WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces a full committee hearing to review whether current cruise ship industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers and the environment.
At the hearing, the Committee will consider questions related to the safety, security and environmental practices of the cruise ship industry. In light of the recent accident involving the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, safety issues will be a particular focus of the hearing. Witnesses will address industry environmental practices and efforts to mitigate crime and maintain passenger safety and security on board U.S. cruise ships.
Please note the hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. Refresh the Commerce Committee homepage 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to automatically begin streaming the webcast.
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for webcast hearings, should contact Collenne Wider at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The cruise ship industry is large, successful, and vastly profitable. The industry’s revenues top $25 billion a year. Nearly 13 million Americans took a cruise last year. The industry is growing with larger and larger ships entering service every year—some ships will carry over 5,000 passengers and crew. A modern cruise ship can carry the entire population of most West Virginia towns. They are floating private cities.
A unique and complex set of international rules governs the operations of the ship and the safety of passengers. I believe that these rules work to protect the companies rather than their passengers. We are here today to examine whether existing regulations are sufficient to protect the health and safety of passengers and the fragile ocean environment in which they operate.
In addition to reviewing the industry’s safety and environmental record, I believe that we must ask why an industry that earns billions and uses a variety of federal services—from the Coast Guard, to the Customs Bureau, to Centers for Disease Control—pays almost no corporate income tax. Trust me, when something goes wrong on a cruise ship, it is the Coast Guard that comes to the rescue. At a time when the Coast Guard and the entire federal government are struggling to maintain their critical missions, it is inconceivable to me that this industry doesn’t pay its fair share.
For any mode of transportation, safety must be the number one priority.
The rarity of major cruise ship accidents suggests that the industry has an excellent safety record. But, the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast is a stark and tragic reminder that no mode of transportation is 100% safe. The reports from the survivors of the Costa Concordia do not inspire confidence in the industry’s ability to respond to a major accident. A constituent of mine, Martha Manuel, was a passenger aboard the ship. She said that there was a clear lack of communication from the ship’s staff. She survived the accident because she didn’t follow instructions to go back to her room. Passengers have a right to expect that the crews of these ships are properly trained and passenger evacuation procedures are in place.
When accidents do occur and lives are tragically altered, passengers have little recourse against the cruise ship operators. Complicated ticket contracts limit passenger rights and antiquated laws prevent passengers from collecting fair compensation. Our laws have not kept up with the changes in the industry, and I believe we must revisit them.
Although major accidents are rare, the environmental damage caused by cruise ships happens far too regularly. These floating cities produce enormous volumes of sewage and solid waste. Just three miles from shore, a cruise ship can discharge thousands of gallons of raw sewage. In addition, they dump a significant amount of solid waste at sea. The environmental practices of the industry are unconscionable.
Unfortunately, the Coast Guard has limited resources to police against these devastating discharges. We cannot continue to let our oceans fill with trash and debris. We must adopt stronger laws to protect our fragile marine ecosystems.
As taxpayers, we deserve to have the industry pay its fair share. Without numerous government services, the industry couldn’t operate. It is time that they contributed to the costs that they impose on the government.
Our children and grandchildren deserve an ocean environment free of trash, sewage, and hazardous materials. The industry needs to do more to protect the environment for future generations.
Now, I turn to Senator Rubio for his opening remarks.
Witness Panel 1
Vice Admiral Brian M. SalernoDeputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast GuardDepartment of Homeland Security
Mr. Bill JohnsonSeaport DirectorPort of Miami
Captain William H. DohertyDirector of Maritime RelationsNEXUS Consulting Corp.
Dr. Ross KleinProfessor, School of Social WorkSt. Johns College, Memorial University
Ms. Christine DuffyPresident and CEOCruise Lines International Association