Safety history of cruise ships difficult to assess

A labyrinthine maze of maritime rules, fragmented oversight and a patchwork quilt of nations that do business with cruise lines make it tough for consumers to assess the health and safety record of the ship they’re about to board.

Want to know about a ship’s cleanliness record? Food safety? Virus outbreaks? It’s difficult to find, partly because there is no one entity or country that regulates the industry with its fleet of ships that are like floating mini-cities.

In the case of Carnival Cruise Lines, according to the Associate Press, the owner of the Carnival Triumph that spent days in the Gulf of Mexico disabled by an engine fire, the company is incorporated in Panama, its offices are based in Miami, and its ships fly under the Bahamian flag — a combination that is not unusual in the cruise line industry.

For potential passengers seeking information, there is no central database that can be viewed to determine a track record of safety or health inspections. No one agency regulates everything from the cruise line’s mechanical worthiness to the sanitation of its kitchens.

These are not new issues — they had been raised in Congress before the Triumph incident.

“This horrible situation involving the Carnival Triumph is just the latest example in a long string of serious and troubling incidents involving cruise ships,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who led a committee hearing on cruise safety last year.

Your best bet? Talk to an experienced travel agent who specializes in cruises, and do your homework on-line!