The cruise industry has taken plenty of criticism over the past 18 months, starting with the partial sinking of Costa Concordia on January 13, 2012, in which 32 people tragically lost their lives. And already this year we've seen trouble with three different Carnival ships. On February 10, an engine room fire crippled Carnival Triumph, leaving the ship adrift for four days in the Gulf of Mexico. Passengers complained of unsanitary conditions, food shortages, and a lack of communication from the cruise line during that ordeal. A month later Carnival Dream's emergency generator went kaput while in Saint Maarten. Passengers were flown back to Florida, missing out on the rest of their vacation. And, on March 15, Carnival Legend lost use of one of its propulsion pods, which made it impossible to call on the scheduled port of Grand Cayman. The ship returned to its debarkation port of Tampa.
All of these incidents have raised questions about the seaworthiness of vessels and passenger safety, the training of crewmembers in emergency preparedness, the need for contingency plans when mechanical failures do happen, the responsibility of a cruise line to communicate emergency information in a clear and speedy way, and the company's responsibility to make restitution to affected passengers.
Cruise lines around the world took these questions seriously and got together under the auspices of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to draft a series of promises to their passengers. The result is the adoption of the Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights. All North American CLIA members have pledged to abide by these 10 principles and any new CLIA member must agree to the bill before gaining entrance into the organization.
CLIA plans to submit the bill to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to request formal global recognition of the plan.
Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights
1. The right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities, and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided onboard, subject only to the Master's concern for passenger safety and security and customs and immigration requirements of the port.
2. The right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures, or a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to those failures.
3. The right to have available on board ships operating beyond rivers or coastal waters full-time, professional emergency medical attention, as needed until shore side medical care becomes available.
4. The right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency, as well as timely updates of the status of efforts to address mechanical failures.
5. The right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures.
6. The right to an emergency power source in the case of a main generator failure.
7. The right to transportation to the ship's scheduled port of disembarkation or the passenger's home city in the event a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
8. The right to lodging if disembarkation and an overnight stay in an unscheduled port are required when a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures.
9. The right to have included on each cruise line's website a toll-free phone line that can be used for questions or information concerning any aspect of shipboard operations.
10. The right to have this Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights published on each line's website.
What This Means to You
These "rights" apply to any US passenger that bought their cruise in North America for a vacation aboard one of their member cruise lines' ships. These rights apply to all voyages, no matter the itinerary.
In actuality, many items outlined on the bill are practices that have been in place on most CLIA-member cruise lines for some time. However, the formal adoption of the bill is meant to show travelers how seriously they take the issues of passenger safety and customer satisfaction.
Of course, in practice, each individual cruise line will interpret these rights so a consistent approach may not be taken. For example, item #2 states, in part, that a passenger has the right to receive a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early due to mechanical failures. Yet, guidelines for how that partial refund will be calculated are not stated.
The CLIA-sponsored Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights is a good start from which the industry will surely build as it works with the IMO and other maritime organizations to improve safety and satisfaction at sea.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.
Photo credit: Cruise ship at sunset via Shutterstock/NAN728