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GAO says cruise ship safety has improved

Associated Press

Comforting news if your winter getaway plan involves a cruise ship. The Government Accountability Office has delivered a report on safety improvements Congress asked about after the Costa Concordia crashed into the rocks off Italy in 2012, resulting in 32 deaths.

In 2010, Congress had passed something called the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, and members wanted to know how successful the cruise ship industry and U.S. Coast Guard had been implementing the provisions of that law. Three of them — Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.),  Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) — asked the GAO to look into that.

The report was delivered this month and Thompson summarized it’s findings:

• 11 of the 15 provisions from the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act have been implemented. The remaining provisions include technology requirements for overboard detection, video surveillance, and communications interoperability.

• The reporting of sexual and physical assaults, the leading crimes on cruise vessels, is now required by law but is limited and not always useful to the public. Crimes are underreported if investigations are not started and there are often significant delays in the public reporting of them. Similarly, Web site data available to the public lack proper context, such as the city’s crime rate.

• Currently, legislation is pending to improve the reporting of crime, and some cruise lines have begun to voluntarily post improved data, such as including alleged crimes, on their own Web sites.

• Cruise Lines International Association, which represents almost every cruise line in the U.S., identified 10 safety-related policies in 2012 that were adopted by all member cruise lines by July 2013.

• Effective January 2015, passengers must participate in a safety and evacuation exercise prior to or immediately upon departure, rather than within the customary 24 hours of departure. Most cruise lines adopted this policy change voluntarily in 2013.

• The U.S. Coast Guard has worked with the cruise industry for several years to plan and hold disaster exercises, including one in April 2013 to practice a mass rescue from a cruise vessel.