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Blumenthal seeks new safety requirements for cruise lines

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GREENWICH — The family of a Greenwich man who disappeared during a honeymoon cruise 10 years ago joined U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to call for new safety requirements for cruise lines Tuesday.

George Smith IV was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship when he vanished somewhere between Greece and Turkey on July 5, 2005.

Legislation proposed by Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts would mandate the use of safety technology including "man-overboard detection" that Blumenthal says could have prevented Smith's disappearance.

Smith's family joined him for a news conference Tuesday morning at Greenwich Town Hall.

"Although ten years have passed since George Smith IV's disappearance, the cruise lines have done virtually nothing to implement lifesaving technology to prevent such tragic deaths. For the more than 23 million Americans who take cruises each year, this simple technology—as well as long overdue measures to protect cruise passengers who become victims of crime or require medical attention in international waters— cannot be further delayed. With serious health and safety incidents continuing to occur, passengers aboard these floating cities need and deserve need basic protections. Federal action is needed now,” Blumenthal said.

Smith's parents have said they suspect foul play was involved in the death of their 26-year-old son. FBI officials in Connecticut earlier this year ended their investigation of the case.

"Our son and brother George was murdered on his Royal Caribbean honeymoon cruise ten years ago this week.  His murder investigation has resulted in no arrests and no indictments.  The lack of answers and justice for George is a perfect example of why the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 is so important.  Cruise passengers must be protected by our federal government because cruise companies have shown time and time again that their incentives are to protect their reputations and stock prices, and not to protect those Americans that choose to go on cruise vacations.  We are very thankful to Senator Blumenthal and Senator Markey for their reintroduction of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 and their efforts to protect future cruise passengers,” said Bree Smith, George's sister.

If it passes. The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 would:

  • Require vessels to integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers and detecting passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available;
  • Improve medical standards aboard cruise ships.
  • Require vessels to be staffed with an appropriate number of sea marshals, who have been certified by, and are operating under the jurisdiction of, the United States Coast Guard.
  • Establish the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the lead federal agency for consumer protection for cruise ship passengers, similar to the role the Department has in aviation consumer protection;
  • Give consumers a clear upfront summary of the restrictive terms and conditions in cruise contracts. The Secretary of Transportation would develop standards for the cruise lines to provide prospective passengers with a short summary of the key terms in the contract. Consumers would be able to read a plain language summary of the key rights and limitations that passengers have during their cruise so they are fully aware of what rights they have, and don't have, before they book their tickets.
  • Establish a consumer complaints toll-free hotline telephone number, give the DOT the authority to investigate complaints, and create an Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection, which would be charged with evaluating current consumer protections and generating recommendations for improvements;
  • Require the reporting of crimes against minors to the list of currently reported crime statistics.
  • Address crimes on cruise ships by strengthening video surveillance requirements in public areas, and setting requirements for the amount of time cruises lines must retain videos;
  • Establish a victim advocate to be the primary point of contact in assisting victims, including helping the victim to understand their rights in international waters, get access to appropriate law enforcement and consulate services, and have access to necessary victim support services.