That said, the outlook for passenger security improved significantly yesterday when President Barack Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act into law. The new measures include strengthening communication between cruise lines and federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Bureau of Investigation when American passengers are missing or fall victim to onboard assaults.
One key requirement of the law is that cruise ships carrying U.S. citizens and entering U.S. waters must provide at least one crew member who has been trained and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard in the "prevention, detection, evidence preservation, and reporting of criminal activities in the international maritime environment." Among the other components of the legislation:
• Cruise ship railings must be at least 3.5 feet tall;
• Ships must stock specific medications and sexual evidence collection kits;
• Cruise lines must maintain log books and promptly report deaths, missing individuals, and alleged crimes committed by passengers and crew members.
Some cruise lines already adhere to several of these provisions. However, cruise lines that fail to comply with the new rules will face civil and criminal penalties. Further details are available at Govtrak.us, and Thomas.gov, two government Web sites that catalogue pending and passed legislation.The new law, which was sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), was hailed by Kendall Carver, Chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association: "This legislation will protect millions of passengers in the coming years and we are deeply indebted to all of those who helped make this happen." Carver's daughter Merrian Carver, a Massachusetts resident, disappeared from a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska in 2004.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 25 lines and had previously opposed the original version of the bill, stated yesterday it was "pleased" the act is now law.
While this new law addresses security issues, the rule of caveat emptor remains in full effect on the high seas for American cruise passengers. The Federal Maritime Commission advises: "Although the Commission does not have jurisdiction over such matters as cruise satisfaction, billing issues, itinerary changes, and other disputes arising between cruise operators and their customers, Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services will often refer such complaints to the cruise lines for their consideration. In some instances, we have been able to assist in reaching voluntary resolutions of problems."—William J. McGee