Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News

Cruise Law News was the first in the U.S. to report on the death of  Nina Elizabeth Nilssen in Antigua on January 19, 2010.  The story was then quickly picked up by our followers on Twitter, such as CruiseCritic and CruiseLog.

Stories about crimes against tourists in Caribbean ports, as sad as they may be, serve an important purpose.  Many people have a false sense of security when they go on a cruise for a vacation get-away or a romantic honeymoon.  But the fact of the matter is that unlike sailing to Alaska, there is an increasing amount of violent crime in the Caribbean ports of call.  We have written about this problem, and the cruise industry's tendency not to warn passengers, in a prior article: "Crime in Caribbean Ports of Call Against Cruise Passengers."

Royal Clipper - Star Clippers - Passenger Death - AntiguaIn researching Ms. Nilssen's death, I ran across an interesting blog written by Cynthia Boal Janssens who is one the bloggers on the cruise website All Things Cruise.  Ms. Janssens is described as a "veteran cruise writer who is also a former president of the Society of American Travel Writers."   

Ms. Janssens was one of the passengers traveling on the ill fated Royal Clipper cruise in the Caribbean.  She wrote an article which mentioned  the wonderful wedding of  Ms. Nilssen's sister after the Royal Clipper sailed from Barbados. She described later taking a tender to the marina in Falmouth Harbour in Antigua.  She walked with her husband to the Pigeon Point beach where Star Clippers held a barbecue for lunch, followed by swimming and snorkeling from the beach. In her article "We Spend Tranquil Days in Antigua and St Kitts But Tragedy Upset Everyone," she commented:

Unfortunately, we learned this morning that a tragedy occurred late yesterday on Antigua and although I really don’t want to write about it, I feel I must. A passenger from our ship was found killed on the beach late in the day (not the part of beach that our group was on). The young woman had last been seen at 3:30 p.m. after being part of a snorkeling group. Of course, we do not know who perpetrated the crime and the ship was in no way connected to this reprehensible act.

Her family disembarked the ship that night and sailing was delayed by several hours. Word spread quickly through the ship yesterday morning about the crime although few specific details were known until later in the day. Just before dinner an announcement was made that a family had disembarked because one of their party was missing and asked that any passengers with information should report it to the police. Then we were asked for a moment of silence. All in our group felt that the ship’s officials should have been more forthcoming.

Nina Elizabeth Nilssen - Murder - AntiguaI think that this incident reinforces a fact of travel that we should never forget. That crime exists everywhere . . .

I was surprised  to read this because most travel writers tend to shy away from cruise horror stories.  Travel writers seem to double as travel agents or they don't want to offend the cruise lines which give them free cruises.  I thought to myself that All Things Cruise had done its readers a real service.

The article touched upon a real human tragedy in a sensitive and respectful manner while adding a warning, which perhaps the cruise line failed to provide to Ms. Nilssen in the first place.

I downloaded her article and tacked it on the bulletin board in my home office. 

So when I clicked back on the All Things Cruise website this morning, I was disappointed to see that the article had been re-written.  And the title had been changed to "We Spend Tranquil Days in Antigua and St. Kitts."  There was no mention of Ms. Nilssen's murder or any criticism of the ship's officers. The "tragedy" disappeared.  It is as if the murder didn't happen. 

A "tranquil" day in Antigua? 

Dear God. A young woman had just been murdered and her family devastated. "A tranquil day?"

I do not know Ms. Janssens.  She undoubtedly is a nice and caring person.  But why did her story change?  Did the cruise line ask her to change it?  Why did she decide that the story that she felt compelled to write and her warning to cruisers were no longer needed?  

The cruise industry's reputation has taken a beating over the years. Cruise lines create the fantasy of care-free vacations and romantic honeymoons in order to sell tickets. But they lack transparency and candor when things go terribly wrong. Travel writers who ignore the murders, rapes, and violence in the Caribbean ports are not doing the cruise industry a favor.

And they are providing a grave disservice to the next unsuspecting family who decides to buy a cruise to the Caribbean. 

UPDATE (January 25, 2010 afternoon):

Ms. Janssens' article has reappeared and is now entitled:  "We spend tranquil days in Antigua and St. Kitts but these are overshadowed by the murder onshore of one of our passengers." 

 

Credits:

Royal Clipper                 All Things Cruise

Police in Antigua          Antigua Sun  "Police Hunt for Killer"

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Janet Huggard - January 25, 2010 12:48 AM

I hate that this does not surprise me.

THE CRUISE LADIES - January 25, 2010 6:15 PM

I am the agent that booked this wonderful family and their friends on this cruise. It was to be a time of celebration. It unfortunately was marred by tragedy. Nina Nilssen did nothing to bring this tragedy on herself. She was a smart and intelligent woman and traveler. Star Clippers have been on top of this from day one. They kept the members of the party that remained on the ship updated and treated them with kindness. The family that stayed at Antigua was treated with respect and understanding. Star Clippers assisted the family and has returned the fares of those remaining in Antigua.

THE CRUISE LADIES - January 25, 2010 8:20 PM

The cruise line informed the members of the wedding party of the death of their friend and kept them informed. They treated them with respect. The death of one of the guest was treated as a personal matter and not made public. The respect for the family and friends was as it should have been. Everyone is not entitled to all the information and if people feel as if they were left out of the information loop-so be it. Star Clippers and the captain of the ship did everything possible for those involved.

Cynthia Boal Janssens - January 28, 2010 9:12 AM

Please know that I did NOT remove that information from my blog on AllThingsCruise.com. It was removed by my publisher without my knowledge. As soon as I became aware of that, almost a full day later, I protested mightily and it was restored with additional information.

I plan to be writing more about how this was handled on board. While it appears that the travel agent involved does not feel passengers were entitled to information, I do...rumors were flying everywhere and some were way incorrect. A few subtle announcements would have allayed a lot of grief that other passengers were feeling without invading the privacy of the family.

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