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Congressional hearings on cruise safety yield some positive developments for cruisers

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 19 - 2007

Today before congress cruise victims and victim’s families testified about rapes, murders, drunken antics and thievery and are demanding the government step in and do something about it.

According to some victims, when you cast off, you’re not only cruising away from home but also from the law. They claim when vacationers sit back and relax, they could be unwitting victims for criminals on the prowl.

Angela Orlich says she was attacked by a scuba instructor on her Royal Caribbean cruise.

“He’s frantically trying to take my bathing suit. It was horrifying,” she said.

Angela and other victims of crimes at sea went to Congress on Wednesday in order to demand better protection for Americans at sea.

Hue Pham and his wife Hue Tran vanished while traveling on Carnival Cruise Lines.

“They thought they were in a very safe environment and when you see the brochure and the commercial you get that kind of feeling,” said Michael Pham, their son.

In one 3-year period 178 cruise passengers reported sexual assaults. 28 passengers simply disappeared like George Smith, who vanished during his honeymoon on a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean voyage.

“As far as Royal Caribbean is concerned, they would merely have another drunk falling in the water – nothing we could do about it, and that’s not good enough,” said Bree Smith, his sister.

Family members and victims say cruise lines are not fully reporting crimes at sea.

But cruise lines insist the number of crimes on board ships is just a tiny fraction of the number of people who sail every year. The victims want an independent law enforcement unit to be present on board cruise ships, not unlike U.S. Marshals who patrol passengers on board an airplane.

But on Wednesday, the Coast Guard defended its agreement with cruise lines, which allows them to police themselves.

“We have no evidence to suggest that there is significantly more serious crimes affecting U.S. nationals on board cruise ships than indicated by the reporting data,” a representative said at the meeting.

Citing crime statistics provided under a new reporting regime, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chair of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, stated that according to their findings “cruising is quite safe.” Cummings referred to five-month figures indicating that less than 0.01% of passengers were involved in an alleged crime at sea. He went on to acknowledge progress by the industry but set the bar higher, calling for a report in 90 days outlining additional actions to improve security procedures and care for crime victims.

Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told lawmakers the industry’s goal is “zero incidents of criminal acts on board our ships.”

Dale and crime victims summarized several meetings held in recent months, and the CLIA chief announced the formation of a Survivors Working Group to continue the dialogue. The group is comprised of crime survivors, senior cruise line executives and CLIA executives. The group will meet quarterly whereby the goal will be an ongoing effort to improve security procedures and the industry’s response to the victims of crimes at sea.

For additional information read the Congressional summary of the hearing.

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