Serious cruise ship safety incidents are not limited to sexual assaults. “Man overboard” incidents, thefts, and even murders have long been a reality of these voyages. One tragic example concerns 26-year-old George Smith IV from Greenwich, Connecticut, who disappeared from a cruise in 2005. In 2015, the FBI closed Smith’s case, and his family may never have answers about what happened. The Smith family courageously turned their grief into action, working closely with Congress to ensure the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 — the last major cruise industry reform. The legislation made important strides in improving passenger safety aboard cruise ships, but additional action is desperately needed.
I have spearheaded the effort to further reform cruise lines in the Senate since 2013 with the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, and I am proud to work on this effort with Rep. Doris Matsui of California. This bill would implement additional passenger safety standards and cruise line reporting requirements, ensuring consumers have adequate information about their rights in advance of a voyage and a means for recourse should something go wrong.
My measure would require cruise lines to retain video footage from any alleged crime for one year so that investigators and victims have more time to access footage that may be necessary to pursue justice. It would also require cruise lines to specify whether crimes, including sexual assaults, were committed against minors. To strengthen enforcement, the bill would raise the penalties cruise lines face for violations of the law.
My Cruise Passenger Protection Act would also significantly bolster victim support. It would require cruise lines to clearly inform passengers of the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit and establish a director of victim support services within the US Department of Transportation to liaise with cruise ship victims and develop procedures for handling incidents.
Since I’ve led this measure, several of its safety and health provisions have been passed by Congress. These provisions impose requirements on cruise lines, such as installing video cameras in common areas and retaining surveillance records for 20 days, installing “man overboard” imaging technology, and ensuring ships have easily accessible automated external defibrillators. While these now-enacted policies are an important step forward, the full Cruise Passenger Protection Act must be passed to address the ongoing problems aboard cruise ships and to protect all passengers on board.
The cruise line industry has fiercely fought this legislation, saying its requirements are “unnecessary.” As BuzzFeed News’ investigation makes clear, they’re contested by experts, lawyers, and victims and their families. The courage of those speaking out will help us pass my Cruise Passenger Protection Act. I hope the cruise industry will support these important reforms, which will only make their voyages better for consumers. Strong safety standards and real enforcement will help protect passengers and hold the cruise industry accountable.
Richard Blumenthal is the senior senator from Connecticut.