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US mandates reporting of alleged crimes on cruise ships

US mandates reporting of alleged crimes on cruise ships
New US legislation makes it mandatory to report all missing persons and alleged crimes on board cruise ships 'without regard to the investigative status of the incident.'

This toughens the Passenger Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, which required a numerical accounting of alleged crimes that are no longer under investigation by the FBI. Cruise industry critics felt that reporting only those allegations no longer under investigation may have skewed the numbers too low.

However, for more than a year, Cruise Lines International Association member lines—more than 90% of the US industry—have been voluntarily reporting all alleged crimes on their websites, as distinct from the PVSSA just 'closed cases' mandate for the FBI numbers. This, too, may be imprecise as some allegations could be unfounded or subsequently retracted.

'We feel the provision is unnecessary,' Mike McGarry, svp public affairs for CLIA, said of the new requirement. 'It largely duplicates information already available to the public, which shows that crime is rare on cruise ships and a fraction of the corresponding crime rates on land.'

The new legislation, part of a bill that authorizes appropriations for the US Coast Guard in fiscal 2015, requires at least quarterly reporting of missing persons and alleged crimes on a 'user-friendly' website that is maintained by the Department of Transportation—not the US Coast Guard, as before.

The alleged crimes are to be specified and each cruise line is to be identified by name. The approximate number of passengers and crew carried quarterly by each line is to be listed, too, which gives context for the number of allegations compared to the volume of people carried aboard ships.

Under PVSSA, cruise lines are required to report to the FBI serious incidents involving a US citizen—passenger or crew member, victim or perpetrator—on ships that sail to or from a US port or in international waters outside the jurisdiction of any nation, and any alleged incident regardless of the nationality of victim or perpetrator that occurs inside US waters.

The new legislation, the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, passed Thursday and awaits signing into law by President Obama. It was hailed as a bipartisan effort by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, and John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and Reps. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Nick J. Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Rockefeller, a strong critic of the cruise industry, held three Senate Commerce Committee hearings on cruise ship safety and security following Costa Concordia's deadly capsize in January 2012. In July 2013, the senator introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which he said would close gaps in consumer awareness and crime reporting. That bill, S. 1340, remained in committee.

'With regard to crime reporting, this was pretty much what Rockefeller wanted,' an independent legal expert told Seatrade Insider of the measures outlined in the new USCG authorization bill passed last week.

Singling out the cruise industry is 'a little bit over the top,' in this expert's view because, he said, no other leisure industries such as hotels, resorts or amusement parks have to report crime allegations specific to their business. If a crime is alleged at a hotel or amusement park, that is reported to local authorities and goes into the jurisdiction's statistics, not registered as associated with a particular industry.

'It's important for the cruise ship industry to be accountable. It's important for the cruise ship industry to take corrective measures when a problem has been discovered,' the independent legal expert continued. 'I think the industry has done a pretty good job of addressing those things, with respect to safety, security and crime, as well. It's important to keep a balance.'