Dem bill throws lifeline to passengers on nightmare cruises

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) is proposing new federal regulation of cruise lines, to make sure passengers are compensated for late departures and onboard equipment failures that have led to outbreaks of illness.

Earlier this year, a Carnival cruise ship's engine broke down in the Gulf of Mexico, which left the ship with few working toilets and forced passengers to scavenge for food. Garamendi said his Cruise Vessel Consumer Confidence Act, H.R. 3475, is a response to "poor treatment" of passengers in incidents like these, and is an attempt to ensure fair treatment for passengers.

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"Reviewing the many horror stories from cruise ships in recent years, it is clear that proper oversight of the industry and consumer protections for passengers are desperately lacking," he said.

"At times, it is the Wild West on the high seas," he added.

His bill authorizes the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to oversee cruise vessel passenger travel. One regulation already in the bill, however, is a requirement that cruise lines offer people half the price of their ticket, or $500, back if the ship is delayed by 24 hours.

It also requires the industry to make certain disclosures to passengers at the time they buy their ticket.

For example, cruise lines would have to tell passengers the casualty history of the ship, including all "man overboard" incidents. They would also have to outline past complaints relating to the ship people book, the number of gastric illness outbreaks, and the number and length of these delays.

And, it would have to tell people where all civil and criminal court proceedings would take place relating to incidents that take place outside the United States.

The bill also gives the FMC the authority to investigate deceptive practices or unfair methods of competition, including by hiding the true total cost of a cruise. The FMC would have the power to fine cruise lines up to $25,000 per violation.

"Transparency is the best disinfectant and accountability is the best cure," Garamendi said. "A lot of passengers already assume many of these common-sense protections already apply to their travels.

"With this legislation, our goal is to prevent dream vacations from turning into nightmares."