Thursday, July 1, 2010

In the Wee Hours This Morning, Cruising Just Got a Heckuva Lot Safer

How much crime occurs aboard cruise ships? The blunt fact is, nobody knows.

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.
Stiff fines and penalties (including ships not being allowed to enter American waters if they don't comply) will hopefully serve to enforce these new rules.

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)


  1. That's good news.

    The extra-territorial application of US laws kind of bothers me (which is also a reason why I don't like the travel ban on Cuba).

    I would have preferred to see a similar resolution to be passed by the United Nations (and implemented by the US among others).

    I also hope that that will not restric the pleasure cruisers get (do you really want to get a pamphlet discussing criminal issues as you board the ship?).

    Most of the measures seem disguised enough to enhanced safety without resticting cruiser's experience.

    Again, that's a good law overall. Nothing's ever perfect and we're glad to get what we have.

  2. Hi Olivier,

    There is a precedent for this type of law and its the regulations we impose on airlines that land in US airports. They're flagged by different nations, but since they carry Americans they're asked to abide by our rules. I'd say it's the same thing here, especially because a lot of these cruiselines are only flagged under different nationalities to avoid paying US taxes. Their headquarters are in Florida and most of their executives are American Citizens.

    But glad you think it's a good law. I certainly do.



  3. Hi Pauline,

    I think that your statement "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)" mislead me. It appeared that it would apply to a Barcelona-Dubai cruise or an Asian cruise - as long as that cruise line (not necessarily that particular cruise ship) once operated at a US port.

    When reading the proposed law at ; it states
    "(1) IN GENERAL- This section and section 3508 apply to a passenger vessel (as defined in section 2101(22)) that--
    ‘(A) is authorized to carry at least 250 passengers;
    ‘(B) has onboard sleeping facilities for each passenger;
    ‘(C) is on a voyage that embarks or disembarks passengers in the United States; and
    ‘(D) is not engaged on a coastwise voyage."

    So, it has to be "on a voyage that embarks or disembarks passengers in the United States" ; which makes a better case for applying US law.

  4. Although the changes are encouraging I'm disturbed that the Government has learned nothing about peep hole safty. Were they not paying attention when Erin Andrews addressed Congress. These same criminals attaching women are probably the ones who buy reverse peep hole viewers.
    While I never open my door without checking my peephole, I also have an indoor cover for added protection. Please advise all women to put a band-aide over the peephole while not in use. More on the threat of reverse peep hole viewers can be found at