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Health, safety history of cruise ships tough for customers to assess

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 6:48 p.m.
A photo provided by passenger Don Hoggatt of Dallas shows the tent city built on the Lido deck of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship for people to spend the day or night in to escape the stench from the lower decks of the disabled ship. AP

MIAMI — A byzantine maze of maritime rules and regulations, 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 in what for many is the vacation of a lifetime.

Want to know about a ship's track record for cleanliness? Want to assess the food preparation? It's not that easy to find, in part because there's no one entity or country that oversees or regulates the industry with its fleet of ships that are like mini-cities floating at sea.

In the case of Carnival Cruise Lines, 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 matrix that is not unusual in the cruise line industry.

For potential passengers seeking ship information, there's 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.

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