Editorial: Popular cruise lines should be under stricter regulations
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 21:02
Last week, the cruise ship Triumph, owned and operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, suffered a series of mechanical malfunctions which caused it to lose all engine and main power in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The ship was en route to the Caribbean for what was intended to be, for many, the vacation of a lifetime.
The power failure to the ship was so complete that the Coast Guard was called in to tow the vessel from the open waters of the Gulf back to Mobile, Alabama, turning a four-day cruise into a sweltering, fetid five-day ordeal which ended last Thursday. Passengers described in harrowing detail the demoralizing and dangerous effects of food shortages, overflowing toilets and rooms flooded with sewage for all four thousand aboard, but especially for the very young and elderly.
In the final days of the cruise, basic law and order aboard the ship reportedly broke down, with fights breaking out over alcohol and access to limited emergency power supplies. The prospect of being trapped in a floating city without basic sanitation or sufficient food supplies seems terrifying, especially when so many of us could have been in the same position as the passengers of the Triumph: 3 percent of the US population – almost 10 million people – took a cruise in 2011.
Malfunctions and disasters aboard cruise ships are not unheard of, though a debacle like the one witnessed last week is hardly a likely occurrence. The average cruise goes off without a hitch, and its passengers enjoy themselves thoroughly. But there is currently too much trust placed in the cruise industry to ensure their ships’ safety, good mechanical operating condition and quality of service for passengers. This is due to the fact that many cruise ships, registered in small countries like Panama or the Bahamas to avoid U.S. regulations, pass in and out of many governmental and regulatory jurisdictions over the course of a single cruise.
Currently leading the main investigation into the Triumph affair is the Bahamas Maritime Authority, not the U.S. Coast Guard. What little information is gathered by U.S. authorities, moreover, very rarely comes to the attention of consumers because of its burial in Coast Guard regulatory databases. To fix the problems revealed by this incident will require, unfortunately, what is bound to be a confused, multi-jurisdictional and less-than-comprehensive regulatory effort.
But the U.S. should also determine, through its own policy, that a rapidly-expanding, environmentally harmful and mechanically precarious industry must submit to more comprehensive regulations if it wishes to retain the privilege of docking at U.S. ports.