Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

*logoBack in March, the chance of the cruise industry throwing support behind legislation championed by International Cruise Victims was slim.

While the industry didn’t shrug at the allegations in the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009, it was adamant that "serious crime aboard cruise ships is very rare," as CLIA said in its March response to the legislation written by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

"Millions of passengers each year enjoy a cruise vacation, and while serious incidents are rare, we say again, one is one too many," CLIA said, while maintaining that the ships are "safe and secure environments with 24-hour security personnel on duty who are trained to respond to a variety of emergencies or alleged crimes."

So it was a bit surprising last week to learn that CLIA would back the bill.

But it is not surprising that the bill CLIA is supporting is a watered-down version that makes several concessions to the industry. For example, gone is a proposed amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act that would have enabled relatives of cruise ship crime victims to recover damages for emotional suffering and bereavement.

Also changed was the requirement that cruise ship guardrails be 54 inches tall: In the revised bill, the minimum height is 42 inches, the standard to which most cruise ships already adhere.

The bill retains a mandate that a licensed medical practitioner onboard be able to perform a medical examination to determine if an assault victim has been raped, but in the new version of the bill, the practitioner no longer needs to be U.S.-licensed.

Palatable to the industry is that it must install peepholes on cabin doors on all cruise ships (a feature already included on most newer vessels) and that all new ships be built with security latches on all cabin doors. The vessels will also be required to employ technology to detect passengers who fall overboard, if and when that technology becomes available.

The industry has also gotten behind new procedures for reporting cruise ship crime, which includes submitting a report to the Coast Guard and keeping a log of all onboard crimes, which will be posted on a public website.

An ebullient Ken Carver, president of International Cruise Victims, said in an interview last week that while the group did not get everything it wanted, "major steps were taken to improve safety for passengers." Carver's daughter Merrian went missing during an Alaska cruise on the Celebrity Mercury in 2004.

"This is a giant and precedent-setting step forward," he said.

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