Cruise ship.jpgIn response to a string of horrifying and dangerous incidents aboard international cruise ships, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer unveiled his proposedCruise Ship Passenger Bill of Rights. Modeled on the successful airline passenger bill of rights already passed into law, it would provide, at the least, the following guarantees:

1. The right to disembark a docked ship if basic provisions cannot adequately be provided onboard

2. The right to a full refund for a trip that is abruptly canceled due to mechanical failures

3. The right to full-time, on board professional medical attention in the event of a major health crisis

4. The right to real-time information updates as to any adjustments in the travel plan of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency

5. The right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures

6. The right to backup power in the case of a generator failure

Schumer is calling for a two step process, whereby the industry accepts these guidelines voluntarily while at the same time, he is calling on the Secretary of State and the International Maritime Organization to begin an investigation into the problems with the "flagged" countries of cruise ships that serve the United States passengers. Schumer said the goal of the investigation should be implementing at least these six protections. Because these ships are flagged in other counties, they are primarily regulated by countries other than the U.S, and existing international standards are clearly not working.

"Cruise ships, in large part operating outside the bounds of United States enforcement, have become the wild west of the travel industry, and it's time to rein them in before anyone else gets hurt," said Schumer. "This bill of rights, based on work we've done with the airline industry, will ensure that passengers aren't forced to live in third world conditions or put their lives at risk when they go on vacation."

In recent years, there have been a number of issues aboard a variety of cruise liners. On February 10th 2013, a fire broke out in the engine room of a Carnival Triumph cruise ship resulting in power loss for four days in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship was carrying 4,200 people and was eventually towed into a port in Alabama. Passengers and crewmembers were said to have slept in hallways and outside. Many also spoke of clogged toilets, inoperable sewage system, long lines for food, shortages of fresh water and widespread odor. Reports have said that the same Carnival Triumph cruise ship had a problem with its propulsion system in January.

Most recently, a Carnival Dream cruise ship, carrying 4,363 passengers, encountered a mechanical issue with its diesel generator in St. Maarten this Wednesday. The ship's elevators and restrooms were disabled for a period of time. Passengers were flown back to Florida. Additionally, a Carnival Legend cruise ship had to cancel a scheduled stop due to technical difficult affecting its sailing speed. A Carnival Elation cruise ship encountered a similar malfunction and had to be escorted by a tugboat last Saturday.

In 2010, a Carnival Splendor cruise ship carrying 4,500 people, including crewmembers, also involved a fire breaking out in the engine room. Passengers were left without hot water, telephone service and air-conditioning. The U.S. Coast Guard found deficiencies in the firefighting operations.

In 2012, 16 outbreaks on cruise ships were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Most recently, in early March of 2013, over 100 passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship fell ill with a gastrointestinal virus. Over 1,900 passengers were onboard the ship.

In February of 2012, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a Cruise Safety Hearing related to the safety, security and environmental practices of the cruise ship industry. According to the Senate Commerce Committee, at least 90 serious events have occurred on Carnival cruise ships in the past five years. At the hearing, Dr. Ross Klein, an international authority on the cruise ship industry, testified that onboard crime, crewmember training and the availability of adequate medical care were major problems that need further examination and remedy by the industry.