New legislation is currently before Congress in an effort to offer more protection for cruise ship passengers. The new legislation has been introduced in the wake of numerous cruise ship accidents such as mechanical failures, an increase in crimes at sea, and is part of a concerted effort to improve quality, safety and security for all cruise ship passengers. If past, the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013” would be the most significant cruise ship legislation enacted since the “Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010” was signed by President Barak Obama. Maritime attorneys, passengers, and consumer protection groups like the International Cruise Victims Association along with members of Congress say much stronger laws and regulations are needed in order to protect the public and to hold cruise ship companies accountable when they should be.
Included in the legislation would be changes in the way cruise ship companies report crimes. It would also require cruise ship operators like Carnival and Royal Caribbean to change the way they report and assist innocent victims on their vessels. Though still in it’s early stages, the legislation would could require cruise lines to maintain video footage from surveillance cameras and install cameras in public areas.
Cruise ship lawyers at Gerson & Schwartz, PA explain that cruise ship companies have a huge incentive for limiting the way criminal incidents such as rape and sexual assault are reported and investigated. Under federal maritime law, cruise ship companies are subject to strict liability for crimes committed by their crew members. This means that when crimes have been committed by employees, the cruise line is automatically liable to an injured party. If the crime is established, crime victims do not need to prove fault, but only need to prove medical causation and damages. “The way cruise lines industry defends these cases is by a lack of oversight in the criminal investigation process. As soon as there is a criminal incident aboard one of their vessels the cruise lines typically “dump” the accused employee in the next port of call.
Instead of turning potential criminals over to police or FBI, the cruise lines will conduct their own investigation which is usually minimal at best. The cruise line usually takes the position that it was a “he said she said” and then make a self serving determination that the incident did not really occur. The next step, is the cruise lines will assist the accused and buy them a “one way ticket” back to their home country, and before any real investigation can occur. Notably, many cruise ship employees are Indian, from the Philippines, Europe, or live in other far away places.