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H.R. 5096 (116th): Cruise Passenger Protection Act

Is protecting passengers on a cruise a Mission: Impossible?


The cruise industry is becoming ever more popular. 14.2 million North Americans went on a cruise in 2018, up +9.4% from the year prior.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 required possible criminal activity on cruise ships be reported to the FBI. Here’s a public list of such alleged criminal activity dating back to 2010, and here’s the most recent data for 2019’s third quarter.

What the bill does

The Cruise Passenger Protection Act would increase the protections from that 2010 law, including:

  • Notifications. Lowering the mandatory FBI notification time down to four hours after the criminal incident is first discovered or reported, and also notifying the U.S. consulate at the ship’s upcoming docking location or port of call.
  • Video. Requiring cruises to place cameras in all public areas of the ship (so excluding bathrooms and bedrooms), mandating any such video be kept for at least one year, and permitting victims to access a cruise ship’s video surveillance archive of the alleged incident during any potential lawsuit.
  • Minors. Adding to the public list of alleged criminal activity on cruise ships how many of the crimes were committed against minors.
  • Compensation. Amending the existing law governing family or next-of-kin compensation for deaths on aircraft to include deaths on cruise ships as well.

It was introduced in the House on November 14 as bill number H.R. 5096, by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA6).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill strengthens existing laws for cruise passengers, as the industry and its customers both grow substantially.

“People deserve protections whether they are on land or at sea,” Rep. Matsui said in a press release. “If someone suffers a heart attack on board a cruise vessel, they deserve a standard of care, and if someone is sexually assaulted on board a ship, they deserve protections and a thorough investigation. For decades, that has not been the case.”

The bill will help by “improving reporting requirements, raising consumer protections, and preventing bad actors from interfering in the pursuit of justice,” Rep. Matsui continued. “I am grateful to the victims and families who have come forward to share their stories. It is on all of us to implement safeguards that protect families and give people {sic} peace of mind that when they board a cruise they will be safe.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill will raise prices on an industry that is actually incredibly safe under existing laws.

“The Cruise Passenger Protection Act is a solution in search of a problem that punitively singles out the cruise industry, needlessly creates a new federal bureaucracy at taxpayer expense, and will likely increase the cost to consumers in taking a cruise,” Cruise Lines International Association said in 2014 about a previous version of the legislation.

“By any measure, cruising is very safe,” they added. “The allegations made [at a 2014 congressional hearing on alleged cruise ship crimes] do not represent the experiences of more than 22 million people every year that enjoy exceptional vacation value and a lifetime of positive memories.”

The cruise industry spends millions on lobbying Congress annually, including more than $2.8 million so far in 2019.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted two bipartisan cosponsors: Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA18) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE1). It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Rep. Matsui has also introduced the legislation in three previous sessions of Congress, to no avail. House versions in 2013, 2015, and 2017 attracted nine10, and 10 bipartisan cosponsors, respectively. None of those versions received a vote.

It’s unclear why the current version has only attracted a smaller two cosponsors, although it’s also only been out for a few weeks.

Previous Senate versions in 2013, 2015, and 2017 were entirely Democratic in their cosponsorship, attracting threeone, and one cosponsor, respectively. None of those versions received a vote, either. It has not yet been introduced in the Senate this session.

That may sound like low odds of enactment. However, the bill is strengthening reforms made through Rep. Matsui’s Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, enacted into law with a 416–4 House vote and a Senate voice vote without objection.

Last updated Dec 23, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Nov 14, 2019.

Cruise Passenger Protection Act

This bill revises provisions related to passenger vessel security and safety.

Among other things, the bill

applies to certain passenger vessels that carry at least 250 passengers, directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine whether any of the enumerated rights in the international cruise line passenger bill of rights (adopted by the members of the Cruise Lines International Association) are enforceable under federal law, revises passenger vessel security and safety requirements, requires DOT to study the feasibility of having an individual on board each passenger vessel to provide victim support and related safety and security services, and makes additional compensation recoverable for nonpecuniary damages (but not punitive damages) for deaths resulting from a passenger cruise ship accident occurring on the high seas beyond 12 nautical miles from the U.S. shore.