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Cruise ship industry reverses stance, backs federal safety bill

The legislation would make shipboard crime reporting mandatory and require installation of security latches and peepholes on cabin doors, among other measures.

July 07, 2009|Kimi Yoshino

The nation's cruise ship industry, in a turnaround from its long-standing position that no additional government oversight is needed, endorsed proposed federal safety legislation Monday, paving the way for increased security measures on cruise ships.

Cruise Lines International Assn., the industry's chief lobbying and advocacy organization representing 24 member cruise lines, sent a letter of support to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the bill's sponsors. Association President Terry Dale said in the letter that he would work to ensure the passage of the comprehensive security bill.

If it passes, the bill would make shipboard crime reporting mandatory and require installation of security latches and peepholes on cabin doors. Ship physicians would also have to be trained in sexual assault examinations.

Ken Carver, president and founder of International Cruise Victims, called the shift "a historic moment."

"I think they've really taken a lot of heat, and I'm glad to see them joining forces," Carver said, adding that he believes with the cruise industry's backing the bill will pass.

The $38-billion-a-year industry had maintained that cruises were one of the safest forms of vacationing and that its own self-regulation was adequate. But in recent years, after several high-profile reports of missing persons and sexual assaults, cruise lines had increasingly come under scrutiny.

If the bill passes, it would be a significant victory for safety advocates who have long alleged that the industry skirts regulation by registering its vessels in foreign countries to avoid U.S. labor laws and income tax.

The industry requested one major concession: deletion of an amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act that would have allowed surviving relatives to recover damages for emotional suffering and bereavement, as well as any pain and suffering the victim may have experienced before death.

Under the existing law, survivors of people who die at sea can recover only lost wages or burial expenses.

If a retired person died, for example, family members would get little if any money, Miami maritime attorney James Walker said.

The legislation would also clarify the long-debated issue of crime reporting. The bill would establish a reporting structure based on the current voluntary reporting guidelines.

Each ship would be required to maintain a logbook to record all deaths, missing persons, alleged crimes, and complaints of theft, sexual harassment and assault. That data would also be posted on a website maintained by the Coast Guard.

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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