Speaks on panel assessing consumer protection in industry
MUN professor and world cruise ship expert Ross Klein is shown in a file photo. Klein testified before a U.S. Senate committee this week on the safety of the world cruise ship industry. — Photo by Chris Hammond/ Courtesy Cruisejunkie.com
Ross Klein’s interest in cruise ships as a research subject initially came about through trips he took with his wife. The first such trip happened in 1992.
“As a sociologist, I would go on and as I started spending time, I would see the contradiction between how cruises sold themselves, how they projected their image, and what was the reality,” said Klein.
Now, the Memorial University School of Social Work professor is frequently consulted on matters related to cruise lines, and yesterday he appeared before a U.S. Senate committee tasked with assessing the need for enhanced consumer protection in the industry.
Klein served on a witness panel that included the CEOs for Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. They appeared before the Senate’s committee on commerce, science, and transportation. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, requested Klein’s presence.
“It’s a whole different experience than teaching in a classroom,” said Klein, who chatted with The Telegram Wednesday evening from his hotel room in Washington.
It marked Klein’s third appearance before a Senate committee in Washington — he’s also appeared before a House of Representatives committee. Each panel witness offered a five-minute oral presentation, after which the hearing proceeded as a discussion amongst those present. It lasted for more than two hours.
As Klein sees it, there are a lot of service issues cropping up in relation to the cruise industry. He appeared before the same committee last March.
At that time, he said industry representatives assured the committee that recent high-profile mishaps were an anomaly.
“The problem is that in the 16 months since those hearings, it isn’t that there have been less incidents or problems, but rather there have been more.”
By his count, since the beginning of 2013 there have been three cruise ships that have run aground, five that have caught fire, two collisions, 19 with mechanical problems, 10 with cancelled port calls or itinerary changes, six delayed starts or finishes, two cruises where passengers were bumped, and eight with failed health inspections.
“Nobody else keeps track of the kinds of things I keep track of,” he said.
Klein suggests social media has played a role in increasing awareness about such incidents. But he also believes there has been an increase in visible incidents that cannot help but attract widespread attention, citing the recent case of the Carnival Triumph, a cruise ship that went adrift on the Mobile River for several days after it caught fire. It was eventually towed to port.
“The other part is that the media is picking up on these (incidents) and reporting on them,” he said.
The cruise industry introduced its passenger bill of rights in May, but Klein suggests it offers no real form of protection. He is more optimistic about a proposed Cruise Passenger Protection Act, co-sponsored by Rockefeller and Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“Much of my written testimony supports every one of the elements of that act, so I could see that act, ideally, becoming law,” said Klein.
Klein estimates he spent 100 hours preparing for Wednesday’s hearing. His written testimony for the hearing was 80 pages, and he expects to receive further questions to respond to in writing in the days ahead based on past experience with U.S. Senate hearings.
“Last time I did that, I probably had 15 or 20 questions for the record.”
Aside from helping organizations with an interest in improved consumer protection within the cruise line industry, Klein sees his participation in such hearings as a great opportunity to increase MUN’s visibility.
“I’m not only the only academic coming to these hearings. Canadians just don’t get invited, because it’s the U.S. (Senate), and my being here I think gives the university visibility and international stature, which I think is good stuff.”