Be sensible when you hit the seven seas

Syndicated columnist Diane Dimond last week wrote her entire column about crime on the seven seas.

Dimond, whose typical columns, published on Thursday’s Tribune Chronicle opinion page, deal with crime and punishment — often sexual assaults — last week was talking about crime on cruise ships.

Now, that’s not a topic I particularly wanted to read, since later this year my family and I will be heading out to sea for respite, sunshine and sightseeing in the Caribbean. But, in my business, I know the importance of reading and being educated on even upsetting information.

And given the vast number of travelers enjoying ocean cruises these days (MarketWatch says nearly 24 million people will take a cruise this year), I figured further exploration of this topic might be of interest to you.

A cruise ship carries an average of 3,000 passengers. Mix in the likelihood of adult beverages and hot weather, and you might have a recipe for disaster.

Like anything, caution, awareness and common sense are keys to a safe voyage.

Still, some federal legislators are hoping they can help improve the odds of a peaceful trip. The Cruise Passenger Protection Act was introduced in recent months by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-California, Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, in the House, and Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in the Senate.

If passed, it would strengthen passenger safety measures already spelled out in the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. Generally, the bill strengthens crime reporting and video surveillance requirements, improves medical standards and holds cruise lines responsible for deaths at sea.

It would ensure a ship’s owner notifies the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident, or sooner if still in port, and require ships to report alleged offenses involving a U.S. national to the U.S. Consulate in the next port.

It would require video surveillance in common areas and allow access to the videos for civil action.

It requires use of technology to capture images and detect when a passenger has fallen overboard.

It creates medical standards requiring a physician and medical staff be present and available for passengers; that crew members receive basic life support training; that automated defibrillators are accessible; and the initial safety briefing includes important emergency medical and safety information.

It ensures that if a U.S. passenger dies aboard a vessel, next of kin could request the vessel to return the deceased to the U.S. and ensures families of victims may pursue fair compensation after a death on the high sea. That’s the same rights as airline passengers.

To me, none of these items seem unreasonable.

Beyond that, here are a few travel tips offered for cruise passengers by AAA Travel Club:

All cruise passengers, even seasoned cruisers, should pay full attention during the ship’s safety drill, required to occur during the first 24 hours of departure.

Register all international travel with the U.S. Department of State’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at This will enable the State Department to provide better assistance in an emergency.

Travel with a small waterproof pack that can be easily secured around the body in the event of an evacuation. The pack should include, passports, cash including local currency, credit card, medications, small flashlight, cell phone, nutrition bars and a bottle of water if possible. Prepare the pack upon boarding the ship so it’s immediately accessible in the event of an emergency.

And, of course, don’t let common sense take a vacation.

That means, avoiding participation in risky behaviors like excessive consumption of alcohol and admitting strangers to your cabin. Always report concerns to ship security.

For sure, cruises are relaxing and enjoyable, but personal safety is a consideration while on a cruise vacation, just like it is at home or when traveling on land.

Bon voyage!