House panel schedules cruise safety hearing

A key House committee said Wednesday that it would hold a hearing to look into the safety of the cruise ship industry after an accident in Italy last week that killed 11 people.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said it will examine the circumstances surrounding the crash of Costa Concordia, which Italian officials said hit a reef off the coast of Isola del Giglio and turned on its side after it started to take on water.

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“The Costa Concordia tragedy is a wakeup call for the United States and international maritime organizations to carefully review and make certain we have in place all appropriate standards to ensure passengers’ safety on cruise ships,” House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement Wednesday. 

Congress passed a bill dealing with cruise ship safety last year, but that measure, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, focused mostly on passenger behavior.

Mica (R-Fla.) said the Italian accident showed that more legislation could be necessary.

"Congress must closely examine how this incident occurred and address questions raised regarding vessel safety and operating standards and crew training requirements," he continued. "The committee will review the events of this specific incident, current safety measures and training requirements set by law and international maritime transportation agreements to ensure this mode of transportation remains as safe as possible.”

Mica added that “in general, cruise travel is a safe form of transportation and an important jobs provider for the nation’s economy."

The sponsor of the last cruise ship safety bill, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), said this week that the bill, which was signed into law last year by President Obama, was just the first step necessary to rein in "highly unregulated cruise line industry.

"The Costa Concordia tragedy underlines the critical need for greater regulation of the cruise line industry," Matsui said in a statement released by her office. “While this was a major step forward in oversight of the highly unregulated cruise line industry, the incident in Italy shows that still more must be done to protect passengers."

The Costa Concordia was carrying 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members at the time of its accident. In addition to the 11 passengers who have been confirmed to have died, Italian officials have said about 30 passengers are missing.