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Cruise lines will make crime stats public

With the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey's plans to host more big cruise ships at its Bayonne facility, Connecticut residents will be just a short drive away from luxury cruises to exotic locations. That is, of course, if the prospective vacationers can get past the cruise industry's reputation for underplaying the number of crimes and suspicious mishaps that occur aboard their floating hotels.

The January 2012 Costa Concordia disaster sparked renewed interest from the public and Congress in cruise ship safety. A Senate bill would rquire that cruise lines report all crime data to the Department of Transportation; it would also make the department responsible for consumer protection activities related to cruises.

Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a website devoted to criminal allegations made on U.S. cruises. The problem, according to a Royal Caribbean Ltd. executive, is that the information on the site is limited to investigations completed by the FBI. An industry expert told a Senate panel that the FBI may not be aware of all the crimes and may not share information with the public about all of the investigations.

Passengers, the expert continued, have a right to know the risks involved with cruising. There should be enough information available that consumers can compare cruise lines and, whenever possible, ships. One senator noted that the law must be changed because the cruise industry "seems to refuse to take action on its own."

But Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. have pledged to publish more complete data about crimes on their ships. While the move may appear to be an attempt to head off legislation that will dictate what information is required and to whom it is reported, it could also be a smart business move.

Cruise lines are more and more the targets of lawsuits from passengers who have had their trips interrupted by equipment mishaps or who have been injured on board. As every business knows, litigation can be costly and time-consuming -- a valid claim costs as much to defend as a nuisance lawsuit does.

By making crime reports public, the companies could build up good will and enhance their reputations as safety-conscious businesses. Sharing the information voluntarily is also in keeping with the country's increasing focus on transparency in business operations.

What is not clear is whether the information will be limited to U.S. operations. The Costa Concordia was part of Carnival's Italian subsidiary's fleet.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Cruise Lines Agree to Post Ship Crime Statistics," Christopher Palmeri, July 25, 2013

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