In the wake of the Carnival Triumph incident, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Jay Rockefeller are putting increasing pressure on Carnival Corp. and the cruise industry over passenger safety and tax issues.

Schumer called on the Cruise Lines International Association March 18 to voluntary accept a cruise passengers bill of rights that would include the right to debark disabled ships in port, and provide standards for things such as back-up generators and medical personnel staffing.

Carnival Corp. wields a lot of power within the cruise industry organization.

The cruise initiative has some parallels to the DOT’s tarmac delay rules for airline passengers, although in the case of the cruise industry, the U.S. government has little jurisdiction since cruise lines are “foreign-flagged.”

Schumer’s staff in recent weeks has met with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. representative to the International Maritime Organization, the cruise regulatory body, to discuss ways to beef up provisions for redundant power on board cruise ships and to ensure there are qualified medical personnel on every sailing.

“In recent weeks, we’ve met with the Coast Guard and representatives from the International Maritime Organization as we work to ensure that American passengers on cruise ships have basic rights, and that vacations don’t turn into nightmares,” Matt House, a Schumer spokesperson, tells Skift. “We’re working closely with Senator Rockefeller to ensure that travelers have access to medical personnel, ships have adequate backup power, and that authorities conduct tough inspections to ensure ships are safe.”

Schumer is working on some of these issues with Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Rockefeller wrote a letter March 14 to Carnival Corp. CEO Micky Arison challenging the cruise line’s safety record, and inquiring whether Carnival intended to reimburse the Coast Guard and Navy for their assistance in what Rockefeller claimed were some “90 marine casualty incidents” involving the Carnival fleet in a five-year span.

Yesterday, Rockefeller told Skift that Carnival’s response to his letter was “shameful.”

“Carnival’s response to my detailed inquiry is shameful,” Rockefeller said. “It is indisputable that Carnival passengers deserve better emergency response measures than they experienced on the Triumph. I am considering all options to hold the industry to higher passenger safety standards.”

In March 29 letters to Rockefeller, Carnival essentially indicated that it had no intent to reimburse the government for sea rescues and will honor the maritime tradition where all parties are bound to come to the aid of ships in need. Carnival cited an example late last month where the Carnival Breeze diverted from its schedule and did just that.

In addition, Carnival noted that the cruise industry pays hundreds of millions of dollars annually in fees and taxes tied to U.S. port calls.

Carnival touted its safety record, noted it is conducting a fleet-wide review in response to the Carnival Triumph incident, and calculated that there were only seven serious safety incidents out of Rockefeller’s stated 90.

Despite Schumer’s and Rockefeller’s interchanges with Carnival and the cruise industry, it remains to be seen whether their actions will bring about any meaningful change or whether this is just politicians grabbing headlines.

Rockefeller is believed to be considering options ranging from committee hearings to legislation, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.

And, some people close to Schumer argue that it is too soon to see exactly how things will play out.

Meanwhile, CLIA, the cruise industry trade group, indicates it is looking forward to additional dialogue with Schumer over the cruise passenger bill of rights.

The association is very sensitive to how it is being portrayed in Washington, and wants to be portrayed as being cooperative with and open to the Senate’s concerns.

Carnival apparently has a testy relationship with Rockefeller; Arison noted in his March 29 letter to Rockefeller that the two had a “frank discussion” a year ago over tax issues.

Neither CLIA nor Carnival have given any ground to the Senate’s two cruise buddies to date.

Photo Credit: There were temporary disruptions on board the Carnival Dream March 14 in Philipsburgh, Saint Maarten, when a back-up generator malfunctioned. Reuters