Cruise in­dus­try pressed on safety

Sur­vivors of ship­wreck off Italy’s coast tes­tify

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY DANIEL JACK­SON

At a Capi­tol Hill hear­ing Thurs­day look­ing into the deadly Costa Con­cor­dia cruise ship ac­ci­dent, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV called for im­proved safety reg­u­la­tions and more en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion — and also crit­i­cized the cruise in­dus­try for not pay­ing enough taxes.

“You are a world unto your­self,” the West Virginia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion told rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the in­dus­try af­ter hear­ing tes­ti­mony from sur­vivors of the Jan. 13 ship­wreck off the Ital­ian coast that claimed the lives of at least 25. Seven peo­ple are still miss­ing.

“The re­ports from the sur­vivors of the Costa Con­cor­dia do not in­spire con­fi­dence in the in­dus­try’s abil­ity to respond to a ma­jor ac­ci­dent,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

Chris­tine Duffy, CEO of the Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, ap­peared be­fore the com­mit­tee to de­fend the in­dus­try, which she said pumped $37.9 bil­lion into the U.S. econ­omy in 2010.

“Safety is the cruise in­dus­try’s No. 1 one pri­or­ity,” she said.

She told the com­mit­tee that in re­sponse to the Con­cor­dia ac­ci­dent, her as­so­ci­a­tion started a re­view of in­dus­try safety po­lices and vol­un­tar­ily moved to im­prove safety.

Last month, the cruise in­dus­try ini­ti­ated a new pol­icy for con­duct­ing muster drills — drills to pre­pare for the evac­u­a­tion of the ship. Un­der the new rules, cruise ships will con­duct muster drills be­fore leav­ing port, im­prov­ing on the cur­rent le­gal re­quire­ment that ships con­duct the drill within 24 hours of de­par­ture.

But a pas­sen­ger on the Costa Con­cor­dia, Ge­of­frey Sci­mone, told law­mak­ers that the crew of the ship did not con­duct a muster drill, and showed only a safety video fol­lowed by a sales pitch.

Mr. Rockefeller, draw­ing a par­al­lel to the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try, said the cruise in­dus­try was not likely to clean up its act un­less the fed­eral gov­ern­ment steps in.

“We fined them and we went af­ter them, even though we are thrilled that they are com­ing out of a re­ces­sion,” he said.

Mr. Rockefeller crit­i­cized the dump­ing of solid waste at sea. It’s an is­sue that “gets to me,” he said, talk­ing about “is­lands” of waste float­ing in the ocean.

Ms. Duffy said that a clean en­vi­ron­ment is vi­tal to the cruise in­dus­try’s busi­ness model and that the in­dus­try is us­ing greener ships and cut­ting down on emis­sions. “Clean oceans and beaches are es­sen­tial to the cruise ex­pe­ri­ence, she said.

Mr. Rockefeller said the in­dus­try re­lies on the ser­vices of 20 gov­ern­ment agen­cies to op­er­ate, from the Coast Guard to cus­toms of­fi­cials, but “you are not, ev­i­den­tially, will­ing to pay for that.”

He said Car­ni­val, the largest com­pany in the in­dus­try, pays only 1.1 per­cent in state, lo­cal and fed­eral taxes.

Ms. Duffy said that the in­dus­try fol­lows what it is legally ob­li­gated to pay.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A pas­sen­ger of the Costa Con­cor­dia told Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers that the crew of the ship did not con­duct a muster drill. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV called for the cruise in­dus­try to im­prove safety reg­u­la­tions. “You are a world unto your­self,” he said.

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