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Bill would force cruise lines to report crimes at sea

September 21, 2007|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

A day after a congressional subcommittee held a hearing to scrutinize safety on the high seas, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced plans Thursday to sponsor legislation that would force cruise lines to report crimes and develop better methods of collecting crime scene evidence.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) will sponsor similar legislation in the House.

"We need clear rules for all cruise ships so that we can improve security for the millions of Americans each year who take cruises," Kerry said. "Voluntary steps are not enough."

In March, the Cruise Lines International Assn. agreed to voluntarily report serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and theft to the FBI. At Wednesday's hearing, the industry defended itself by saying vacationers are far safer at sea than living in most U.S. cities.

Terry Dale, the industry group's president, contended at the hearing that there were already enough reporting procedures in place.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Wayne Justice supported Dale, saying, "We see no emerging requirement for legislative change regarding incident reporting requirements."

Critics have long contended that the $32-billion industry flies under the regulatory radar. Most ships are registered in foreign countries, operating under so-called "flags of convenience." As a result, cruise lines pay little corporate income tax, hire largely foreign crews and are not required to abide by U.S. labor laws.

"After the hearings this week, to have John Kerry introduce this in the Senate could not send a stronger message to the cruise lines and the industry that it's time for change," said Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims.

Carver's daughter, Merrian Carver, disappeared during a cruise in 2004.

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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