Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act Signed Into Law

On July 27, Tuesday, President Obama signed into law a new federal law intended to improve the safety of cruise ship passengers on the high seas, reported the Baltimore Sun. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act requires better communication between the cruise lines, which are all registered to foreign owners, and U.S. federal agencies. This is to better keep track of passengers who fall overboard, go missing, are raped, assaulted, or injured.

The new law requires that cruise liners, when taking U.S. citizens on excursions, must have at least one member of the crew on board who is trained by the U.S. Coast Guard to handle cruise ship crimes.

Railings on the deck will be raised to at least 42 inches and there need to be peepholes and on-deck surveillance. Some critics say the law doesn’t go far enough and 54 inch rails would do more to prevent passengers going overboard.

Restrictions will be tightened over which cruise ship employees have access to personal passenger cabins.

Florida cruise ship crime victim attorneys want the public to know that any cruise ship that does not comply could see their owners facing both civil and criminal penalties and fines. The jurisdiction here is tricky. Because they are foreign-flagged vessels, the Federal Maritime Commission has limited oversight concerning crimes on the high seas. Prior to this law, the government did not require the cruise lines to report crimes at sea including missing passengers and rape. Now they must be reported promptly to the FBI.

It was the rape of a California woman on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2006 that prompted her representative, Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), to sponsor the legislation. Now there must be an improved crime-scene response and ships will be required to carry rape kits, have a trained forensic sexual assault specialist on board, as well as anti-retroviral medications for the woman.

The next time a cruise passenger plans on a vacation at sea the public will be able to view an online criminal database, maintained by the U.S Department of Homeland Security, to determine which ships have the highest crime rate. Each ship must also keep a log of crimes reported.

The provisions will be phased in – one year after the law takes effect with the certification of medical personnel to be phased in over two years.

Laurie Dishman, the Sacramento woman raped at sea by a cruise ship janitor says “If this law was in place when I was brutally raped, there would have been evidence for a prosecution and the assailant who raped me would not be free.”