CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cruises across oceans, along rivers and inside bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea are popular among tourists throughout the world.
Cruises are also raising increasing concerns, in the wake of recent accidents that led to passenger deaths and serious environmental contaminations.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has been holding Senate hearings and investigations into problems and public concerns about cruise lines.
Rockefeller recently directed special attention to "90 marine-casualty incidents that the Coast Guard has investigated onboard Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ships" over the past five years.
Last month, Rockefeller mentioned problems related to the Carnival Dream, a cruise ship that got stranded in a Caribbean port without power with thousands of passengers trapped onboard.
Rockefeller also expressed concerns about the recent Carnival Triumph engine room fire that left more than 4,000 passengers and crew members stranded at sea in February, enduring "unbearable living conditions."
Since that fire which disabled the ship's main power lines and left it dead in the water, Carnival has canceled 26 different voyages on the Triumph.
Two voyages, scheduled to begin on June 3 and June 8, were cancelled on Friday. Carnival also announced it is moving the Triumph from Mobile, Ala. to the Bahamas to complete needed repair work.
Carnival officials announced this week that they would spend $300 million on a program to improve fire safety and engine rooms and add generators to the company's 24 cruise ships.
Carnival said the first phase of improvements involves installing an additional emergency generator on every ship to ensure operation of safety equipment and services like plumbing, fresh water and elevators in a power loss, The Associated Press reported. The extra temporary generators will eventually be replaced by permanent generators.
Carnival is also installing high-pressure upgraded water mist systems on all ships to improve fire safety. All of those measures will be completed in 18 months, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill said in a phone call Wednesday, the AP reported.
In February, the U.S. Coast Guard spent nearly $780,000 responding to the Carnival Triumph problems. Initially, Carnival also declined to reimburse the Coast Guard for those expenses.
After learning Carnival reversed its position and promised to reimburse the government for those expenses, Rockefeller said, "I'm glad to see that Carnival owned up to the bare minimum of corporate responsibility by reimbursing federal taxpayers for these two incidents.
"I am still committed to making sure the cruise industry as a whole pays its fair share in taxes, complies with strict safety standards, and holds the safety of its passengers above profits."
Rockefeller asked for detailed information about Carnival's cruise ship problems in a March 14 letter he sent to Micky Arison, CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Carnival Corp.
"I see no evidence that the company has undertaken any meaningful course of corrective action to improve its safety record," Rockefeller wrote to Arison. "It seems that Carnival has failed to take any meaningful course of action after these continual incidents. This needs to change."
Ted Lawson, CEO of National Travel in Charleston, said, "Overall, the cruise lines have done very well and have served the vacationing public very well.
"Carnival is the company that made cruising available to Middle America. Back in the 1980s, they are the ones who created the fun ships. Bob Dickerson, their president at the time, was very consumer-oriented," Lawson said. But he acknowledged Carnival has "had some misfortunes" of late.
"Fortunately, no one lost their lives on the Triumph. There were 4,000 people on board," Lawson said. "These things will happen if you are not constantly vigilant about maintenance and back-up systems."
He said National Travel in Charleston sells a lot of cruises on Carnival and Princess, another cruise line also owned by Carnival.
Joann Lambert, whose husband George owns Jolly Travelers in St. Albans, said that in the wake of recent problems, her company did not get enough travelers for an upcoming trip that included a cruise.
"People got scared," she said, referring to recent problems by cruise lines.
But Lambert said, "We will schedule another one next year. We are not worried about it."