Does Media and Public Relations Campaign of Cruise Line Industry Include Congressional Hearings?

On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives is going to have a hearing on cruise ship safety which is entitled “A Review of Cruise Ship Safety and Lessons Learned from the Costa Concordia Accident.”

At first blush, this appears to be a well needed Congressional Hearing in order to focus on problems in the cruise ship industry, and take steps necessary to create more regulations and laws that apply to the cruise ship companies which will make cruising safer for all of us. However, this particular hearing that is scheduled on February 29, 2012 is spearheaded by the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (the subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation), Florida Republican John Mica.

Not only is this hearing led by Republican Mika out of Florida, the initial agenda included a list of the witnesses, which reflected that the witnesses were all cruise ship company’s friends or allies. There were five representatives of the cruise lines listed and one Coast Guard witness. I have previously written about how the cruise ship industry maintains strong ties with the United States Coast Guard, often times sponsoring and attending Coast Guard functions. The witnesses listed include a president of Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), Michael Crye (a lawyer for the Cruise Line International Association), as well as Vicky Rey, a public relations and customer care representative from Carnival Cruise Lines. In addition George Wright, from Princess Cruises, as well as Captain Evans Hoyt from Norwegian Cruise Lines was listed to testify at this hearing.

You may be asking where are any of the victims of the Costa Concordia disaster, or any proponents for cruise ship safety changes, such as a representative from International Cruise Victims Association, or a maritime attorney such as myself who acts as a safety advocate for passengers and crewmembers? Not surprisingly, none were initially listed.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Republican Mika set up this hearing, and stacked the field in favor of the cruise ship industry by the list of witnesses that were invited to speak. I previously was invited to speak during Congressional Hearings addressing cruise ship safety back in March 7, 2006 following the disappearance of George Smith aboard a cruise ship. Our firm represented the family of George Smith. I was invited to speak as a maritime expert addressing cruise ship security and safety issues. Eventually, the Congressional Hearings led to passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010.

It was during this hearing that I had my experience with Florida Republican Mika, and learned of his strong allegiance to the cruise ship industry. I was asked very candid questions by the Committee at that time, which reflected that the Congressional members had very little knowledge of what laws applied to the cruise ship industry, how much they were regulated, and the nature and extent of problems that were occurring aboard cruise ships. They soon learned of many safety concerns to the United States passengers, and thus the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.
During the hearing at which I testified to, Congressman Mika was extremely disrespectful to some of the cruise ship crime victims that attended the hearing. There was actually booing from the audience. He was extremely antagonistic to anyone who took a stance against the cruise ship industry, including myself. While I provided factual information to the Committee regarding concerns about cruise ship safety, and the need for positive changes to increase safety to the millions of passengers that travel on cruise ships each year, Congressman Mika decided to take a personal attack at me. Instead of focusing on the issues before him, and the true concerns about disappearances and crimes onboard cruise ships, sexual assaults on cruise ships, and many other safety issues, Congressman Mika attacked me by saying to me that my testimony was biased because I make a lot of money suing the cruise ship industry. I responded by telling him that if the cruise ship industry would be more regulated, and additional safety laws were implemented, possibly I would not make as much money suing the cruise ship industry.

The fact that I make a lot of money suing the cruise ship industry only proves there are way too many accidents onboard cruise ships, including crimes. Instead of focusing on the facts, and the reason we were attending a hearing at that time, Republican Mika didn’t take the matter seriously and simply tried to attack me personally, and didn’t show the respect the cruise ship victims deserved. In fact, following the hearing, I received many calls from members of the press who were shocked at the way Mika handled himself at the hearing, and his conduct resulted in research by these members of the media which revealed the substantial sums of money the cruise ship industry had provided to Republican Mika in campaign contributions. Research also revealed the millions of dollars the cruise ship industry spends in lobbying efforts.

This upcoming hearing, entitled “A Review of Cruise Ship Safety and Lessons Learned from the Costa Concordia Accident”, now will have a couple of passengers who were onboard the Costa Concordia, thanks to a voice from the International Cruise Victims Association, Kendall Carver.

It is my opinion that this hearing is a good public relations and publicity stunt for both Mika and the cruise ship industry. Mika, at least on the surface, looks like a concerned Republican out of the state of Florida who wants to set a hearing to determine whether there are any safety issues in the cruise ship industry that need to be rectified. The cruise ship industry, which is not looking good at this moment, benefits from the fact that they appear to be interested in participating in this voluntary evaluation of safety issues that may need to be addressed. Of course, it took a disaster such as the Costa Concordia to get the cruise ship industry to decide to examine their safety procedures. How many fires, disappearances and crimes does it take to know that an industry needs to be more regulated and that safety changes need to be made?

During this time when the cruise ship industry is being looked at closely on an international level, and bookings for cruises are down, the cruise ship industry has also embarked on an aggressive marketing plan of selling discount cruises. I’m sure the cruise ship industry believes this is just a temporary voyage of rough seas, and that soon there will be smooth sailing again and prices will go up and the cruise ships will keep making the enormous profits they are used to. In the meantime, the public relations campaign is active. Carnival immediately announced it is examining all of their fleets to determine any safety issues and any need for changes. Announcements have already been made that cruise ship companies are changing their policies regarding safety lifeboat drills for the passengers. It is extremely important to the cruise ship industry to show that they are participating in efforts to evaluate the Costa Concordia disaster, and what lessons can be learned from it. Having a friend, Republican Mika, set up a hearing to do so, is really in the best interests of both Mika and the cruise ship industry. Is it really in the best interests of our citizens and all those who cruise on passenger cruise ships each year? This will remain to be seen. However, based on the stacked list of witnesses Mika had set up, it appears it’s going to take a lot more than a hearing conducted by Republican Mika for us to see positive changes made in the cruise ship industry. We will continue to need organizations such as International Cruise Victims Association fighting for the rights of cruise ship passengers. We will also need experienced maritime attorneys fighting to get just and fair compensation for all those victims who are harmed at sea.

Our firm continues to act as safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers harmed at sea.