On Scarborough Country on 10/04/05, Congresssman Shays says hearings may be needed on cruise ship safety and security:http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9600766/
While my wife and I were on the Carnival ship Destiny, traveling to Aruba on 5/12/05, an elderly couple vanished without a trace. We are interested in pushing for congressional hearings on what safety and security procedures exist for customers of travel companies in the Caribbean and South America. We saw no involvement by any type of law enforcement for the final 3 days of our cruise until leaving the ship on 5/15/05 when we were all given flyers about the missing couple. What security/safety plans and or personnel existed to prevent incidents like these in the future and were they followed. Who is in charge of our safety and security? While in St. Maarten, the local people talked to us about the problems caused by the growing drug trade in the islands. The islands seem to be the halfway point for a lot of the drugs coming to the U.S. The increase in the drugs coming through the islands may have caused a sharp increase in crime.
Our hearts go out to all the families who have lost loved ones. I hope to speak on behalf of the thousands of passengers who have suffered indirectly by being on Cruise ships with inadequate safety and security procedures. Our cruise was ruined because of the lack of concern and action by Carnival to assure our safety. We feared for our own safety during the last three days of our cruise. We are sure that crewmembers looked through our drawers and our safe while we were out of the room but we found nothing missing. I also wish to represent the tens of millions of future passengers who could be put at risk if corrective action is not taken. It is important to help solve the individual cases but we need to look at the big picture and work towards prevention. We sent a letter to Senator Levin and Congressman Stupac on July 29, 2005 asking for Congress to get involved. I have left messages asking for status with Mike Noblet at the Senator’s office (202-224-6221) and Jason Walsh at the Congressman’s office (231-348-0657). Mike asked for information from the FBI and Jason contacted the Coast Guard. I also left a message with Matt Meyer at Congressman Shay’s office (202-225-5541) to let him know how to contact Mike and Jason. We believe that congress should have hearings on passenger security and safety while on ship and on shore.
1 - We have created a blog for us to post information about the problem with safety and security on cruises. Hopefully, other people who were on our cruise or other cruises with similar experiences involving lack of security will post information. Feel free to give it out. It is:http://safecruise.blogspot.com
2 – As mentioned on the Scarborough Country, the Cruise Lines are quick to blow off the idea of foul play and point to drinking or suicide as the cause. The elderly couple who vanished were not engaging in any risky behavior, unlike Natalie Halloway and George Smith. There was nothing in their history that pointed toward a double suicide. Their passport and clothes were folded neatly and left by their cabin door.
3 - Coincidentally, our local NBC station had a cruise in January 2005 arranged by a local travel agent. The cruise line cancelled one of their ports of call at the last minute because a couple had gone on a sanctioned shore excursion a few weeks before and disappeared while on shore in Venezuela. This seems to be an ongoing policy by the cruise lines to cover-up crimes and accidents involving their customers.
4 - Six people have vanished from Carnival ships alone in the last year. This does not include George Smith. And it does not include those that have disappeared while on shore excursions or at ports of call. No government or organization maintains statistics on crimes reported by passengers or crewmembers. This must be started.
5 - On a previous show Joe stated that Cruise ships should be required to be flagged in the United States if they have American Ports of call. Unfortunately, this will never happen. They don’t even pay taxes. Will Carnival provide better safety and security for those housed on board the ships contracted by FEMA for six months than they do for regular cruises? It might be worth interviewing some of the people staying on board for several months. Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated for tax purposes in Panama, paid just $3 million in income tax benefits on $1.9 billion in pretax income last year, according to company documents. This is the same as if I made $100,000 last year and only had to pay $75.00 in taxes. "That's not even a tip," said Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. U.S. companies in general pay an effective income tax rate of about 25 percent, analysts say. That would have left Carnival with a $475 million tax bill. No wander the FBI does not want to investigate incidents on Carnival ships. If Carnival paid the $475 million in taxes they should pay, the FBI could afford to have an agent on each cruise to monitor safety and security. (Personally, I believe that state, local, and Federal government agencies should not give any contracts for Hurricane repairs or anything else or do business with any companies that have headquarters outside the United States and funnel their profits off shore to avoid taxes)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9507503
Maybe we should charge them increased fees for each American passenger and use the funds to put a safety and security program in place. Congress should act to assure the safety of all passengers in the future by requiring background checks for some passengers and all crewmembers. Perhaps an "Amber" type alert for everyone on the ship and nearby ships within minutes of someone going overboard. Perhaps a sea Marshall program like the air Marshall program. Vacationing and retired civilian and military law enforcement personnel could have free cruises to help monitor and investigate security and safety problems. They should have authority to deal directly with the FBI or other government agency.
