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Inquiry into ship fire could bring change to cruise industry

News, Tips & Bargains | TRAVEL INSIDER

Some ask how fatal Princess blaze could happen on a vessel built to the latest safety rules.

April 02, 2006|Mary Lu Abbott | Special to The Times

THE bus crash that killed 12 U.S. passengers sailing on Celebrity's Millennium has focused attention on the dangers of touring in remote areas. The ship was visiting the small port of Arica, Chile, on a 14-night cruise from Valparaiso, Chile, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where it was scheduled to arrive today.

The group was on an independent sightseeing tour not affiliated with the cruise line. After visiting Lauca National Park, the bus veered off the narrow mountain road. Chilean officials said the bus was not certified to carry passengers.

Cruise lines require tour operators with whom they work to be licensed, have insurance and be capable of handling emergencies, said Crye of the ICCL. Lines also check the reputation, experience and safety record of companies. It's not known when or how the victims of the bus crash booked the tour, but it's clear it was not an excursion purchased through the cruise line.

Ada Brown, the owner of Seaside Travel in Long Beach who frequently books passengers on cruises, says she always cautions about touring independently.

"Frequently clients say, 'I won't book the cruise line's excursion because taxis and guides are right there (at the port) and they're much less expensive.' My word of caution is, 'You don't know anything about whether they have licenses or insurance. You have no idea of their qualifications or if the vehicle is in good condition,' " Brown said.

She advises tourists to check out taxis or tour operators at a dock, at least by asking to see a government-issued license.

"In spite of these occasional things, it is still an extremely safe form of vacation, probably one of safest you could take," Brown said. "Because these things don't happen often, they hit the news, and rightfully so. It reminds us that there are still things to be careful about."

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Mary Lu Abbott can be reached at cruisecolumn@aol.com. Travel Insider welcomes comments but can't respond individually. Write to Travel Insider, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012, or e-mail travel @latimes.com.

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