07/26/2013 07:14 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

Cruise Control: Giving Cruise Passengers the Safety and Protections They Need and Deserve

This Wednesday, I held a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee to take a closer look at serious safety gaps in the cruise industry.

I believe the culture of safety that Americans expect - as they should - is clearly not always a priority for cruise lines. Cruise ships on fire and drifting at sea tend to make headlines, and we know how they impact passengers. But crimes committed against individual passengers on cruise ships, which are just as concerning to me, are rarely - if ever - reported.

Nearly 21 million Americans plan to take a cruise this year. And I understand why. Cruise lines offer an alluring fun-filled, once in a lifetime vacation. But the recent string of serious incidents, and the consumer protection gaps that we uncovered through tough oversight of the industry, have shown that these dream vacations cruise lines sell to passengers are not always as advertised. Rather, some passengers encounter serious issues while travelling aboard cruise ships.

Before someone purchases a cruise vacation, I think they should know the potential risks of this purchase. I believe consumers need to know the true number of crimes reported on cruise ships, the limited consumer protections that exist, and safety issues that the industry has been facing.

I have been reviewing the industry for a while now and uncovered some sobering details. The reality is, according to a report I released during this week's hearing, the number of alleged crimes cruise lines have reported to the FBI since 2011 is 30 times higher than the number of crimes the FBI is required to report publicly.

The public face critical hurdles to access this important cruise ship crime and safety data on their own. This means there's no way to find out what the real risks are before booking a cruise. And crimes committed against minors are not publicly reported at all. It's deeply concerning to me that parents can't access any data about crimes and sexual assaults against minors on cruise ships.

Our exhaustive oversight of the cruise industry, and the recent events that have left thousands stranded at sea, made it absolutely clear that more needed to be done. So, I took action.

This week, I introduced new legislation, the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, to make common-sense consumer protection improvements in the cruise industry. Consumers deserve to know what rights and protections they have and, more importantly, don't have, once aboard their cruise ship.

This bill would also close the gap between crime reporting requirements, so consumers can know the total number of alleged crimes committed on cruise ships. My staff reviewed the FBI data that isn't publicly available and discovered information that everyone should know.

Since 2011, cruise lines have reported 130 alleged crimes to the FBI, while only 31 alleged crimes were reported publicly. This means the number of alleged crimes the cruise lines reported is over four times what is publicly reported. (See chart below.)

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Rest assured, I will be working with my colleagues to move this bill forward. If the cruise industry refuses to make sure passengers are safe on their cruise ships, I will do it for them. Cruise ship passengers deserve an industry that makes the safety and protection of passengers its foremost priority.

In case you missed it, check out coverage of crime on cruises from NBC Nightly News. Click here.