Senator introduces Cruise Passenger Protection Act

By Bill Poling
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013, designed to close what he called “gaps” in cruise industry consumer protection by significantly broadening the federal government’s role in cruise industry oversight.

Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, is slated to convene a hearing on the matter Wednesday afternoon, at which Carnival Cruise Lines President Gerry Cahill and Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein are slated to testify.

Rockefeller, who has been highly critical of the cruise lines and of their responses to his demands for more accountability, said, “I’ve been told time and again that cruise lines will change, that things will get better for passengers.

"But according to our investigation, it doesn’t appear to me that passengers are substantially safer. I expect straightforward answers from our witnesses, not more empty promises about how things will get better after the next safety review. Cruise passengers have been at risk for too long. It’s time they get the safety protections they need and deserve.”

The following is a summary of key provisions of the bill.

• Applies to passenger vessels accommodating at least 250 passengers with “onboard sleeping facilities for each passenger,” that “embarks or disembarks passengers in the U.S.” Vessels owned by the U.S. or any state government, or that are engaged in coastwise trade, are exempt.

• Directs the Transportation Department (DOT) to stipulate that the CLIA Bill of Rights is legally enforceable by passengers in court. The DOT is further directed to set standards for summarizing key terms of cruise lines’ contracts of carriage, including, style, formatting and terminology.

Cruise lines would provide each passengers with a summary before booking and include a link on their Web booking site. Summaries would also be incorporated into advertising and promotional literature.

• Directs the DOT to maintain a toll-free hotline and Internet link for consumer complaints about cruise lines, and to compile statistical data for each category, at least quarterly, identifying passenger vessels by name.

Cruise lines would be required to include the consumer complaint number on their websites, on electronic confirmation and on promotional literature and advertising “through any medium,” as determined by DOT.

• Authorizes the DOT and other federal agencies to investigate consumer complaints regarding cancellations, delays and port-skipping; lost, damaged and delayed baggage; onboard conditions; problems with fares, refunds or fare adjustments and deceptive advertising.

• Authorizes the DOT to impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation or up to $50,000 for continuing violations, and to refer criminal matters to the Justice Department for prosecution, with criminal penalties of up to $250,000 or up to one year in prison.

• Creates a DOT consumer advisory committee, to be appointed by the DOT, with representatives of cruise lines, cruise industry associations, state and local governments, nonprofit groups dedicated to consumer protection and victim assistance, and an unspecified number of “relevant” federal agencies.

• Imposes additional requirements for crime reporting, crime scene preservation training, and video surveillance of public areas, and creates a federal Director of Victim Support Services to coordinate support services and to serve as the primary point of contact for passengers affected by onboard crime.
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