that there was a problem with this industry,” he said.
The industry’s leading trade organization, the Cruise Lines Industry Association, said that the industry remains “committed to providing guests and crew with a safe environment.” CLIA originally opposed the legislation but recently released a statement in support of the new law and its recent amendments.
“We appreciate the work Congress and the Administration have done to bring consistency and clarity to the security and safety laws and regulations for our industry,” CLIA President and CEO Terry Dale in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our longstanding work with the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and law enforcement both here and around the world to ensure the bill’s provisions are implemented appropriately.”
Paul Motter, editor of cruisemates.com, said that although the new law is beneficial to passenger safety, it might place too much credence in documents that are not official legal reports.
“I think it is very important to point out that these are not crime reports, as they are called. These are listings of allegations of crime that people on cruise ships have made to people in charge on cruise ships,” he said in an e-mail. “In no way should these be regarded as actual proven crime convictions or resolutions, except in cases where it says there was an arrest made followed by a conviction, or some kind of admission of guilt is on record.”
Longtime cruiser Donald Sammis of Titusville said the measure represents federal “tampering” with private industry and will do no more than drive up the cost of tickets.
“Most of the significant improvements have been the result of passenger input and the cruise line’s balance between privacy, cost, practicality and common sense,” said Sammis, who has been taking cruises for 30 years.
Carver disagrees, saying that the new law, which only affects passengers leaving and arriving at U.S. ports, will make a billion-dollar industry safer for travelers and lessen their vulnerability at sea.
“If you have unlimited drinking and no police, what do you think is going to happen?” he said.