After cruise nightmares, push for passenger Bill of Rights

Tampa, Florida -- We the people of the cruising public, in order to form a more perfect vacation, may get the benefit of a Bill of Rights for passengers in the future.

After the latest troubled Carnival cruise, the Carnival Legend docked in Tampa on Sunday.

Passengers had one port visit canceled and another swapped to a new destination when the ship was slowed by engine trouble.

Everyone was physically okay, but plenty of passengers were upset that Carnival offered them only a $100 refund and a future cruise discount.

Many also said the crew kept them mostly in the dark about what was going on.

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing for a Bill of Rights for folks like them. He says there are six basics passengers should always be guaranteed:

- Backup power generators
- Medical staff onboard
- Crew trained for emergencies
- Access to real-time information about delays and changes
- Ability to leave a ship docked at a port if food or sanitation onboard are not adequate
- A full refund for a trip canceled mid-cruise by mechanical or other major problems

"To be out at sea without access to a doctor, or electricity, toilet facilities, that's unconscionable," Schumer said.

But there's a problem: Under current U.S. law, no one in America -- including Congress --can tell these ships what to do beyond some basic Coast Guard safety rules.

Almost no major cruise ships are registered to the United States.

Instead, cruise ships fly the flags and claim to be from far-off places like Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Malta, or even the Marshall Islands.

They're actually called "Flags of Convenience" -- that's the industry term.That "convenience?" Loose regulations and lower costs.

"Because of money. It's all about money," said former sailor and current maritime attorney Jacob Munch of Munch & Munch, P.A.

Critics say the Flags of Convenience make cruise lines a "race to the bottom." Which country offers the fewest rules? Which lets you work your employees the longest hours? Which helps you avoid paying the most in taxes?

Schumer called cruises the "Wild West" of the travel industry.

"Millions of dollars are spent on lobbying efforts. If people want to try and change these rules, they're gonna come up against a big wall of money," Munch said.

That means unless the U.S. government can negotiate deals with those far-flung countries, following a passenger Bill of Rights would be voluntary decision for cruise lines.

Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at@graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.


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