House passes cruise ship safety legislation

An effort to boost federal oversight of the $40.2-billion cruise industry moved closer to becoming law Friday when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill requiring cruise lines to improve their crime reporting and safety procedures.

It’s the first time such a bill has made it to a House vote despite repeated attempts. The measure must still be approved by the Senate.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” said Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims, whose daughter disappeared during an Alaskan cruise in 2004. “It’s been a long road, and justice is winning out against an industry that really did everything they could to avoid regulations. . . . The victim’s voice has been heard.”

The House bill would require cruise lines that serve U.S. ports to publicly report shipboard crimes, employ U.S. doctors and install peepholes in cabin doors, among other requirements.

The cruise industry has faced criticism in recent years for a series of high-profile cases involving missing passengers, sexual attacks and so-called sick ships. Cruise lines have largely been exempt from federal oversight. Most ships are registered in foreign countries, and companies are not required to pay income tax, comply with U.S. labor laws or report shipboard crimes and illness outbreaks to U.S. authorities.


The industry has maintained that cruising is one of the safest forms of leisure travel. But after several congressional hearings into cruise crime, the industry began voluntarily reporting serious shipboard incidents to the FBI and the Coast Guard.

The proposed legislation -- HR 3619, written by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) -- would make that reporting mandatory and require statistical crime information to be posted on a public website maintained by the Coast Guard.

The House bill would also require security latches on all new ships, use of time-sensitive key cards and technology to detect when someone goes overboard. Each ship would also have to provide anti-retroviral medications to rape victims to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Sexual assault victims also would be given access to a rape crisis hotline. At least one crew member would be trained in crime scene investigation and evidence preservation.

Cruise Lines International Assn., the industry’s lobbying and marketing organization, supports the legislation.

In California, 1.4 million passengers embarked from ports in 2008. The cruise industry contributed $2.2 billion in direct spending to the state’s economy.