This hearing will examine issues involving the safety and security on board cruise ships calling at U.S. ports.
Frank R. LautenbergSenatorCruises are supposed to be dream vacations. But for too many families, those dreams turn into nightmares.Over the past few years, we have heard a rising tide of reports about incidents on cruise ships. These incidents range from claims of sexual assault and rape to passengers who go missing at sea.One of the victims was a resident of Pine Hills, New Jersey—and her tragedy occurred on Mother’s Day of this year.Mindy Jordan was looking forward to a relaxing vacation in Bermuda. Instead, she disappeared on the Atlantic Ocean.When her family tried desperately to find out what had happened to her, the cruise line referred them to the claims department.In the words of Mindy’s cousin, Emily, who is here today, ‘It’s as if she was a piece of luggage.’The investigation into Mindy’s disappearance is ongoing. In the meantime, Mindy’s two children are left without their mother.Let me be very clear: the way Mindy's family was treated is horrible—and it is unacceptable.It is difficult to even get basic data on what types of crimes occur at sea and how often they happen.If parents want to take their family to the Jersey Shore or Disney World but want more information about public safety, they can either go online or call the local authorities to get what they need.But if parents want to take their family on a cruise, there is nowhere to get public safety information.This Subcommittee had a heck of a time getting this data from the FBI.And if the Senate Committee that oversees maritime safety and security has a hard time getting that information, imagine the frustration of an American family trying to plan a trip.One problem is that almost no cruise ship flies an American flag—instead they fly flags of convenience from other nations.Because these cruise ships are registered in foreign countries, our government cannot investigate certain incidents at sea.And it cannot require cruise lines to report on some crimes.These ships dock at our ports. We need to use every tool at our disposal to provide the greatest level of safety and security for them.I hope we can use this hearing to discuss proposals to achieve that level of safety.The government needs to act to ensure that American families on cruises are safe.I look forward to hearing the opinions of our witnesses.And I thank Senator Kerry for his leadership and interest in this important issue. I’ve asked him to chair today’s hearing.
John F. KerrySenatorI want to thank Chairman Lautenberg for the opportunity to chair a hearing in this subcommittee on such an important issue. In 2008 alone, it is estimated that 12.6 million Americans will board a cruise ship from a United States port. Roughly 300 cruise ships are in service worldwide, and plans are in place to add an additional 22 that will service North America in the next three years.We’re here today to take a closer look at the safety of those ships, as well as whether there is a need for Congress to take additional steps to ensure that American passengers are secure.I want to personally thank one of our witnesses, Mr. Kendall Carver, who has been vigilant in his efforts to improve safety aboard cruise ships worldwide. Four years ago, Mr. Carver’s daughter Merrian was a constituent of mine, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Merrian went missing in the summer of 2004, leaving her father and the rest of her family to pick up the pieces of her disappearance.Three weeks after anyone had last heard from Merrian, Mr. Carver contacted the cruise line for which she had purchased a ticket. What he was told was shocking. The cruise line was unsure as to whether Merrian had ever disembarked from the ship. He was also told that the cruise line had been aware of the fact that Merrian had not slept in her room after the second night of the cruise, and that most of her belongings, which had remained on board after the ship had docked, had been given to charity.Most shocking to Mr. Carver, however, was the fact that the cruise line had not notified law enforcement authorities about Merrian’s disappearance. Three weeks following the ship’s return, the FBI remained unaware of the fact that Merrian was unaccounted for.As Mr. Carver will describe in his testimony, Merrian’s story is not an isolated case. Despite being owned by American citizens and headquartered in the United States, cruise ships operate under foreign flags, allowing them to avoid United States law when they are beyond U.S. territorial waters. With respect to jurisdiction over crimes, the law is murky at best. To many observers, these circumstances have created an ideal destination for prospective criminals.We’ll hear from our witnesses today as to efforts that have been made by the industry to improve safety and reporting standards. Under current law, cruise lines are under no obligation to report crimes that occur outside U.S. territorial waters—even when that crime involves an American citizen. I recognize that a voluntary agreement has been reached between the FBI, the Coast Guard and the cruise ship industry, but I have to tell you - - I’m suspicious of any agreement that has the industry voluntarily reporting on incidents that damage their reputation.It also must be said that in preparation for this hearing, committee staff attempted to access the information that had been reported under this agreement and was told by the FBI that the release of the information would require a written request by the Chair of the Subcommittee. I’m not sure how much transparency an agreement is providing if even the Chair of this Subcommittee cannot readily access this information.It is clear that the cruise industry has taken steps to meet with the victims and the survivors of victims, and I hope that the many recommendations that have been made as to how to improve security are being considered and implemented. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses as to what further improvements may be necessary, and which may require Congress’s action.I have been working with Congresswoman Matsui, who is deeply invested in this issue, to craft legislation that will be introduced later this month in both the House and the Senate. The legislation will seek to improve safety and reporting standards within the industry, and will ensure that cruise ships have the ability and the expertise to properly preserve evidence when crimes do occur. I am also closely watching the ongoing efforts to pass legislation in California that would require independent “ocean rangers” to be placed on board cruise ships, and am considering whether such a program would be appropriately administered at the federal level. With respect to crafting this legislation, I hope that this hearing will be helpful.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Kendall CarverPresidentInternational Cruise Victims Association
Mr. Terry DalePresident and Chief Executive OfficerCruise Lines International Association
Ms. Evelyn FortierVice President of PolicyRape, Abuse and Incest National Network
Dr. Ross KleinProfessorSchool of Social Work, Memorial University of Newfoundland