WASHINGTON, D.C.— Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, IV, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today announced a Full Committee hearing on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 2:45 p.m. titled, “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers.”
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 the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV
I would like to begin this hearing in the same way I started the hearing I held on the cruise industry last year – by saying that most people who take cruise ship vacations have a good experience.
Millions of Americans go on cruises every year. Most of the time, they have a nice trip and they return home safely - just like the cruise companies promise in their advertisements.
But once in a while, things can go terribly wrong: ships catch fire, passengers fall overboard or get sick, crew members sexually assault passengers… Incidents like these are unfortunately also part of the cruise experience.
I am very honored today to welcome four witnesses who will help us understand the firsthand consequences of these incidents. This is not an easy subject to talk about, but it’s something this Committee needs to hear.
The cruise industry is not happy that I am holding this hearing. These companies don’t like it when Congress or the media talk about the risks of taking a cruise vacation. They have repeatedly told this Committee – in both public hearings and private meetings – that cruises are safe.
But the facts tell a different story. Last year, our Committee released a report that found hundreds of cruise crimes were not being publicly reported.
We have had several hearings, where expert witnesses testified about ongoing safety and security concerns – like wrecks, fires, and crimes – onboard vessels. And we continue to see these same issues still happening.
Almost exactly one year ago, Carnival’s president told this Committee that his company’s number one priority is “the safety and security of our guests.” He explained to us how the cruise lines have every incentive to make sure their customers have a good experience.
That sounds nice in a Congressional hearing, but it’s little comfort to the many people whose vacations – or lives – have been ruined by the cruise lines’ failure to deliver on their promises.
In spite of the evidence that crimes, fires, mechanical failures, drownings, and mishandled medical emergencies occur with disturbing regularity on cruise ships, the industry continues to deny it has a problem. It has circled the wagons and reflexively fought all efforts to provide consumers more information about the risks of cruise ship vacations.
That’s where my legislation comes in. Last year, after witnessing the Costa Concordia tragedy, the Carnival Triumph debacle, and learning about the underreported number of crimes on cruise ships, I introduced the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013.”
In this bill, I have proposed making it easier for consumers to report crimes and make complaints about problems on cruise ships. I have also proposed simplifying ticket contracts and publishing more information about crimes and other problems on cruise ships.
These aren’t crazy ideas. They are common-sense protections that consumers already have if they travel in airplanes or by rail.
But the cruise industry vehemently opposes my bill - even the bill’s simplest provisions, like reporting crimes against minors, or putting up a website at the Department of Transportation that consumers could consult while they are making their vacation plans.
When an industry opposes even the most basic public disclosure about its conduct, it suggests to me that it has something to hide.
Our witnesses today are going to help us understand why it’s so important for consumers to have this information. Unlike people vacationing on land, cruise ship passengers who are the victims of crimes do not have immediate access to law enforcement. And if they suffer a health emergency on a cruise, they could be hundreds of miles away from a health care facility that operates at U.S. standards.
Our witnesses are also going to tell us that, in spite of the cruise industry’s talk about taking responsibility for their passengers, cruise companies sometimes treat their customers with shocking callousness and disregard.
Four witnesses are appearing before this Committee today, but there are many more people who have shared their experiences with my staff. Ken Carver, Jamie Barnett, and countless others have fought for years to help protect others from needless tragedy. I would like to thank everybody who has been willing to step forward and tell us their stories – despite their painful and sometimes tragic circumstances.
Having accurate statistics about crimes and other incidents is important. But it’s even more important to understand the human cost of the safety and security problems that this industry is not fully acknowledging.
This hearing – along with the other hearings and inquiries I have made into the cruise industry since I have been Chairman of this Committee – are about one thing, accountability.
I know that the cruise companies think that I am “singling them out” for special scrutiny, but I assure them that is not the case. I have never hesitated to ask companies tough questions when I think their business practices are hurting consumers.
This process of asking tough questions is called oversight. It’s one of the most important jobs Congressional committees have. When it comes to the cruise industry, we have been doing our job. We have held hearings, we have analyzed the data, and we have talked to many different people with experience in this industry. This oversight has led us very clearly to the conclusion that we have to act. We need legislation to protect consumers.
For anyone on this Committee who still hasn’t gotten this message, I urge you to listen closely today as these witnesses bravely share their experiences.
And to the cruise industry, instead of fighting this process, I encourage you to listen carefully to the testimony today. I ask you to honestly consider whether there are steps you can take to better protect the health and safety of your passengers. I believe there are steps you can take, and I will continue pushing you to make them.
Witness Panel 1
Philip M. Gerson
Kimberly A. Ware