In a letter to US Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp Jr., three co-sponsors of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, including Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, asked that inspection information be made available to the public over the Internet.
The senators, including Commerce Committee members Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, commended USCG's recent decision to conduct unannounced inspections of cruise ships that have exhibited a history of safety problems.
'In addition, we respectfully request that the records and results of the unannounced inspections be made public and easily available over the Internet for prospective cruise passengers to peruse before booking a trip,' the senators wrote.
They added: 'We agree it is strategic of the Coast Guard to target ships and vessels that have a pattern or history of safety problems, but we further expect that consumers should also be privy to the insights and patterns that the Coast Guard already knows, in addition to the ones it discovers in the future. Furthermore, the Coast Guard does a disservice to the public when it shields from consumers the identity of cruise ships and lines that have a pattern of noncompliance.'
The letter cites how, at the recent National Transportation Safety Board forum on cruise ship safety, the USCG said certain cruise lines demonstrate a history of above average deficiencies in regular examinations and that these vessels should be the target of unannounced spot checks.
'We believe that exposure of deficiencies will provide an added level of protection for the safety of cruise passengers,' the senators said. 'During NTSB’s forum, some participants expressed concern that the current agencies and organizations directed to oversee the safety of cruise vessels lack enforcement powers, and that passengers are too reliant on the cruise industry to police itself and abide by standards. By making this inspection information public and easily accessible by all, the Coast Guard empowers passenger to make more informed decisions.'
Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act in July last year in connection with the Senate Commerce Committee's cruise ship safety hearing. S-1340 amends federal shipping law to direct the Secretary of Transportation to develop standards for shipowners to provide passengers with a summary of key terms of passage contracts upfront and before they are binding.
Other provisions call for the Secretary to establish an advisory committee on passenger vessel consumer protection, a passenger complaint hotline and a website with a statistical compilation of reported incidents of missing persons, crimes and other information.
The major cruise companies already voluntarily report crime data on their websites.
After its first reading, S-1340 remains in committee.