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Cruise industry pressed on safety

Survivors of shipwreck off Italy’s coast testify

At a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday looking into the deadly Costa Concordia cruise ship accident, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV called for improved safety regulations and more environmental protection - and also criticized the cruise industry for not paying enough taxes.

"You are a world unto yourself," the West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation told representatives of the industry after hearing testimony from survivors of the Jan. 13 shipwreck off the Italian coast that claimed the lives of at least 25. Seven people are still missing.

"The reports from the survivors of the Costa Concordia do not inspire confidence in the industry's ability to respond to a major accident," Mr. Rockefeller said.

Christine Duffy, CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, appeared before the committee to defend the industry, which she said pumped $37.9 billion into the U.S. economy in 2010.

"Safety is the cruise industry's No. 1 one priority," she said.

She told the committee that in response to the Concordia accident, CLIA started a review of industry safety polices and had already voluntarily moved to improve safety.

Last February, the cruise industry initiated a new policy for conducting muster drills - drills to prepare for the evacuation of the ship. Under the new rules, cruise ships will conduct muster drills before leaving port, improving on the current legal requirement that ships conduct the drill within 24 hours of departure.

But a passenger on the Costa Concordia, Geoffrey Scimone, told lawmakers the crew of the ship did not conduct a muster drill, only showing a safety video followed by a sales pitch.

Mr. Rockefeller, drawing a parallel to the automobile industry, said the cruise industry was not likely to clean up its act unless the federal government steps in.

"We fined them and we went after them, even though we are thrilled that they are coming out of a recession," he said.

Mr. Rockefeller criticized the dumping of solid waste at sea. It's an issue that "gets to me," he said, talking about "islands" of waste floating in the ocean.

Ms. Duffy said that a clean environment is vital to the cruise industry's business model and that the industry is using greener ships and cutting down on emissions. "Clean oceans and beaches are essential to the cruise experience, she said.

Mr. Rockefeller said the industry relies on the services of 20 government agencies to operate, from the Coast Guard to customs officials, but "you are not, evidentially, willing to pay for that."

He said Carnival, the largest company in the industry, pays only 1.1 percent in state, local and federal taxes.

Ms. Duffy said that the industry follows what it is legally obligated to pay.

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