Monday, January 7, 2013

01/07/2013 Merchant Marine Interest


Public domain image of an unnamed cruise ship, not related to incidents described in this post. We first published this post back in March of 2012. Now that its mid winter many people are thinking of tropical get aways. Read this, know before you go

  Laurie Dishman didn't die in the sexual assault against her while on board a foreign flagged cruise ship operating out of an American port. Though she lived to identify her attacker, he is a free man in his native country beyond the reach of the U.S. Coast Guard and FBI. He was a member of the ship's crew. MS Dishman's testimony about her ordeal before Congress helped assure the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) of 2010, a new statute that attempts to improve safety and security on foreign flag cruise lines that board passengers in the United States.

 The new legislation imposes on such ships new safety and security requirements to be implemented in sequential phases. These new requirements include such physical measures as minimum rail guard heights on weather decks, and passenger cabin lock and peep hole requirements, and such non physical elements as sexual assault treatment training, and equipment for the medical crew and crime scene security training for the security crew, as well as "enhanced crime reporting" requirements.

 Unfortunately in the second year after passage of the Act Security Management and South Florida's Sun Sentinel report that the the FBI has watered down the reporting requirements, through policy decisions, that limit reporting of cruise ship crime to the Coast Guard's public web site to only cases reported to the FBI , investigated by the FBI, and closed by the FBI. The net result has been a 96% decreases in crime reports over the past few years. security professionals aren't buying that figure as real and neither is the International Cruise Victims (ICA) Association. There were 363 reported crimes in one year aboard foreign flag cruise ships operating out of American ports before the CVSSA was passed. That's why there are enough interested  "victims" to form an association. Since the FBI reporting system was implemented the figures have dropped from 13 to 0 per quarter or  about 39 per year. Since these are foreign ships the FBI would not involve itself in a "reported crime" that did not involve an American victim or perpetrator, was not considered a felony , or for any one of dozens of other reasons within their discretion. There is also the possibility that the cruise line security personnel are actively finding ways to avoid the reporting requirement. The physical safety and security requirements are also due for Coast Guard  regulatory proposals before being enforced. The interested media and victims association believes that the cruise industry is actively influencing the regulatory process to avoid full implementation of the Congressional intentions of the Act.

 The bottom line is simple. The average American believes that when he or she embarks on a cruise ship out of an American port that the full protections of the American flag follows them. That is only true if that cruise ship is part of the American Merchant Marine, registered in America and commanded by licensed officers of the United States Merchant Marine who are under the supervision and administration of the United States Coast Guard. Unfortunately the remaining cruise ships under the American flag are either operating in the "Jones Act" protected trade such as on the Mississippi, or spend a great part of the year in the coastal cruise trade between American states such as New England Fall Foliage tours, and are as small as very large yachts, not competitive with the big mass market cruise lines. 

 The American Cruise ship industry fell to the foreign competition due to their lower wages and lesser safety requirements. Under American law and international agreements it is generally perceived that such international cruise ship operations may not be brought under the protection of our cabotage (protected coastwise trade)  laws. Even as we write this, there are fools in Congress (no sense in mincing words) who are trying to open our surviving Jones Act cabotage passenger trade to the deadly foreign competition (See our January 2012 Blog "Another Attack on the Jones Act , Calling a Stink Weed a Rose) that we are now struggling to make safe for American passengers who are supporting a huge foreign flag industry. For little more than the cost of passing and enforcing CVSSA the Maritime Administration could easily provide an operational differential subsidy to an American owner to compete in this business after providing a waiver for the registration of their already foreign built vessels from the "built in America" provision of the "Jones Act". Accurate crime reporting would help drive the customers to the American flag carrier. For this minimal cost the United States would not only offer proper protection to the cruise consuming American which the CVSSA doesn't but we would capture additional revenues for the United States, increase employment of Americans and most importantly gain access and control of ships of high value and utility as naval auxiliaries. (Please see our "Another Attack on the Jones Act-Calling a Stink Weed a Rose" about House Resolution 2460 in our January  2012 blogs)

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