Cruise Vessel and Security Act aims to improve passenger safety

By Jean West - bio | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Peepholes in every cabin door, security cameras on deck, and rails 42 inches tall or high are some of the changes you will see after next year if you take a cruise on a ship from a U.S. port.

Those are all requirements set out by a new cruise ship safety bill signed into law by President Obama in July of 2010. The bill sponsored by Sen. John Kerry and California Congresswoman Doris Matsui also states that every ship will have rape kits and anti-retroviral medication, and a "trained forensic sexual assault specialist" on board.

Crime doesn't happen often on cruise ships, but it does happen. And prosecution becomes complex if the crime occurs in international waters. The bill, called The Cruise Vessel and Security Act, requires cruise personnel to contact the Coast Guard and the FBI as soon as passengers report a crime.

You may have seen recent news stories documenting cruise ship troubles. In December of 2010 a ship was battered by waves off the coast of Argentina, and some passengers suffered minor injuries.

A month earlier, in November, a cruise ship was stranded for days off the coast of San Diego after a fire on board caused a power failure.

These stories had me wondering what kinds of medical facilities are available on board in the event of an emergency, medical or otherwise. Since our family had booked a holiday cruise, I decided to use that opportunity to investigate.

We were booked on the Norwegian Spirit out of New Orleans sailing to the Western Caribbean. Once on board, I was given the VIP treatment and allowed to view behind the scenes activities as well as a tour of the ship's emergency and medical facilities.

I was pleasantly surprised to find on board: two doctors, three nurses, a fully equipped emergency room capable of handling most emergencies, exam rooms, a three bed intensive care unit, a full service operating room with x-rays, intravenous equipment, and a full pharmacy – all ready to serve both crew and passengers.

It was also ironic that our ship was late in arriving at the port of New Orleans, because during the cruise right before ours, a person had a heart attack on board, and the ship had to be diverted off course to the nearest U.S. shore so that the person could be airlifted to a hospital.

According to the cruise industry (Cruise Line International Association), cruising is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. Industry estimates say more than 14 million people will chooses going on a cruise as their choice of vacation.

And the industry claims to generate more than 300,000 jobs.

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