6 - Someone seems to be getting away with murder. If I ran a bar and called 911 to report that a gentleman fell against the wall in the back of the bar, split his head open and died, do you think I could ask them just to send over a hearse and take the body to the morgue? I do not think so, but that is what the cruise line is getting a way with. I will go to jail for tampering with a possible crime scene. Even if it were an accident, I might be liable and I am not the one to make such a judgment. The cruise company seems guilty of aiding and abetting criminals. They are an accessory before and after the fact and should be prosecuted as such. It they are preventing countless crimes and accidents from being solved they are also permitting criminals to go free and commit additional crimes and they are avoiding liability for lax safety and security measures. We must demand through our Congressman that charges be filed against the Cruise lines. They are liable if the destroyed evidence and the crime cannot be investigated. Even if there was no crime they are liable because of safety problems. The only pressure these large corporations might respond to is money. Perhaps if they were sued and forced to refund the fares paid by all passengers on cruises where people disappeared, they might think twice about not following the law. A class action similar to the one filed against the tobacco companies might be in order. They continued to disregard the law and put the health and safety of thousands of passengers at risk and then they conspired to cover it up. A small portion of the proceeds could go as refunds to passengers and to compensate family members of the missing. The balance could go to establish a reporting, monitoring, and compliance mechanism to make them report all crimes and accidents involving passengers and crew members and follow all laws pertaining to preserving crime scenes and evidence and allowing real law enforcement agencies to investigate.
7 - Joe Scarborough had excellent quests on his show. However, the people who do know what actually happened on the ship before, during, and after Mr. Smith's disappearance would be the crew members, including stewards, bartenders, waiters, etc. There’s is always at least a half dozen crewmembers and stewards working each floor at any one time. They watch everyone as they come and go, know their habits and patterns and have access to the cabins. Waiters always know what is going on between guests in a restaurant, bartenders always know intimate details about bar patrons, and hotel staffs always know what is going in the hotel. We could now prove it but we were sure that the stewards were looking through our closets and drawers during our cruise as things would be out of place. We could not find anything specific missing. What kind of background checks are done for crewmembers? The government should also ask for and analyze statistics on the number of crimes and accidents that happen to crewmembers. If the crew is not safe in the under belly of the ship then the passengers will not be safe either. I will bet you that the crewmembers working on the ship when Mr. Smith disappeared have since been fired and their records destroyed. Since 6 people have disappeared from Carnival ships in the last year, I think it would be appropriate to cross check and compare the list of crewmembers and passengers between the ships involved. It is just not those directly involved in the disappearances that are affected. Every passenger on each ship had their vacation ruined by the cruise line ability to ignore common law enforcement and safety procedures. We spend three more days on the sip after the couple disappeared on May 12, and we did not feel safe and we felt a little guilty that not more was done to help them and their families.
TIM ALBRIGHT2600 Deerfield St.WEST BRANCH, MITIMALBRIGHT@HOTMAIL.COM
Will Carnival provide better safety and security for those housed on board the ships contracted by FEMA for six months than they do for regular cruises? It might be worth interviewing some of the people staying on board for several months. Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated for tax purposes in Panama, paid just $3 million in income tax benefits on $1.9 billion in pretax income last year, according to company documents. "That's not even a tip," said Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. U.S. companies in general pay an effective income tax rate of about 25 percent, analysts say. That would have left Carnival with a $475 million tax bill. No wander the FBI does not want to investigate incidents on Carnival ships. If Carnival paid the $475 million in taxes they should pay, the FBI could have an agent on each cruise to monitor safety and security.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9507503
Part of the safety problem might result from the low wages and benefits paid to crews on the ships. With the suspension of the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage act, those working on the ship will not only be non-Americans but they will not receive a decent wage. As the death toll across the Gulf Coast rises, one of the largest reconstruction efforts in American history begins. An estimated 400,000 jobs have been lost, and 1 million Americans have been displaced from their homes. Workers who have found the courage to return to their devastated communities suffered another blow last week when President Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act.
Davis-Bacon ensures that workers who perform similar jobs for government contractors are paid the local prevailing wage. In New Orleans, where a quarter of the residents lived in poverty before Hurricane Katrina, that wage was $8.49 an hour for service workers and slightly above $10 an hour for most construction workers: not an excessive wage by any stretch. In fact, if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be $8.88 today.http://www.suntimes.com/output/letters/cst-edt-vox19a.html
Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which obligates contractors working on federal projects to pay the prevailing wage of the area. It’s $9 an hour in New Orleans and vicinity. The suspension must be sweet to those who have been trying for years to wipe Davis-Bacon off the books. The labor law has been around much longer than the present federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.http://wvgazette.com/section/Business/2005092611
Carnival does not want to see that tax status jeopardized just because three major ships are clearly operating in the United States. After it won the FEMA bid, Carnival appealed to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow for a waiver of U.S. taxes. "We do not want to jeopardize our tax exemption, nor do we want to interrupt our relief efforts for failure to secure this assurance from the Treasury Department," wrote Howard Frank, Carnival's chief operating officer.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9507503
So Carnival wants to keep their tax exempt status, continue to pay their worker's low wages, and employ non-Americans at at time when the most important thing Katrina victims need are decent paying jobs. If Carnival wanted such a sweet deal they should be employing American hurricane victims, paying their fare share of taxes, and providing decent wages and benefits which might help improve safety and security on their ships. Instead of a care package for hurricane victims, it looks like American taxpayers are paying for another dose of corporate welfare. There is a story here somewhere. What do you think?