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Rockefeller introduces cruise industry reform bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who has been a vocal critic of the U.S. cruise industry, introduced a bill to tighten the industry's consumer protection and crime reporting regulations.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., unveiled The Cruise Passenger Protection Act of 2013 Tuesday, one day before he chairs a hearing that will look into the industry's safety practices.

"This bill is the only way we're going to make consumer awareness and protection a priority, since the cruise industry seems to refuse to take action on its own," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said the bill will provide the nearly 21 million Americans who plan to take a cruise this year with critical information about the limited scope of their current consumer protections and would take steps to improve accountability in the industry.

Rockefeller has been vocal in his criticism of the industry since a fire crippled the Carnival Triumph cruise ship in February. The fire left 4,200 people stranded in harsh conditions in the Gulf of Mexico for five days.

In addition to criticizing the company's safety policies, Rockefeller has said the cruise industry exploits loopholes that allow companies to book profits offshore and avoid paying U.S. taxes.

The new bill would make the U.S. Department of Transportation the lead federal agency responsible for cruise industry consumer protection. The department would be required to establish a victim advocate, who can provide assistance to cruise passengers.

Cruise companies would also be required to establish plain-language summaries of passenger rights and limitations during cruises. It would also make data on all crimes alleged on cruise ships available to the public.

In addition to creating a toll-free hotline for consumer complaints, the bill also sets up the Advisory Committee for Passenger Vessel Consumer Protection, which would make recommendations to existing consumer protection programs and services.

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