Passenger Cruise Lines Spend Millions On Congress

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Contemporary Commentary

A Democratic U.S. Senator, Jay Rockefeller,  fired off an irate note to the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard the other day, demanding answers about how much the federal government is paying to help out Carnival and its stranded ruptured duck of a cruise ship, The Triumph.

The letter might better be addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  He should be well-briefed.

After all, Reid is one of a dozen legislators who have received large donations from cruise ship line interests over the years.  ($14 Million plus, $50,000 to Reid.)

And why not.  Cruise ship lines have a legitimate interest because of the many ports of call those ships make in Reid’s home state of…what?…oh…

Never mind.  Reid is in the land-locked state of Nevada.  And as the contributions make clear, it’s not just Republicans who grab the goodies from Carnival and other cruise lines.

Perhaps they can explain why the cruise ship industry is virtually unregulated, as the Associated Press explains here.   Lord knows they must have listened to a lot from the industry over the years — some $50 million poured into campaigns and lobbying efforts.

MIAMI — A byzantine maze of maritime rules and regulations, fragmented oversight and a patchwork quilt of nations that do business with cruise lines make it tough for consumers to assess the health and safety record of the ship they’re about to board in what for many is the vacation of a lifetime.

Want to know about a ship’s track record for being clean? Want to assess how sanitary the food is? It’s not that easy to find, in part because there’s no one entity or country that oversees or regulates the industry with its fleet of ships that are like mini cities floating at sea.

In the case of Carnival Cruise Lines, the owner of the Carnival Triumph that spent days in the Gulf of Mexico disabled after an engine fire, the company is incorporated in Panama, its offices are based in Miami and its ships fly under the Bahamian flag – a matrix that is not unusual in the cruise line industry.

Nevertheless,  Senator Rockefeller has some good questions.  (Below.)  He just may want to ask colleagues, not the Commandant.

 February 14, 2013

Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. Commandant
United States Coast Guard 2100 Second St. SW
Washington, DC 20593

Dear Admiral Papp,

I write to share with you my deep concern regarding the currently unfolding incident involving the large passenger vessel Carnival Triumph. It is my understanding that on Sunday, February 10, 2013, as the Triumph was transiting Mexican waters roughly 100 to 150 nautical miles north of Merida, the vessel experienced an engine room fire and subsequent loss of power which has left more than 4,000 passengers and crew members adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. I have been horrified to read and hear the many accounts of unbearable living conditions aboard the ship, including lack of food and water, nonfunctioning and overflowing toilets in the ship’s cabins, exposure of passengers and crew to raw sewage, an intolerable ship-wide stench of human waste, and blazing heat that has caused many passengers to seek refuge in makeshift shelters on the top deck.

This unfortunate situation is just the latest example in a long string of serious and troubling incidents involving cruise ships. As you are aware, last March in the wake of the Costa Concordia grounding off the coast of Giglio, Italy, I conducted a Commerce Committee oversight hearing to examine deficiencies in the cruise line industry’s compliance with federal safety, security, and environmental standards, and to better understand the Coast Guard’s role in conducting safety inspections and responding to marine incidents that occur aboard cruise ships. At that hearing, a clear pattern emerged with respect to how the cruise line industry conducts itself. As I remarked then, they seem to have two lives: one is at port, where the Coast Guard can monitor their operations; the other is at sea where, it appears, once they are beyond three nautical miles from shore the world is theirs. The Carnival Triumph incident only serves to further validate this view.

The incident also serves as a stark reminder of the importance of vigorous inspection and enforcement of cruise ship safety, security, and environmental requirements by the Coast Guard, in order to protect the lives of those onboard. I understand that the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have already launched an investigation into the cause of the engine room fire that occurred onboard the Carnival Triumph. I look forward to the findings of this investigation and expect to be fully briefed as soon as the Coast Guard is able to do so.  In the interim, I ask that the Coast Guard provide this Committee with the following information:

  1. How much do you anticipate the Coast Guard will spend in resources (including but not limited to a dollar amount and labor hours), to respond to and investigate the Carnival Triumph marine casualty?
  2. How much has the Coast Guard spent in resources (including but not limited to a dollar amount and labor hours) to-date, to respond to and investigate the November 8, 2010,Carnival Splendor marine casualty, in which that ship suffered a similar engine room fire in Mexican waters that knocked out onboard air condition and water supply, and was subsequently towed under Coast Guard escort to port in San Diego, California?
  3. When can we expect to receive a copy of the Coast Guard’s final report on the Carnival Splendor marine casualty investigation?
  4. Please provide a detailed list of the number of large passenger vessel marine casualty investigations the Coast Guard has conducted or is conducting in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.  Please include vessel owners, operators, and names in this list.
  5. Can and will the Coast Guard seek to be reimbursed by Carnival Corporation for the cost of responding to either the Carnival Splendor marine casualty or the Carnival Triumphmarine casualty?

Sincerely,

John D. Rockefeller IV

Chairman (Senate Commerce Committee)

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