By JESSICA GRESKOAssociated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The presidents of Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International defended their industry and their practices to senators Wednesday following two recent high-profile fires that damaged ships.
In February, Carnival's ship Triumph was left without power in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire. Thousands of passengers endured squalid conditions while the ship was towed to Mobile, Ala.
"We really seriously put our guests in an uncomfortable position and that bothers us a great deal," Carnival Cruise Lines President Gerald Cahill acknowledged during the hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He said Carnival is working to add more emergency generators to its two dozen ships as well as to install newer sprinkler systems.
Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International, also testified before the committee. In May, a fire onboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas cut short a cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas. The ship was able to sail under its own power to Freeport.
Goldstein said the company exceeded its obligations in compensating and accommodating guests under a passenger bill of rights the industry adopted in the past year. Among other things, the bill of rights promises refunds for trips canceled due to mechanical failure, and a backup power source on every ship to keep emergency systems running in the event of a main generator failure.
Members of the committee also asked questions about the reporting of crimes on cruise ships. The committee's chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., on Tuesday introduced a bill he's calling the Cruise Passenger Protection Act. The bill would, among other things, set up a toll-free hotline for consumer complaints about cruises and require more data about crimes reported onboard cruise ships to be made available.
Goldstein said that his cruise line and two others have agreed to voluntarily expand their reporting of crimes. He said his company will have that information posted on its website by Aug. 1. Cruise ships are very safe when compared to communities and destinations on land, he said, but Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, disagreed and cited statistics.
Rockefeller, meanwhile, questioned whether the industry is "seriously working to improve the safety and security of its ships."
"Is the industry really trying to adopt a culture of safety? Or are these safety reviews and temporary investments a cynical effort to counter bad publicity?" he asked in opening the hearing.
The committee last held a hearing on the cruise industry in March 2012. That hearing followed the grounding and capsizing of Carnival's Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, an accident in which 32 people died.
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