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Professor testifies at U.S. Senate hearings

By Laura Woodford

Dr. Ross Klein, professor at the School of Social Work, received a request from John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, recently to testify at the hearing Oversight of the Cruise Industry. The hearing took place on Thursday, March 1, in Washington, D. C.

According to a press release from the Democratic Press Office in Washington, in light of the recent accident involving the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, the oversight hearings on Capitol Hill were set up to review whether current cruise ship industry regulations sufficiently protect passengers and the environment.

Well known as an international authority on the subject, Dr. Klein has been inundated with international media requests in the aftermath of the Concordia disaster.

"For an industry that continually says they're the safest mode of commercial transportation, there are significant safety and security issues," said Dr. Klein. "Environmental issues must be looked at as well."

One of five witnesses asked to testify, including the president and chief executive officer of Cruise Lines International Association, the seaport director for the Port of Miami, the director of maritime relations for NEXUS Consulting Corp., and the deputy commandant for operations for the U.S. Coast Guard, Dr. Klein says the invitation was "quite an honour."

He hopes the hearing will "wake legislators up to the fact that there needs to be greater oversight and regulation of this industry."

He says that despite the industry's safety claims, travellers need to be aware that things can go wrong on a cruise ship vacation, just like anywhere else.

Hearings are normally held by one of the Senate committee's sub-committees, according to Dr. Klein, so having this type of general oversight hearing, or full committee hearing – something that hasn't happened in more than 10 years – before the full Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is a testament to the seriousness of a wide range of issues related to the cruise industry.

In addition to his prepared testimony, Dr. Klein was asked by the committee chairperson to comment on the background and implications of the Death on the High Seas Act that does not apply to deaths on cruise ships. He also responded to a question regarding the cost to the U.S. Treasury of searching for a person overboard – more than $830,000 – and the fact that the expense is not reimbursed by the cruise industry, which does not pay any corporate tax in the U.S. Another question he answered was regarding the problem of illness outbreaks on cruise ships, and another was about how arbitration clauses in worker contracts "kill" U.S. jobs.

Dr. Klein's testimony, along with those of the other witnesses, will be widely distributed to the public, media and the industry. The hearing was webcast live. The archived webcast can be viewed at http://commerce.senate.gov/public.

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