After the Costa Concordia wrecked off the Tuscany coast in January, killing 32 people, lobby spending by its corporate parent soared.
Carnival’s lobby bill in Washington last quarter totaled $522,000 – three times the amount spent the prior quarter.
In its lobby reports to Congress, the company listed three areas of concern: unearned passenger revenue (advance payments for voyages), emission control and cruise ship safety.
Beyond the reach of any one nation, the industry has long operated without substantial government oversight:
- Another disaster, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, led to an international treaty for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The agreement has been amended many times since its passage in 1914, and is now under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization. However, enforcement is left up to member governments.
- The U.S. Coast Guard regulates cruise ships in U.S. ports, inspecting them at least twice a year for compliance with SOLAS and other standards.
- Congress passed legislation in 2010 on cruise ship safety. However, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act focused more on crimes at sea than on ship safety.
- The Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group based in Florida, also sets safety measures.
Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line company, is a member. Last year the association spent $1.9 million lobbying in Washington.
Altogether, the sea transport sector spent $28.6 million lobbying in Washington last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Spending in the first quarter of 2012 was almost $6.8 million.
In its lobbying reports, Carnival did not cite activity on any specific legislation. It listed contacts with the House, Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Maritime Commission.
After the disaster, the company announced its own “comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures.”
Micky Arison, the billionaire majority owner of Carnival, issued a statement after the disaster, expressing sadness at the loss of life.
Cruise Lines International also launched a review and issued a new emergency drill policy.
The wreck has not resulted in new U.S. legislation calling for heightened safety regulations.
George Wright, a senior vice president of Carnival subsidiary Princess Cruises, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in February that the company maintained strict safety measures on its ships, as well as qualification requirements for captains and other deck officers.
Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International, told the Senate panel that the industry generated $37.8 billion in U.S. economic benefits in 2010, including almost 330,000 jobs.
In the decade before the Costa Concordia disaster, she said, 28 people died on cruise ships because of operational problems. Of those deaths, 22 were crew members and six were passengers.
“Quite simply, Americans are extremely safe at sea today,” she said. “In many ways … they are even safer in the well-protected environment of a cruise ship than they are on land.”
Safety regulations aren’t the industry’s sole regulatory concern.
Its lobbyists have also worked to block rules requiring ships to reduce pollution in coastal areas. Duffy’s organization has proposed an averaging plan that would enable ships to vary emissions according to weather, location and other factors.
The new EPA rules are scheduled to take effect in August.