Senate Holds Hearing on Cruise Ship Security

by Teresa Anderson

Lawmakers explored the effectiveness of security aboard cruise ships during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security.

Several witnesses discussed cases in which cruise ship passengers were sexually assaulted, robbed, or went missing at sea. For example, Evelyn Fortier, vice president of policy for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), recounted the case of one woman who was raped by a crew member posing as a ship security guard. Another witness, Kendall Carver, recounted his frustrating attempt to gain one cruise line’s assistance in trying to locate his daughter who disappeared from a ship during her vacation and has never been found.

 Because cruise ships operate in international waters or the jurisdictions of foreign countries, they are required to report crimes to the FBI or the U.S. Coast Guard. However, because the ship might be miles from the closest federal officials, it often takes days for the FBI to arrive to investigate a scene. In that time, the investigation can be undermined. Witnesses noted that evidence can disappear, victims can be intimidated, and suspects can be coached. Also, the cruise industry is not required to disclose crime statistics, making it difficult to assess the rate of shipboard incidents.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the subcommittee chairman, noted that the cruise industry lacks mandatory, standardized procedures to prevent and respond to criminal acts on board ships. Terry Dale, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, stated that mandatory procedures were unnecessary because cruise lines implemented voluntary processes to protect passengers. Among these, Dale noted, were ongoing meetings with federal officials, FBI-approved training materials for crew, and sexual assault training for guest care employees.

To try and codify security standards, Kerry has introduced a bill (S. 3204) that would require cruise lines to implement physical security features, such as peep holes, security latches on cabin doors, and CCTV. The bill would require that all ships have crew members aboard who are trained in crime scene investigation. Cruise lines would be required to report all incidents of criminal activity to the Coast Guard, who would then make that information available to the public via the Internet. Under the bill, members of the Coast Guard would be dispatched to cruise ships to ensure that they comply with the law.


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