A popular part of Cruise Law News is the monthly "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award. This is a special award, reserved only for the cruise line which demonstrates the worst treatment of passengers, crew members, and the environment.
And the Winner for October Is . . . Royal Caribbean Cruises.
A Little Background Info on Royal Caribbean Cruises
Miami based Royal Caribbean Cruises is the second largest cruise line in the world, consisting of four brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and its luxury line - Azamara Cruises. It also operates its Spanish Subsidiary - Pullmantour Cruises, where it sends its old cruise ships like the Zenith and the Sovereign of the Seas.
Like other U.S. based cruise lines, Royal Caribbean registered its business overseas (Liberia) and flagged its cruise ships in foreign countries (Liberia, Bahamas) in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Although it collects between $5 and $6 billion a year from U.S. tax-paying citizens, Royal Caribbean does not pay U.S. taxes by virtue of its foreign corporate citizenship. Its crew members are 99% non-U.S. citizens.
A Multi-Billion Dollar Corporation Which Pays Its Crew Members Peanuts
Royal Caribbean crew members who toil behind the scenes, like galley cleaners, earn around $550 while working 360 hours a month - that's about $1.50 an hour. Yes, that's right - $1.50 an hour. Royal Caribbean has a net worth of around $15 billion dollars, but pays its hardest working crew members $1.50 an hour.
Royal Caribbean waiters, bartenders, and cabin attendants earn a salary of only $50 a month. That's $1.67 a day. The cruise line depends on its passengers to tip the crew members so that they can make a living.
Royal Caribbean invests virtually nothing into its crew members by way of medical treatment or employment benefits. It is always looking for ways to save money at the expense of its crew. Royal Caribbean is struggling to finance its + $1,500,000,000 (yes that's 1.5 $billion) cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas. Its inaugural cruise is in just two weeks but it cannot even sell enough tickets to make its first voyage profitable. And Royal Caribbean is sweating bullets figuring out how it will finance the even more expensive cruise ship Allure of the Seas, which will be arriving next year.
So how does Royal Caribbean plan to pay for its two + $3,000,000,000 "Monsters of the Seas?"
Royal Caribbean started pinching pennies with its crew members when it realized that the economy was tanking. Its stock fell from $45 a share to under $6 a share, and it became obvious that it could not meet its financial obligations for its new mega cruise ships it ordered several years earlier. Long before Royal Caribbean turned its back on its most loyal passengers - its Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers - the cruise line targeted its crew members to try and suck money back into its business.
As I mentioned in a prior article "Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft,' Royal Caribbean has been giving the screws to its foreign crew members, particularly the men and women from the Caribbean islands. The cruise line slashed the daily amount it pays to its sick or injured crew members from $25 a day to only $12 a day. Obviously, no one in the world can eat and pay rent and other living expenses - which is the cruise line's legal obligation - on a pittance of only $12 a day. But this is what Royal Caribbean is doing, scrimping on every penny, to try and finance its new cruise ships.
Another tactic Royal Caribbean used to save money was to adopt a strict policy of keeping its crew members out of the U.S. whenever they are injured or become sick. Under the General Maritime Law, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are obligated to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to their ill crew members. This is called the doctrine of "maintenance and cure," the oldest legal doctrine in the U.S.
Royal Caribbean is based here in Miami, which is a good place to manage its crew members' medical needs. But the cruise line adopted a policy of keeping the ship employees out of the U.S. Royal Caribbean is the poster child of corporate malfeasance when it comes to abandoning its sick crew members in third world countries around the world.
"Ms. Jones" - Royal Caribbean Sees What It Can Get Away With
We have a crew member client, lets call her "Ms. Jones." She is from Jamaica. She is a twenty-five year old, hard working woman who, like many young people from Jamaica, sought a career and better life working on a cruise ship. In April of this year she felt sick and went to the ship doctor on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas while the ship was in Europe. The ship doctor did not take Ms. Jones seriously. She continued to work. April turned to May and May turned into June. Finally she was referred from the cruise ships to a doctor ashore who eventually mis-diagnosed her condition as a neurological condition.
When medical conditions cannot be managed on the cruise ships, Royal Caribbean sends its ill crew members to, of all places, the Dominican Republic for treatment. Why? It's cheap. No other reason. To save money. The Dominican Republic is an impoverished country, next to Haiti. It is certainly one of the last places you would think of for state-of-the-art medical treatment.
