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Letter to Bill Shuster, Nick Rahall II, Duncan Hunter - Carnival Cruise Ship


Location: Washington, DC

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), the Ranking Member of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Member of the Committee asking for a hearing on cruise ship safety. The letter was sent in the wake of serious mishaps with the CARNIVAL TRIUMPH cruise ship.

"The magnitude of serious mishaps on cruises in recent years deserves a thoughtful deliberative inquiry by the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the industry. I'm requesting a hearing on cruise ship safety, because Congress has a responsibility to ensure that U.S. consumers and travelers are as safe as possible while at sea -- regardless of what country the vessel is registered in," said Congressman Garamendi, who as California's Insurance Commissioner for eight years, created the strongest state consumer protection agency in America.

"Let's hear from the cruise and travel industries, Federal agencies, and consumers to figure out what's broken and how we can fix it," Garamendi added. "I am requesting a full review of the laws and standards governing cruise vessel safety -- most of which are set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarer (STCW), and are implemented through Coast Guard regulation. We must answer four questions: are U.S. laws and regulations being followed and enforced; are these measures written in an effective manner to accomplish for their stated goals; is the Coast Guard's cruise ship inspection regime strong enough to protect U.S. passengers from non-compliant cruise ship operators; and what role should Federal oversight and enforcement play in ensuring the safety of American citizens?"

Garamendi's Northern California colleague, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento, CA), who represents the Port of Sacramento and authored a law that helps prevent crime on cruise vessels, has also called for a hearing.

Tomorrow at 10 AM ET, the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing on "Coast Guard Mission Balance," which will not focus on these issues, but will evaluate the current state of the Coast Guard in performing its wide range of missions. That hearing can be watched online here.

The letter is below and available as a pdf here.

February 21, 2013

The Honorable Bill Shuster
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
2163 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Nick J. Rahall II
Ranking Democrat Member
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Duncan D. Hunter
House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Infrastructure
507 Ford House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Shuster, Chairman Hunter and Ranking Member Rahall:

On Sunday, February 10, 2013 the cruise ship CARNIVAL TRIUMPH suffered a fire in the aft engine room. Although the ship's fire suppression systems quickly extinguished the fire, damage from the fire resulted in a loss of power and propulsion leaving the vessel adrift about 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the partial restoration of power by emergency generators, for the next four days more than 4,200 passengers and crew had limited access to food, fresh water, and air conditioning. Even worse, sanitary facilities malfunctioned, leaving many areas in the vessel fetid and unsanitary.

As the ranking Democrat member on the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I respectfully request that you schedule an oversight hearing on this important maritime safety matter at the earliest possible date.

Now that the vessel and everyone on board have arrived back safely in the United States, we need to understand what happened, and why. As much as the cruise industry touts its record of regulatory compliance and safe operations, the fact is that this incident is only the latest in a series of marine casualties affecting cruise ships that have happened over the past few years.

I am pleased that the United States Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will participate as a Marine Safety Investigative State in the marine casualty investigation initiated by the Bahamas Maritime Authority. This is a necessary and important first step but it should not limit our oversight. The recent pattern of cruise ship casualties raises legitimate questions concerning the adequacy of international marine safety standards for passenger vessels required under the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS. The regulation of foreign-flagged cruise ships by their respective flag states, and the efficacy of the U.S. Coast Guard's port state control inspection regime for cruise ships entering and departing U.S. waters also warrant our scrutiny.

A cruise vacation remains a popular recreational option for many people based primarily on the assumption that a cruise is safe, reliable and trouble-free. An oversight hearing examining the circumstances surrounding the CARNIVAL TRIUMPH casualty would send an important signal to the American public that the safety of life at sea remains a paramount concern of our committee. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Ranking Democrat Member

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