As the last few days of 2016 count down, it's time to pick the most outrageous stories of the year.
Number 7 - The Year of Cruise Ship Power Failures? This year saw the usual number of power failures and propulsion issues which have plagued the industry for years. Cruise lines often use the euphemism "technical problems," if they say anything at all, about the problem.
In May, Carnival's ill-fated "voluntourism" Fathom brand saw its sole cruise ship, the Adonia, experience a complete black-out loss in Government Cut. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the cruise ship to return to the port of Miami.
Later that night, the Carnival Elation drifted for an hour in the dark as the ship was heading back to port in Jacksonville. The following month, the little-known Artic expedition cruise ship, Ortelius, experienced an engine failure near a place called Hinlopenstretet and had to be towed back to another place called Longyearbyen. In the same month, Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas experienced problems with one of its engines in the Caribbean.
In July, the Thomson Celebration suffered an engine failure as the cruise ship was leaving Valletta, Malta. In August, the Caribbean Princess lost power approximately 25 nautical miles southeast of Dublin in the Irish Sea. A week later, the Viking Sea lost power, for the first time, in Malta. The next week saw the Paul Gauguin cruise ship experience propulsion problems in Bora Bora. In September, the auto-pilot malfunctioned on the Carnival Legend causing it to violently list as the ship headed to Victoria. Shortly thereafter the Legend suffered a brief power loss.
In October, the Thomson Majesty lost power following an engine room fire. Later, the Grand Princess lost power off of the coast of California. The Emerald Princess experienced propulsion problems the following day as it sailed to Thailand. November began with the Carnival Liberty suffering a power loss affecting its cruises to Mexico. The new Carnival Vista struggled through a series of propulsion issues in November as well. NCL's Norwegian Star experienced power problems and is now limping through its itinerary in Southeast Asia, much to the displeasure of cruisers who have waited for a year to cruise on the Star. The Costa neoRiviera recently suffered a loss of all electricity during a port call in Abu Dhabi, and the Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Orion suffered a catastrophic power failure while leaving Antarctica. The year ends with the Viking Sea losing power (for the second time this year); the Viking ship finds itself stuck in Barcelona.
Number 6 - Year of Cruise Ship Drugs busts? 2016 saw drug busts involving literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds of cocaine smuggled on cruise ship by crew members and passengers alike. In January, the Department of Homeland Security busted four NCL crew members involved in smuggling cocaine from Roatan, Honduras to New Orleans aboard the Norwegian Dawn. In March, the police in Ocho Rios arrested three MSC crew members from St. Vincent trying to board the MSC Divina cruise ship docked at the Ocho Rios Pier with a large quantity of cocaine hidden under their clothes. A month later, two Royal Caribbean crew members were arrested for smuggling cocaine aboard the Freedom of the Seas into Port Canaveral.
The Freedom of the Seas was again in the news in June when four female passengers were arrested for smuggling over 13 pounds of cocaine from Jamaica into Port Canaveral. In July, a Jamaican man was arrested at the cruise port in Falmouth, Jamaica when he attempted to board the Carnival Splendor with two packages, containing five pounds of cocaine. In August, the Australian Federal Police hit the mother-load and arrested three cruise ship passengers, including a young woman formerly in the porn business, involved in smuggling 95 kilos (over 209 lbs.) of cocaine into the port in Sydney, Australia on the Sea Princess after they chronicled their 66-day world cruise on Instagram. The record drug bust revealed serious shortcomings in Princess Cruises' shipboard security.
While crew members and passengers used NCL, Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise ships to smuggle large quantities of cocaine, the tourist police at the port in Nassau routinely busted cruise passengers for a couple of joints of pot seized during warrant-less searches of their cabins when they were off of the cruise ship.
Number 5 - Drowned Children But No Lifeguards? 2016 saw the predictable results of an industry of increasingly huge ships filled with swimming pools and water parks but few if any lifeguards. Children drowned or nearly drown in lifeguard-less pools throughout the cruise industry this year. In the last 2 to 3 years, numerous guests - primarily but not exclusively children - have been found at the bottom of cruise ship swimming pools: Royal Caribbean (4)( ages 4, 6, 8 and 8), Princess (4, 3 adults and one 8 year-old child), NCL (3)(ages 4, 6 and 10), Carnival (2)(ages 2, 6), and Disney (1)(age 4)(before hiring lifeguards).
