Rockefeller presses health, safety standards after 'poop cruise'

A senior senator is pressing major cruise lines on their health and safety standards after an incident earlier this year in which passengers on a ship experienced broken toilets and unsanitary conditions.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent letters to executives of three major cruise lines on Tuesday with 15 questions about their health, safety and security standards, as well as the cruise industry's role in the U.S. economy.

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“Recent cruise ship incidents underscore the need for a strong commitment to passenger safety and security from the entire cruise industry, not just those that wind up on the news most frequently," Rockefeller said in a statement.

"The responses from the cruise line companies will help Congress make sure the rules governing the cruise industry provide passengers with the safe and comfortable traveling experiences they expect and deserve, instead of giving the companies a free pass at taxpayer expense.”

In the letters, sent to the heads of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival cruise lines, Rockefeller notes that many cruise ships are registered in foreign countries but benefit from access to American ports, waters and consumers.

"This means companies enjoy substantial support from U.S. government agencies; they avoid paying U.S. corporate income tax under a loophole exempting foreign-incorporated shipping companies; and many members of the cruise workforce are beyond the reach of basic labor standards available under U.S. law," he writes.

In February, passengers on the Carnival ship Triumph were towed into port after an engine fire stranded them at sea for almost a week without running water, power or many sanitary facilities. And in April, toilets broke down in 410 rooms during a cruise on the line's Crown Princess ship.

In his letter, Rockefeller notes that those incidents "underscore the importance of ensuring that the rules governing cruise industry operations appropriately address the safety, security and health risks and costs posed by cruise line activities in this country."

Rockefeller has previously pressed cruise line executives on their treatment of passengers. He sent a letter to the Carnival CEO in March, pressed the Coast Guard on the Triumph incident in February and held a hearing in the Commerce Committee on cruise ship regulations in 2012.

The Cruise industry has been an active player on Capitol Hill.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry spent more than $4.1 million on lobbying in 2012, and industry officials gave more than $800,000 to campaigns for the 2012 cycle.