Lawmakers seek cruise passenger protection in wake of Greenwich - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Lawmakers seek cruise passenger protection in wake of Greenwich man's disappearance

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GREENWICH, CT (WFSB) -

Lawmakers and the family of a man who disappeared on a cruise ship are calling for more safety requirements.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined the family of George Smith IV on Tuesday to plead for federal action to improve safety measures and consumer protections for cruise passengers.

Blumenthal and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015.

They said it would mandate all ships to install modern safety technology and require consumer protection measures for passengers who are victims of crime or require medical attention.

Smith, of Greenwich, disappeared 10 years ago while aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise, according to his family. Smith was a 26-year-old newlywed on his honeymoon through Europe with his bride when he went overboard into the Aegean Sea.

His family believes he was murdered by a group he met on the ship after a night of drinking and gambling.

Witnesses said they heard a loud argument coming from Smith's cabin and the next morning, blood was found on the life boat canopy below Smith's room, but no charges were ever filed.

The family is still offering a $100,000 reward. The hope is that if new information surfaces, investigators will take another look at the case.

"Its time that something be done. Its gone on too long. 10 years of our life," said George Smith III, whose son disappeared.

Blumenthal said it was a tragedy that could have been avoided with what’s called “man overboard detection technology.”

“Although 10 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,” Blumenthal said. “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 — cannot be further delayed.”

He said the bill also designates the Department of Transportation as the lead agency for passengers.

Smith’s family maintained that he was murdered.

“His murder investigation has resulted in no arrests and no indictments,” said Bree Smith, George Smith’s sister. “The lack of answers and justice for George is a perfect example of why the Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2015 is so important.”

Blumenthal said that since Jan. 2015, 12 passengers have fallen overboard on cruise ships.

U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui of California and Ted Poe of Texas said they’ll introduce the bill to the House of Representatives.

Here’s what the bill would do:

  • 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.

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