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U.S. AGENCY CALLS FOR NEW, TIGHTER SAFETY RULES ABOARD CRUISE SHIPS SERVING AMERICAN PORTS

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A U.S. safety agency has called for tighter safety regulations aboard the many foreign cruise ships that call on American ports.

The some 100 foreign flag cruise ships that now serve American ports are not covered by the generally tight American safety regulations imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard.An official of the National Transportation Safety Board, which issued the recommendations, said that "as a U.S. citizen, when you get on a foreign ship, you're on your own."

He said many foreign passenger vessels do not have modern radar, life preservers or jackets, smoke detectors or even crew that understand English.

Foreign ships serve many U.S. East and West Coast ports, making cruises in the Caribbean or from California through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast.

They are under foreign flags so they can hire non-American crews for cheaper wages.

Only three American cruise ships call on U.S. ports, all in Hawaii, and they are covered by tight Coast Guard safety regulations.

Many of the recommendations issued by the board, which did not identify any of the foreign carriers, could be implemented by the Coast Guard, officials said, but others would need legislation giving the Coast Guard new powers to regulate foreign shipping.

Many foreign ships have safety standards on a par with U.S. safety standards 15 years ago.

The agency spokesman added that since more than 80 percent of the world's cruise ships tap the lucrative American market, it was imperative the United States take the lead in tightening up world safety standards.

Foreign ships would have to comply with the tightened Coast Guard regulations and any new legislation as a condition of being able to call on U.S. ports.

The recommendations also ask the International Maritime Organization, an U.N. body, to draft regulations for emergency evacuation of disabled ships and to train crew to fight fires and to take other action to improve their regulations.

The board also called on the governor and legislative leaders of Washington State to improve their oversight of the many ferry boats that operate off the state to assure safety is not jeopardized by the crew fatigue.