February 17, 2013

Lack of cruise ship information often leaves customers adrift

It's not that easy to find, as there is no one country or entity that oversees or regulates the industry.

The Associated Press

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A photo provided by a passenger shows makeshift tents on the deck of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship at sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Associated Press

But the cause of the fire that crippled the Triumph is still under investigation. In the meantime, the ship is expected to remain docked in Mobile to be cleaned and sanitized before it's back on open waters.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board will lend their expertise to the investigation, but in a support role. The probe will be led by the Bahamas Maritime Authority, where Carnival registers or "flags" some of its ships. The arrangement is commonplace under international maritime law, and it puts U.S. agencies and investigators in a secondary position even though the Triumph and other Carnival ships sail out of U.S. ports with primarily American customers.

Inquiries to Carnival about inspections and foreign flags were met by a response from the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents all of the major cruise lines. Bud Darr, the group's senior vice president for technical and regulatory affairs, said the industry is "very heavily regulated," from the way ships are designed to how crews train for emergencies. He said standards are set by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization.

But Jim Walker, a Miami maritime attorney and author of the www.cruiselaw.com blog, said, "the IMO guidelines are not law and there is no consequence if the cruise lines ignore the guidelines and recommendations. Customers have no way of knowing whether they are well maintained safely. There is no federal oversight with real teeth."

 

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