Editor's Note: In recent days we have carried some cautionary tales about cruise ship safety and security especially under foreign flag operations out of American Ports. Admittedly America no longer has the type of cruise ships that most Americans like to ride on. But today we would like to introduce and link you to some unique alternatives that are under the American flag.


 The fastest stern wheeler ever launched the 78 stateroom overnight cruise boat QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI began service Saturday August 4, 2012 out of New Orleans. Her faster speed allows more  distant port calls from New Orleans than had previously been economic in the tourist trade. There were major shake ups in the river cruise industry after the events of September 11, 2001 but in the last couple of years the big overnight boats have returned to New Orleans and Memphis. 

 These boats are good news on the river and not just for the jobs they represent.
Remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005?
New Orleans was destroyed and in desperate need of housing for police, firefighters, and first responders. The Great River boats were not yet back in service after 9/11 economic downturn. The United States had to charter foreign flag cruise ships to house the emergency personnel attempting to restore New Orleans.

  If a city above Baton Rouge up river had been hit by a different type of disaster these seagoing cruise ships could not reach the affected cities. The purpose built river boats can. So the next time you see a "wedding cake paddle wheeler" out on the river remember they are more than an elegant vacation palace afloat. 

 These are also vessels of the United States Merchant Marine, able to provide barracks or hospital space services should the need arise all over the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. North of Baton Rouge folks don't worry much about hurricanes. But if you think the Midwest is a quiet place, research the "New Madrid Fault". The greatest earth quake in American history was epi-centered near New Madrid, Missouri fortunately before there were many people living in the region. When that fault line next releases its stored kinetic energy who knows which cities will be in need of the kind of service New Orleans needed in 2005. The YouTube link below will let you watch the launch of the Queen.

Here is a YouTube presentation on the entire American cruise Lines Fleet:

Remember every one of these small ships is American registered and manned by Coast Guard credentialed American Merchant Mariners and each is capable of the civil defense missions we described for the MISSISSIPPI QUEEN. So buy a ticket and give yourself a treat and support American jobs and civil defense at the same time.

In the interest of full disclosure we feel we should tell you that the author of this posting served as Master ,mate and pilot on similar vessels for nearly 12 years, and as a maritime union official. He simply never saw an American registered vessel that he didn't like.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

We first visited this issue in March of 2012, revisited it again in October 2012, and at least once before this spring. Every American thinking of taking a cruise this summer vacation needs to know this . But the Congress should have acted long ago. All we can do is to keep reporting their inaction and keep repeating the cautions.


The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act

 Ocean Liner Clip Art First addressed March 20, 2012 Still No Action From Congress, Coast Guard or FBI

 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 coast wise 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, see also our posting on Capt. Klaus Lutha's defense of the Jones Act posted Oct. 12, 2012 or directly to his defense of the Act from the attacks of senator john McCain at  ). We again call for the retirement of Senator McCain due to his constant attacks on this vital national security legislation
and the danger it poses to public safety. 
Larger American registered and American crewed cruise vessels tend to be river steamers. Other American registered vessels plying blue water destinations tend to the size of large yachts. Congress has been content to allow the large seagoing cruise business out of American ports, supported almost exclusively by American passengers, to be run by foreigners on foreign flag ships where American's enjoy scant legal or physical protection.