The tales of discomfort and disgust that emerged after a huge cruise ship was disabled in the Gulf of Mexico were riveting.
Fetid toilets. No ventilation. Hours-long lines for food. It was far from a dream vacation for thousands of passengers.
As wretched as conditions were on the Carnival Triumph, we hope U.S. policymakers are pragmatic in responding to the incident.
The history and nature of maritime travel has led to a regulatory structure that is probably unfamiliar to many. While the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have pieces of this investigation, the main probe is being led by the country where the ship is registered, the Bahamas.
But more broadly, cruise ships fall under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization, a specialized United Nations agency.
So when U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., blusters about deficiencies in cruise line operations and holds Senate hearings on the topic, as he did last year, he isn't being constructive.
And by that we mean the senator whose main complaint seemed to be the cruise lines didn't pay enough in taxes wasn't getting to the heart of the matter.
When you drill down a couple of layers, it turns out the exact problems that occurred on the Carnival Triumph when a fuel oil leak caused an engine room fire were covered by rules the IMO issued in 2010 after a series of ship engine-room fires.
The rules require large cruise ships to have backup propulsion systems, and the ability to operate sanitation, water, food and lighting systems.
However, the rule grandfathered ships built before 2010. The Carnival Triumph was built in 1999. Making those rules applicable to all ships, regardless of construction date, is something the IMO should consider.
It's also arguable the IMO should have greater power to enforce regulations, even though it's unclear at this point whether that's an issue in this case. We do know ship owners must present evidence of seaworthiness and regulatory compliance to insurers in order to get insurance.
While the high-profile nature of this Cruise from Hell has made it the target of late-night television jokes, we hope policymakers offer constructive arguments directed to the right corners of the industry in order to improve safety and comfort for cruise-ship passengers.