Because cruise lines sail under a number of different flags, there's been no one organization collecting this data, or even requiring that the cruise lines report on board crimes.So while the cruise lines have long contended that cruising is the safest form of travel around, there's no way to verify that bit of PR.
No-one disputes, however, that crimes and serious accidents do occur--rapes, assaults, passengers falling overboard, even murders. Which is why I, for one, am downright relieved that the Cruise Line Safety Act finally passed the US House of Representatives this morning. A near-identical bill has already made it through the Senate, meaning that the bill should be on President Obama's desk soon, to be signed into law.
While the bill isn't perfect, it has some strong measures. And many of its provisions act promise to make cruising a safer activity not just for US citizens but for anyone who boards a ship that belongs to a cruise line that uses American ports (it won't matter if the ship you're on ports in the USA). That's important as no other country in the world is regulating crime and safety on the high seas in this fashion.
Key provisions of the bill:
- Stateroom doors will now be equipped with safety latches and peep holes.
- Room key cards will have "time sensitive" technology installed, to better monitor their use.
- Ships will be required to use the latest technology to detect passengers falling overboard, including imaging systems. Video surveillance cameras will be required in almost all parts of the ship (beyond private areas), so that when crimes do occur they can be more easily prosecuted.
- Fire regulations on board the ship will be the same ones approved by the US Coast Guard.
- Safety rails will now be a minimum of 42 inches above the deck
- Passengers will receive a pamphlet describing the ships response systems for both medical and criminal issues and letting passengers know what their rights are.
- Cruise ships will be required to report crimes, missing passengers and suspicious deaths to the US Coast guard and FBI soon after they occur, so they can be more effectively investigated. They will also be required to preserve crime scenes. The information on the types and numbers of crimes at sea will be made available to the public.
- Each ship would be required to carry both rape kits and a forensic assault specialist. In the case of rape, on board doctors would be instructed to respect the confidentiality of the victim in these matters. As well, the victim will automatically be given the 800 number of an outside sexual assault organization so they can speak with someone not associated with the cruise ship.
We can thank the International Cruise Victims Association for these bills finally passing. With minimal funding and much effort, the members of this organization--many relatives of people who disappeared or were assaulted on cruise ships--spent the last 5 years lobbying to bring safety standards to what had been a largely unregulated industry. They're the unsung heroes in this fight and can be proud to know that their struggle was not in vain.
(Photo by Jim G./Creative Commons)