Late last Friday, I received a tweet from one of my 9,000 friends on Twitter informing me that a cruise ship had run aground off the coast of Italy. Not much was known about what happened. No one in the media was initially reporting on the incident.
I stayed up all Friday night and Saturday morning watching the increasingly frantic twitter feed about the emerging circumstances surrounding the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. Twitter friends like London cruise blogger John Honeywell a/k/a @CaptGreybeard began tweeting the first photographs of the beached cruise ship. Other friends on twitter like Mikey's Cruise Blog tweeted non-stop as the story unfolded.
Completely missing from the discussion on social media sites like twitter and facebook were Carnival (the owner of Costa) or its CEO Mickey Arison ( @MickyArison ) or the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) which has a twitter name @CruiseFacts.
CLIA did not make a single tweet, statement or press release all weekend.
The few bits and pieces of information which trickled from from Costa falsely suggested that the stricken cruise ship was being orderly evacuated and that the passengers were "not at risk."
In the first blog I wrote that night, I suspected that the cruise line's comments were "probably the usual misleading and false cruise propaganda." As it turned out, while Costa was assuring the public that everything was fine, panicked passengers were jumping overboard or struggling to survive as water filled their cabins.
The motto of the $35,000,000,000 a year cruise industry is CLIA's "one industry, one voice." But CLIA apparently does not work on the weekends. When disaster struck the Concordia and over 4,000 passengers and crew feared for their lives, CLIA remained silent.
Meanwhile, the void was filled with insightful analysis and photographs from the international media, particularly from the U.K., as well as iReporter accounts from the scene of the disaster.
The first tweet from the Carnival CEO Arison, who has amassed a personal fortune of over $4,000,000,000 (billion) from cruise fares, came long after the disaster, expressing his condolences, but quickly followed by a tweet (since deleted) supporting his pro basketball team of NBA superstars.
The void created by the absence of information from CLIA and Carnival and its subsidiary line Costa was quickly filled by non-stop interviews of surviving passengers who described the chaos and deadly confusion as they tried to escape the sinking vessel, which we now understand was caused by the reckless conduct of the cowardly cruise ship captain (above right) who abandoned ship when things got tough.
The media quickly called on maritime lawyers here in South Florida to provide insight into the disaster. Our firm received inquires from major television and radio networks like ABC, 20/20, NBC, CNN, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, CNBC, the Canadian Television Network and BBC Radio, as well as national and international newspapers and magazines like Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and U.K.'s Telegraph. I spent the better part of this week speaking with several dozen journalists and shuttling between TV production studios in Miami and Fort Lauderdale for interviews.
The cruise industry did not have much to say. No one appeared on TV on behalf of the cruise lines. CLIA finally updated its facebook page to assure the public that cruise disasters like this were "extremely rare." But journalists are turned off by such false and self-serving garbage, and turn to information like that contained on my article Costa Concordia Calamity Just the Latest Disaster for Cruise Industry which discussed prior deaths and injuries on Costa cruise ships in the last two years and a rash of deadly cruise disasters which CNN featured this week.
CLIA also teamed up with a local cruise line defense lawyer here in Miami to write a press release with claims like "the cruise industry is a heavily regulated industry and safety is our highest priority" and "all cruise ships are designed and operated in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Maritime Organization."
I have learned that the media hates corporate PR statements like this. It's called "gobbledygook" (definition below).
Most journalists understand that cruise lines are largely unregulated. To the extent that there is any regulation it is mostly self regulation by an industry whose business model is to incorporate in places like Panama and Liberia and flag their vessels in places like the Bahamas and Bermuda to avoid all U.S. income taxes, labor laws and safety laws. The so-called "strict requirements" of the IMO are, at best, mere recommendations which the cruise lines can choose to ignore with impunity, like the decision Costa made not to bother to conduct a lifeboat drill before sailing on this disastrous cruise.
As this week comes to an end, the misleading cruise line press releases simply added to the lack of credibility and silliness of an industry which is known for its lack of transparency. As the Costa Concordia disaster became a nightly staple for the cable news stations this week, CLIA and the cruise line supporters were no where to be found. They seem to be hiding under the covers.
Perhaps CLIA's new motto should be "one industry, no voice."
Here are examples of some of the articles we participated in this week:
Canadian Television: Crime, fires compromise cruise ship safety: experts
International Herald Tribune / New York Times: Disaster Cripples Cruiser, Not Cruising
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cruise ship accident prompts questions about industry safety
*The word "gobbledygook" comes from Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman and the mayor of San Antonio. He used the word in the New York Times Magazine in 1944 referring to a turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”