Dumped in the Dominican Republic
The odds were stacked against Ms. Jones when she arrived in the capital, Santo Domingo. But the good news, initially, is that the doctors finally ordered blood tests and diagnosed that Ms. Smith did not have an orthopedic problem.
She had leukemia.
This is not a good diagnosis and the diagnosis had been unreasonably delayed. But the doctors at least had finally figured out what was ailing Ms. Jones. They had a plan as of early July. The doctors notified Royal Caribbean and requested permission to start Ms. Jones on the preferred drug for this type of leukemia, "Gleevac," and to consider her for bone marrow transplantation.
Neglected In Jamaica
So what did Royal Caribbean do? Did they fly her quickly to Miami which has excellent board certified oncologists? No. They sent Ms. Jones back to her village in Jamaica, a location which makes Santo Domingo look like a thriving metropolis. Royal Caribbean provided no medicine to treat her leukemia and no plans for bone marrow transplantation. They did this to save money. Ms. Jones found herself in Jamaica in a weakened and immunosuppressed condition with a malignancy. Yet no "Gleevac." No money. No "sick" wages.
Ms. Jones languished in Jamaica. July turned into August. And then August turned into September. No Gleevac. No bone marrow transplantation. No living expenses. Her calls and emails to Royal Caribbean begging for assistance were ignored.
Ms. Jones contacted us. We immediately notified Royal Caribbean and demanded that Ms. Jones receive her Gleevac, her living expenses, and wages. We insisted that she sent to Miami for evaluation. In response, Royal Caribbean called our client directly, behind our back. We have seen Royal Caribbean do this before. They were caught, and they began scrambling.
Royal Caribbean then wrote to us, claiming that Ms. Jones had received her medicine. This was a big lie. We pressed the issue and Royal Caribbean instructed us not to contact its "medical department." We were left to deal with a low level "claims adjuster" whose only job is to deny claims - like the insolent claims representative for the "Great Benefit" insurance company in John Grisham's Rainmaker who writes denial letter after denial letter to the mother of a child dying of leukemia.
We quickly by-passed the claims handler and wrote to and called the lawyers at the cruise line. They informed us that because a lawsuit had not been filed, they would not talk with us. So within one hour, I prepared a lawsuit and had a process server run over to the port to serve their General Counsel. Still, they refused to discuss the situation. They continued to stall, lie and obfuscate.
Not a Single Gleevac Pill in the Entire Country
Finally, the truth became evident - not only had they failed to provide Ms. Jones with the life saving "Gleevac" but there was no such medicine in the entire country of Jamaica. Finally, Royal Caribbean arranged for the medicine to be flown to Jamaica - over 5 months after Ms. Jones first went to the Royal Caribbean ship doctor.
Like most cancers, leukemia left untreated can advance to the "blast" stage, where the prognosis is not good. And the chances of death increase exponentially.
As of this late date, Ms. Jones remains in Jamaica. She is still taking her Gleevac, as long as it lasts. She is receiving only $12 a day to live on, always paid late. On Friday evening, Royal Caribbean finally agreed to permit Ms. Jones to come to the U.S. but it took her hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit first. We are trying to obtain a visa for her from the U.S. Embassy so she can come to Miami to be properly evaluated and treated by board certified U.S. oncologists.
Her life depends on it.
For anyone reading this article who like me has lost a loved one to cancer, you know that life is too precious to play games like this. Particularly by a $15 billion dollar corporation. Life is far too precious for such arrogance.
Royal Caribbean's Priorities - Profits Not People
Meanwhile the hype and fanfare surrounding the arrival of Royal Caribbean's billion dollar cruise ship Oasis of the Seas continue. You can read what I think of this boondoggle and environmental disaster in "Royal Caribbean's "Monster of the Seas" - a Cruise Ship Only Gordon Gekko Could Love. There are lots of empty cabins which Royal Caribbean needs to fill for the Oasis of the Seas to make money.
Titanic dreams occupy the minds of Royal Caribbean executives, CEO Richard Fain and President Adam Goldstein. Their egos and the fate of Royal Caribbean are hopelessly intertwined with these floating monstrosities.
They have never heard of Ms. Jones or other crew members like her, living on $12 a day, fighting to stay alive.
Oasis of the Seas DailyMail.co.uk "Inside the world's biggest and most expensive ever cruise ship, the £810million Oasis of the Seas"
Photo of Royal Caribbean crew member, Mr. Doran McDonald Jonathon Postal, Miami New Times
Leukemia blood film Euthman's Flickr Photostream