Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) on Tuesday introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which strengthens provisions in the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act that Congress passed in 2010. This development comes more than a year after the Investigative Unit first raised questions about the accuracy of crime statistics reported at sea.
The bill requires the Department of Transportation to publicly post an account of all instances of alleged cruise ship crime reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Currently, only crimes that are investigated—and closed—by the FBI are included in crime statistics and posted on the U.S. Coast Guard’s website.
The bill also requires the reporting of alleged crime against children and the number of passengers that fall overboard.
“This new bill is very important because our original intent was to allow people to see what alleged crimes may have happened—not those that have been closed,” Matsui said in a one-on-one interview with NBC Bay Area at the State Capitol on Saturday.
She credited the Investigative Unit’s reports about crime on cruise ships for exposing the way incidents are reported and made public.
“I think the fact that you were involved in this and cast a light on it—I think it’s really very important,” Matsui said.
Matsui first realized there was a darker side of cruising after Sacramento native Lori Dishman came to her for help. Dishman says she was raped on a cruise ship in 2006, and told her story in front of NBC Bay Area’s cameras last year.
“I tried to fight my way off. I tried to get away. He put his hands over my neck,” Dishman said in a March 2012 interview. “I just wanted to go home. I just kept saying that over and over.”
The FBI launched an investigation into Dishman’s case, but the cruise liner said no arrests were made and no one was charged with a crime. The incident was never reported in crime statistics.
Some cruise industry critics say the 2010 law legislation did not go far enough in making instances of crime transparent to cruise passengers.
“I think the public needs to know that what’s been put up on the website of the Coast Guard is not even beginning to be accurate,” said Kendall Carver, a passenger advocate. “It’s a total distortion of the actual crime rates.”
Last year, just 15 cases of crime were documented on the Coast Guard’s website. But Carver said his organization, the International Cruise Victims Association, has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from those who say they were the victim of crime aboard a cruise ship.
Carver started ICVA after his daughter disappeared on an Alaskan cruise in 2004.
In a letter from the FBI sent to Carver in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request, the agency indicated that it documented more than 400 reports of crime in 2012, including 29 sexual assaults. The statistics online reflect 11 sexual assault cases closed by the FBI last year.
“That totally misleads the public about the safety going on a cruise ship,” Carver said.
The Cruise Passenger Protection Act also requires cruise companies to install surveillance cameras in all common areas on-board and gives victims the right to obtain video surveillance records if they are part of a civil action against a cruise line.
Specifically, the Cruise Passenger Protection Act would:
- Ensure a cruise vessel owner notifies the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident.
- Ensure that if an alleged incident occurs while the vessel is still in a U.S. port, the FBI must be notified before that vessel leaves the port.
- Require vessel owners to also report an alleged offense to the U.S. Consulate in the next port of call, if the alleged offense is by or against a U.S. national.
- Clarify that vessels must have video surveillance equipment in all passenger common areas, and other areas, where there is no expectation of privacy.
- Allow individuals access to video surveillance records for civil action purposes.
- Mandate that all video records are kept for 30 days after completion of the voyage.
- Direct the Coast Guard to promulgate final standards within one year detailing requirements for the retention of video surveillance records.
- Transfer authority for maintaining the internet website of alleged crimes on cruise ships from the Coast Guard to the Department of Transportation.
- Require that the website breakout the crimes that are reported against minors and alleged “man overboard” incidents.
- Direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of having an individual on board each passenger vessel to provide victim support services
On Wednesday, the United States Senate will also take up issues related to the cruise industry. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will preside over a hearing aimed at strengthening consumer protections for cruise passengers.
Click here to watch the original investigation into how often crime is reported at sea.
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