WASHINGTON, D.C.— Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today submitted a prepared statement to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) public forum on cruise ship safety. Rockefeller released a cruise crime report in July 2013 which exposed critical barriers to public access of important cruise ship crime and safety data. He also held a hearing in July 2013 titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection”, that focused on the consumer protection challenges the cruise industry faces in light of recent safety and security incidents.
Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV
Statement before the National Transportation Safety Board
Forum on Cruise Ships: Examining Safety, Operations and Oversight
It is easy to understand the popularity of cruises. An endless media blitz from the cruise lines sell us on the idea of a safe, once in a lifetime dream vacation at a fraction of the price. And, while most passengers may get their idyllic vacation, for others – as we have seen all too frequently – the dream becomes a nightmare.
Over the past few years, there have been a consistent string of problems onboard cruise ships. In November 2010, the Carnival Splendor experienced an explosion and engine room fire that disabled its electrical systems leaving it adrift with passengers trapped on board with excessive heat and sewage problems. In January 2012, Carnival’s Costa Concordia collided with rocks off the coast of Italy, resulting in 32 deaths. More recently, a fire erupted in the engine room on the Carnival Triumph last February, stranding passengers at sea without air conditioning, and largely without lights, water, food and functioning bathrooms. These represent just a few of the many safety incidents involving cruise ships.
While the vast majority of passengers may have a safe experience on a cruise ship, these safety incidents highlight the very serious problems that some passengers can face. To address these issues, I have held several hearings on the cruise industry’s poor safety record. Witnesses and experts have highlighted unsafe traveling conditions, major deficiencies in fire detection systems and evacuation procedures, a lack of crew training, miscommunications about what actions should be taken to address safety issues, and the inability of the ship to take care of and efficiently evacuate passengers. In response, the cruise lines have provided testimony on a number of safety changes. However, cruise lines have a disappointing history of taking discrete safety steps only after a terrible incident and bad press reports, and they have yet to demonstrate commitment to fostering a long-term, industry-wide safety culture.
While crime is not a focus of this safety forum, crime onboard vessels contributes to an anti-safety culture. Last year, the Commerce Committee issued a report, which found evidence that cruise ship crimes are vastly underreported. Even when these crimes are reported, it can be difficult to receive help, preserve crime scenes, conduct an investigation, and pursue legal action against the perpetrator and the cruise lines. Both victims of crime and safety incidents are left with little to no recourse when something bad happens. For example, Carnival has argued in pending litigation that passengers are only owed a duty of reasonable care and no guarantee exists for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions.
Leaders in the cruise ship industry ask me and the American people to trust they will correct these problems. However, accidents continue to occur, ships are poorly prepared to respond in emergency situations, and consumers are misled. Quite simply, I remain unconvinced that the cruise industry is doing enough to protect its passengers. This is why I introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, working with many of the victims that have been impacted by the shortfalls of the cruise industry. This bill takes important steps to improve consumer protections and address critical safety issues that the cruise lines have been unwilling to make on their own.
Constant vigilance is necessary to ensure the safety of cruise line passengers. I commend the NTSB for increasing its focus on these issues and gathering key stakeholders together to better understand cruise ship safety and oversight. Increased scrutiny from the NTSB can help evaluate actions taken by the industry and highlight areas where additional focus is needed. This forum will provide another opportunity to let the cruise ship industry know that we are watching and will continue to push it to do better.