Following several Congressional hearings over the years which brought attention to our Congressmen for the need for additional safety requirements aboard passenger cruise ships, the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act was finally signed into law by President Obama on July 27, 2010.
A major concern to the Congressmen during Congressional Hearings was a report indicating that there were at least 350 known sexual assault incidents alone on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ships during a 32 month period of time. During that time, there were no successful convictions arising out of any of the sexual assaults, pointing to a need for better investigation and reporting of these incidents as they occur. This would give law enforcement officials a better opportunity to gather the necessary evidence and prosecute the wrongdoers.
The legislation, although it can be debated whether the legislation went far enough, clearly is a step forward in improving safety to the millions of cruise ship passengers yearly who board a passenger cruise ship for what they intend to be a wonderful vacation.
The new safety legislation will require peepholes in the cabin doors of every passenger and crewmember, on deck surveillance, as well as requiring 42 inch guard rails.
As to the peep holes, they have become necessary because of the recognition of the significant number of criminal acts that have been taking place onboard passenger cruise ships, including sexual assaults and suspected foul play leading to disappearances of passengers.
Our maritime personal injury and wrongful death firm represented the parents of George Smith, who disappeared during his honeymoon cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line passenger cruise ship called the Brilliance of the Seas. Foul play was suspected from the beginning, and as of today, the disappearance has not been solved, and the FBI maintains an open file regarding the case.
Our firm also represented the family of Daniel DiPiero, who was a 21 year old who went on a pleasure cruise with his friends, and was caught on surveillance falling over the railings on the cruise ship when he leaned over the railing. The DiPieros advocated a requirement that the guard rails around the ship be a certain height, as well as other safety precautions. Not all of the safety design features recommended were implemented into law, but cases such as the DiPiero case prompts the cruise lines to consider better safety design features to address occurrences such as what happened to Daniel DiPiero.
The BP Oil spill has demonstrated that sometimes tragedies result in better safety laws being implemented. Currently, there is legislation pending which will amend the Maritime laws that benefit the companies who are responsible for disasters such as the BP Oil Spill, or cruise ship companies that are responsible to compensate victims and families when injuries or deaths occur. The laws that are currently pending seek to repeal limitation of liability laws, and increase the available compensation to the family members who lose loved ones due to deaths on the high seas.
The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act has been implemented as the result of tragedies such as the George Smith case, the loss of Daniel DiPiero, and many other victims of criminal acts and other safety violations. Many members of the International Cruise Victims Organization have been very active in dealing with their Congressmen and advocating the legislation. Kendall Carver, the President of International Cruise Victims lost his daughter aboard a passenger cruise ship, and he was instrumental in pushing forward the cruise ship safety legislation which has passed.
Kendall Carver joined myself, and the Smith family, in the initial Congressional Hearings addressing the need for legislation to improve cruise ship safety for everyone.
The new law also requires there to be rape kits onboard the ships, and medications to prevent sexually transmitted disease, as well as a trained forensic sexual assault specialist to be aboard each ship.
There are also new laws regarding training of crewmembers regarding preserving evidence whenever there is a criminal activity reported. In the George Smith case, there were allegations that the investigation following the disappearance of George Smith was not handled properly, resulting in the failure to properly preserve evidence that was essential to solving the mystery of his disappearance.
We have handled many cases involving disappearances aboard cruise ships, as well as cases involving sexual assaults aboard cruise ships. Before the George Smith case, and the Congressional Hearings that followed in which I testified, the public was unaware of the number of disappearances and criminal activity occurring aboard cruise ships.
I was asked on one of the televisions shows I appeared on whether I would discourage people from going onboard a cruise ship, and I responded that I think a cruise is a wonderful way to spend a vacation. I still feel that way. I always felt that increased awareness on the part of the public regarding the possibility of criminal activity aboard a cruise ship was necessary, and increased reporting requirements on the part of the cruise line would be a big step toward increasing public awareness. I still feel the same way. I feel the new laws, although one could clearly argue they are just a stepping stone towards better safety laws, do constitute an improvement.
Passengers will become more aware of the number incidents, including sexual assaults and rapes that occur on cruise ships, by being able to look at data from the cruise ships regarding crimes onboard cruise ships. Due to the testimony that many crimes were going unreported to law enforcement agencies, this new law will require cruise ships to report to the FBI and maintain records regarding all serious crimes and thefts over $1,000.00, and make these records available to the FBI and the United States Coast Guard, as well as other law enforcement agencies.
The new reporting laws are designed to increase further public awareness regarding the amount of crimes occurring aboard cruise ships. Under the new law the FBI will prepare statistical summaries of all of the data that is given to them, broken down by each cruise line and will then post it on the internet for viewing by the public. The cruise lines will then have a link to this site enabling passengers to do research by cruise line which will show the number of crimes reported on each particular cruise ship.
Another important requirement of the law with respect to victims of sexual assaults is the requirement to give victims telephone numbers and internet access to the law enforcement authorities, counseling, and services such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline Program. Our firm has handled many cases involving sexual assaults where the interrogation onboard a cruise ship by the investigating personnel, following the report of sexual assault, has increased the psychological damages to the victims. It is during this period of time victims of sexual assaults are extremely traumatized and vulnerable, and require immediate counseling to deal with the psychological aspects of the sexual assault.
The fact that the cruise ship industry appeared to be supportive of new legislation is encouraging, and suggests that the cruise line industry has become concerned with their public image, and understand that doing a better job in documenting and reporting crimes will benefit everyone. The cruise lines have been holding meetings trying to interact with victims of serious accidents and disappearances on their ships in an attempt to exchange information and hopefully come up with better solutions for the safety of all passengers aboard cruise ships.
Our firm applauds all those involved in pushing for the passage of The Cruise Vessel and Safety Act of 2010.