Passengers aboard the stricken Carnival Triumph cruise ship do not have the same compensation rights afforded air travelers when similar emergencies strike.
The reason is that the cruising industry is not as strictly regulated as the airline industry, which is overseen by the US Department of Transportation. The cruising industry is under the Federal Maritime Commission, which mainly deals with safety and not consumer issues.
Moreover, leading industry operators like Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean incorporate their vessels in foreign countries like Liberia, Honduras, Panama, or the Bahamas, which allows them to avoid paying US federal taxes and following a long slate of regulations governing health, safety, and labor practices.
The result is that the industry largely regulates itself, critics say, which is not always favorable to the consumer. Fires, power outages, and vessels going adrift, are hazards passengers can face without reprisal.
"Each of these issues requires urgent attention from both the industry and regulators," Ross Klein, a researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, wrote in the Seattle Times last April. "Because most accidents are avoidable – related either to human error or to allowing ships out of port with unresolved mechanical issues – there is a need for much greater oversight of the industry and stricter enforcement of safety standards."