U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard
and Maritime Transportation, led the Subcommittee in conducting a hearing on crimes against Americans on cruise ships following a request made by U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui
(D-CA). Witnesses included representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
and the Coast Guard, a representative of a victims' rights advocacy group, a former cruise passenger, and representatives of the cruise industry and individual cruise lines.
Chairman Cummings commented on the hearing:
"We convened this hearing today to understand the extent of crimes against Americans on cruise ships, to understand how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and to determine what can be done to improve the rate of prosecutions and convictions regarding crimes that occur on cruise ships.
"An estimated 10.6 million people will take a cruise in 2007 out of a U.S. port, but many of these passengers will not realize that when they step on to a cruise ship - even if it embarks from a U.S. port - they are most likely stepping onto a floating piece of Panama
or the Bahamas
or whichever foreign country whose flag the ship bears.
"While available statistics indicate that cruising is a safe vacation choice, for those who are the victims of crimes on a cruise ship, justice may be a target floating precariously among shifting jurisdictional lines - and far from the reach of the FBI or other federal agencies.
"The adequacy of current requirements for the reporting of crimes on cruise ships was of particular concern to the Subcommittee. Under current U.S. law, the cruise industry is required to report only those incidents that occur within U.S. territorial waters - which extend 12 miles from shore.
"While cruise lines have been voluntarily reporting crimes on cruise ships for some time, no standard procedures were in place regarding what crimes had to be reported or the time frame in which the reports had to be filed.
"We are pleased to hear that the cruise industry, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Coast Guard have come together to create a voluntary agreement that will formalize the reporting of incidents on cruise ships - and we are pleased that the FBI will begin to compile data on all cases reported to it rather than just on cases for which it opens case files.
"However, our Subcommittee is dedicated to diligent oversight, and we want to ensure that the voluntary agreement is producing the results that we - and those who are the victims of crimes on cruise ships - expect. Therefore, we will bring the cruise industry, the FBI, and the Coast Guard back before the Subcommittee in six months to obtain a status report.
"The Subcommittee also examined the steps that are being taken to improve the ability of cruise lines to preserve evidence so that crimes can be properly investigated by law enforcement authorities
"In this area too, I am pleased that some cruise lines are making progress on their existing systems by participating in programs convened by the FBI to train cruise personnel on procedures to be followed when a crime is suspected. Further, I am pleased that the cruise lines have indicated that they will expand the victims' assistance services that
are offered on their ships.
"Those who cruise must understand that they are entering a world where U.S. laws do not reach with the directness that they do on land. However, we in Congress have
a responsibility to the millions of Americans who cruise annually to ensure that cruise ships are nonetheless as safe as they can be.
"Our Subcommittee will diligently exercise that responsibility, and when the Subcommittee examines the issue of crime on cruise ships in six months' time, we will examine the progress that recent initiatives have made in creating a situation in which those who are the victims of crime on cruise ships have the possibility of obtaining justice."