Cruise line industry endorses tougher safety rules

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The cruise ship industry has agreed to new safety rules making it easier to find out who’s knocking at a cabin door.

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The cruise ship industry has agreed to new safety rules making it easier to find out who’s knocking at a cabin door.

A federal bill mandating peepholes and safety latches for passenger cabins won the backing of the Cruise Lines International Association this week, a rare concession from an industry known to oppose new regulations from Washington.

”It is an historic development,” said Kendall Carver, president of International Cruise Victims, a leading critic of ocean liner safety records.

While peepholes and latches are commonplace in hotels, the devices aren’t standard on cruise ships. Closing that gap became a top priority of cruise line critics after a series of well-publicized disappearances and crimes on ocean liners in recent years.

Industry backers characterized the controversy as an over-reaction, saying the isolated environs of a ship are far safer than hotels and other vacation options.

But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., pushed for tougher safety rules for ships that typically operate out of U.S. ports but are registered in other countries.

In a letter to Kerry, Terry Dale, president of the Fort Lauderdale-based cruise lines association, also endorsed a provision in the bill requiring operators to quickly report serious crimes that occur on ships, train medical personnel on sexual-assault examinations and keep a log of minor incidents such as theft.

But Dale hinged his support on Kerry dropping another provision of his bill that would let families of victims of cruise ship deaths sue operators for pain and suffering. Current admirality law only allows them to sue for lost wages and funeral expenses for an incident on the high seas. Kerry’s office could not say late Tuesday afternoon whether the senator would accept the compromise.

The Kerry-sponsored Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 would bring changes to the cabins of many passengers. A draft of the bill requires peepholes for all existing ships and also safety latches for vessels built after the law takes effect.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, already has peepholes on its doors, as does Royal Caribbean, its biggest rival, media representatives said Tuesday.

Royal Caribbean said its doors do not have latches, while a Carnival spokeswoman could not give a definitive answer Tuesday afternoon. Norwegian Cruise Line has door latches but not peepholes, a spokeswoman said.

Stewart Chiron, who runs the website, dismissed the proposed law, saying it doesn’t address the causes of most shipboard incidents: drunken passengers falling off ships and socializing with crew members away from supervised areas of the ships.

”None of these incidents were a result of not having these safety measures,” he said.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.