When we deal with holiday or cruise complaints, we sometimes say that it will take a major event before the 'powers to be' wake up and start to create laws to protect ordinary Consumers! So apart from the outbreaks of illness on cruise ships and river boats, we have the ever present problem of crime and the real issue of ships safety.
In the last 7/10 days we have received calls from anxious holidaymakers who have advised us that:
- Their cruise was cancelled after 2 days because the crew 'failed' the life-boat drill - what happened I wonder between when they left dock and were at sea for 2 days - was there not a risk?
- A complaint received from one holidaymaker whose cruise itinerary was altered because the ship's lack of certification did not meet the requirements of the port they were going to visit - I should have thought that this was a pretty basic administrative task for the ship's owners?
Tucked away in the news (you will have great difficulty finding this), is the fact that a New York Senator - Chuck Shumer - considers that the time has come for greater regulation for the cruise industry.
His motivation for this arises out of the recent cruise ship fire or generator failure which left many hundreds of passengers in poor conditions. He believes that a 'bill of rights' should be available for cruise passengers in much the same way he argues as is given to airline passengers (if he is referring to US airline passenger rights I would disagree - if he is talking about EU airline passenger rights, then we are on the right track)!
He calls for:
- The right to disembark a docked ship if basic provisions cannot adequately be provided onboard;
- The right to a full refund for a trip that is abruptly cancelled due to mechanical failures;
- The right to full-time, on board professional medical attention in the event of a major health crisis;
- The right to real-time information updates as to any adjustments in the travel plan of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency;
- The right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures;
- The right to backup power in the case of a generator failure.
On the whole this is pretty mild stuff for regulation but nonetheless strikes at the heart of some of the key issues that affect passengers on-board a ship.
Of course, the cruise industry is already subject to regulation in the United States where crimes are committed on-board; the problem is that despite the fact that the Act was signed into law by President Obama, the Federal Authorities and the cruise industry appear to be locked into a pas-de-deux on how that law should be implemented. The cynics amongst you may well ponder that an industry as powerful as this would want to ensure that 'regulation' is kept to a minimum?
We can see however that the chances of Senator Schumer actually getting a Bill through Congress is remote, as the body which represents cruise industry interests, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) have reportedly stated that:
"While the industry must adhere to strict international and national regulations, wherever and whenever our ships operate, we also continuously strive through industry-initiated policies and ongoing reviews to improve upon our practices to help ensure the best vacation experience for all or our guests. In this spirit of continuous improvement we appreciate the opportunity to review Senator Schumer’s proposal".
In other words, we know what to do - leave us alone - we can police ourselves!
There is perhaps a cultural divide between how we approach regulation and the approach in the USA. Here we believe that regulation is necessary to ensure stability in the market whilst making sure that workers and Consumers enjoy protections from a particular product. In the USA, it is simply the case that the market rules (you can see in Skift article above how camapigners believed that this was also the correct approach when developing US Air Passenger rights)!
Last year I attended the Ships Safety Consultation in Brussels, which followed hard on the heels of the Costa Concordia disaster. There were very few representatives from the Consumer lobby but plenty of representatives from the Cruise and Shipping lobbies.
Since our visit there last year, there has been very little overt activity in terms of advancing the necessary Regulation in many areas, and it is not entirely impossible that the cruise industry has the ear of the EU Commission that they should be left alone to police themselves. Naturally I would disagree (if cruise industry members or their supporters are shocked by this revelation, please don't be - it's my job!); I disagree because there are enough calls to our helpline that tells us that Regulation is required - the question now is, will our politicians and civil servants step up to the mark, or must we continue this dance around the lack of Regulation before the next major outbreak of illness or worse?