The New Times published an in-depth story on cruise ship drownings in September, explaining that an outdated maritime law protects the industry from liability in deaths at sea. The archaic law remains in effect largely because of an indifferent Congress dependent on campaign donations by the non-tax paying cruise lines.
Many people choose to instantly blame the parents whenever a kid is pulled lifeless from a cruise ship swimming pool. Cruise employees trained to sell booze but not in CPR or advanced life-saving measures are just one of the problems. As the New Times article explains, people who instantly blame the parents miss the point: that "poolside safety is a shared responsibility of caregivers and cruise lines."
Disney Cruises, which paid a large settlement for the lifetime medical care of a four year old child who nearly drowned on the Disney Fantasy before it began hiring lifeguards, is the only cruise line who has invested in lifeguards to keep kids safe around pools. Other cruise lines are flirting with doing the right thing. Celebrity uses "pools rovers" (crew members who are assigned to supervise swimming pools but have no formal training as a lifeguard). Royal Caribbean recently advertised the position of a lifeguard on a TV channel on some of its cruise ships.
Number 4 - The Anthem of the Seas Sails Into a Storm. Earlier this year, weather experts predicted the Atlantic seas out of New Jersey to be over 30 feet high with winds of hurricane strength. The Royal Caribbean Anthem nonetheless recklessly sailed into the storm, terrorizing the thousands of passengers and burning out the clutches of its azipods in the process. The Anthem returned to port in New Jersey with only one propulsion unit operating. Royal Caribbean initially denied any damage or injury to the ship or the passengers and then falsely claimed that the only damage to the ship was "cosmetic." Al Roker, the popular television weatherman on the Today Show, best summed up Royal Caribbean's claim that the storm was not predicted: "Royal Caribbean's claim that this was not predicted is bullfeathers." (photo top). USA TODAY chimed in with "Meteorologists: Royal Caribbean blew it on sailing into storm."
Number 3 - Carnival Outsources IT Jobs to India. This month, Carnival Corporation eliminated over 200 IT jobs across its brands, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Lines and Princess Cruises. The U.S. workers are now required to train their replacements employed by a consulting firm, Capgemini, with offices in India. The fired cruise employees' lawyer stated that the "executives of Carnival should be ashamed and should have to face the families that they have destroyed merely days before Christmas." A Carnival PR spokesman said that the move was to improve performance and not save money. Asked if the employees were being asked to train others how to do their jobs, Carnival responded with this gobbledygook: "Not trained, but they will be involved in showcasing the processes related to the function in order for Capgemini to provide stronger and better service to Carnival Corporation and its brands.” Conservative publications protested the outsourcing, complaining to President-elect Trump and calling for a boycott of Carnival.
Number 2 - The New Carnival Vista Makes a Splash! Carnival new mega-ship, the Carnival Vista, came perilously close to small piers for recreational boats when leaving the port of Messina, Sicily. The thrust from its stern created a turmoil which turned over the piers and swamped smaller moored vessels, sinking several of the boats in the process. The destruction was so complete that you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it which is what happened when a passenger filmed the chaos from the ship. The Carnival captain made no announcements regarding what happened. According to passengers, the Vista didn't stop and sailed out of the port as if nothing happened.
Number 1 - Carnival - Enemy of the Environment? Carnival and Princess Cruises pled guilty to multiple felonies for the operation of five Carnival owned and Princess operated cruise ships which illegally dumped oily discharge around the world for eight years. Princess used "magic pipes" which by-passed oil-water separator devices, falsified oil logs, and perpetually lied to the Coast Guard to save millions of dollars in treating and disposing of oil ashore by dumping it overboard for almost a decade. Carnival was under probation for installing magic pipes and lying to the Coast Guard when Princess began dumping oil overboard. Did the executives and senior management know? Of course. But Princess played the plausible denial game. Carnival was fined only $40,000,000 (million) but ended 2016 collecting record profits of $2,800,000,000 (billion). While the Princess cruise ships were dumping oil, the cruise line executives collected hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries, perks and bonuses.
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Al Roker - NBC Today Show
Princess drug bust - Jonathan Ng via the Daily Telegraph
Norwegian Star - Pjotr Mahhonin, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.