Death at sea spurs call for legislation
May 20. 2009
Louise Horton's daughter died after falling off a cruise ship. Now she wants Congress to pass legislation to mandate the reporting of crimes at sea.
Cruise line advertisements focus on the fabulous accommodations and wonderful destinations that await those who come aboard the ocean-bound resorts.But there's a dangerous side to cruising that Louise Horton of Bordentown City, N.J., wants would-be travelers to understand. She's pushing for Congress to pass legislation that would require cruise lines that dock in the United States to report certain crimes that occur at sea to the Coast Guard and FBI and make safety and security improvements to their ships.Although cruise lines say they already report crimes voluntarily, Horton, whose daughter died after falling overboard from a cruise ship last May, is convinced many crimes and incidents go unreported and uninvestigated because they would result in poor publicity for the multibillion dollar industry.
"The public isn't aware about what goes on. You'd be surprised how many crimes are committed," Horton said Wednesday.
Legislation mandating the crime reporting and safety improvements was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate this month by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts.
In addition to requiring crime reporting, the legislation would mandate that guard rails aboard liners must be a minimum 54 inches high and make ship owners install technology to detect when passengers fall overboard. It also would mandate that cabin doors have peep holes, security latches and time sensitive key technology and that all ships carry rape kits and have a licensed medical practitioner to perform examinations.
Horton believes the federal oversight of cruise lines is long overdue, adding her daughter's death gives her a personal stake in the fight.Horton's daughter, Mindy Jordan, 46, fell off the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn on May 11, just a few hours after she and her boyfriend, Jorge Caputo, boarded the Bermuda-bound vessel in New York City.Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Lines said its investigation indicated Jordan, a Lenape High School graduate who grew up in Mount Laurel, fell from the ship after she tried to climb from one balcony to another on a windy night.
The cruise line said surveillance video cameras captured her fall and she was alone in her cabin just prior to the incident.Horton and other members of Jordan's family have expressed doubts about the cruise line's reports, saying Jordan was too small to fall over a railing and unlikely to risk climbing one.The FBI investigated the incident but found no immediate evidence that a crime was committed. Horton said the case remains open.The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching a spokesman for the FBI's New York office for comment Thursday.Horton is not convinced her daughter's death was an accident, but believes some simple safety improvements might save lives in the future.
"I want to improve ship safety," Horton said. "Peep holes on doors and higher railings are very simple measures."
Ken Carver, president of International Cruise Victims, said cruise ships have managed to skirt federal oversight largely because most are based in foreign countries and because the ships enter international waters once they are 7 miles off the coast.
"What we're looking for is transparency, but cruise lines are unwilling to release [data about] the crimes that occur on their ships" said Carver, whose daughter disappeared during an Alaska cruise in 2004. "Go to Atlantic City and you can find out exactly how many crimes occur in Trump Casino, but you can't get that for a cruise ship."
The Cruise Line International Association said in a statement that safety and security aboard cruise ships are a top priority."Serious crimes aboard cruise ships are very rare, however, even one incident is too many. We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to crime and have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to ensure passengers are safe while enjoying their cruise vacations."