Should the Bahamas Be Permitted to Register Cruise Ships?

Nassau BahamasThree Shots In Just 12 Hours reads the headlines in the Tribune newspaper today. Other articles in the local newspapers in Nassau include Tourist: I was Victim of Sex Attack by Jet Ski Operators.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau has issued a warning to U.S. citizens of the danger of women (including girls) being sexually assaulted by jet ski operators on Paradise Island near the Atlantis resort.  

The murder count in the Bahamas just reached 106 for the year and is rising. Last year 111 people were murdered there. The body count will exceed that number this month. The vast majority of the homicides involved local citizens and occurred in Nassau (New Providence) with a population of only 250,000.  By contrast Miami-Dade County has a total population of 5,500,000 with only 229 murders (Miami-Dade has twenty-two times as many people and only twice as many murders as Nassau).

Compounding the problem is the inability of the local police in the Bahamas to solve these crimes and prosecute the criminals. The same police officers who can't solve a crime when a U.S. tourist is robbed at gunpoint in downtown Nassau are often tasked with investigating crimes on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships.

Cruise lines like Carnival, Disney, NCL and Royal Caribbean register many of their cruise ships in Nassau to avoid U.S. taxes, labor laws and safety regulations. By flying "flags of convenience," the Miami-based cruise ships divest the U.S. authorities  from law enforcement duties. In cases where U.S. citizens are victims, the FBI has special maritime jurisdiction and are permitted to become involved (although the FBI rarely does).

But when the victim is not a U.S. citizen (over 95% of the crew are not) the FBI has no jurisdiction and the responsibility to investigate crime on Bahamian-flagged ship falls to the Bahamas. 

This is, of course, an absolute joke. There are well over a thousand ships registered in the Bahamas, including not only cruise ships but tankers, bulk carriers, and cargo ships of all types. Does anyone really think that the local police in Nassau have the interest or resources to fly to Bahamian cruise Bahamas Flag of Convenienceships around the world and solve crimes when they can't solve a crime when a tourist is assaulted in front of their own police station?

I have never heard of the police in Nassau ever solving a single crime on a Bahamian-flagged cruise ship.  But if you are a crew member from the Philippines assaulted by another crew member from Central America, it's the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) who has jurisdiction. The BMA won't do anything but may (but usually not) delegate responsibility to the Nassau police. The local police, in turn, will simply not show up.

Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship, the Quantum of the Seas, has dominated the news as of late. There's endless news about all of the technological marvels on the ship. But Royal Caribbean registered the ship in crime-infested Nassau.  When the first violent crime occurs on the Quantum, don't expect anyone from the Bahamas to show up and investigate.

 

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Don't forget to read: An "Outlaw Industry" Watched By "Paper Tigers"

Photo Credit:  Tim Clarke / Tribune

Time for Transparency: Senators Request Coast Guard to Make Cruise Ship Inspection Reports Public

The U.S. Coast Guard made a remarkable statement during the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conference in March regarding passenger safety aboard cruise ships.

It said that it targets cruise ships with a history of safety problems. That's a good idea, of course. But the NTSB failed to ask the Coast Guard a simple follow-up question - what cruise line(s) and what cruise ships have demonstrated a pattern of poor maintenance and safety concerns?

The Coast Guard didn't point the finger at any particular cruise line and the NTSB didn't ask the question that the public needed to know. 

Allure of the Seas Life BoatMy thought is that the NTSB didn't want to embarrass the cruise lines who organized the conference. This reveals one of the major problems inherent in cruising. The federal agencies which are suppose to be watchdogs of cruise safety are in bed with the cruise lines. 

In response to this situation, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. asking that that inspection reports be made available to the public over the Internet. 

The senators wrote “ . . . we respectfully request that the records and results of the unannounced inspections be made public and easily available over the Internet for prospective cruise passengers to peruse before booking a trip.”

The senators added:

“We agree it is strategic of the Coast Guard to target ships and vessels that have a pattern or history of safety problems, but we further expect that consumers should also be privy to the insights and patterns that the Coast Guard already knows, in addition to the ones it discovers in the future. Furthermore, the Coast Guard does a disservice to the public when it shields from consumers the identity of cruise ships and lines that have a pattern of noncompliance.”

No response from the Coast Guard so far.

Poop Cruise Reveals Shortcomings of Port and Flag State Inspections

Cruise fan sites rushed to Carnival's defense following the CNN special on the Triumph fire.

CNN cited maintenance records and advisory notices showing one of the generators on the cruise ship was poorly maintained and lacked the recommended spray guards to prevent ruptured fuel lines from igniting. The documents revealed a ship not in compliance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) recommendations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

But cruise fan sites, primarily Cruise Critic and the increasingly popular Cruise Currents (formerly Mikey's Blog), cited documents which Carnival leaked to the press suggesting that the cruise line was in compliance with SOLAS. 

Carnival Splendor Fire You can see documents provided to cruise-friendly Cruise Currents here.

Cruise Critic quoted Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen saying that the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the Carnival Triumph days before the February 7th sailing and allegedly found it to be in compliance with all SOLAS requirements.

"The ship would not be allowed to sail if it were not in compliance with SOLAS requirements," Gulliksen said.

But this is where Carnival's argument falls apart.

The Coast Guard also inspected the Carnival Splendor a few days before it caught fire in November 2010. Remember a U.S. aircraft carrier had to sail to the scene and drop food from helicopters to the stranded passengers? The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard spent millions attending to the sticken ship before it was towed back to the U.S.  

Does the fact that the Coast Guard inspected the Splendor and permitted it to sail mean that the cruise ship was seaworthy and in compliance with SOLAS? Hardly. The Coast Guard investigated the Splendor and prepared a scathing report of its many SOLAS violations and deficiencies.

One of the Carnival ship's large diesel engines sustained a catastrophic failure with the rods and pistons cracking and exploding out of the engine which permitted lube oil and fuel oil to ignite. The post-fire investigation conducted by the Coast Guard revealed that the pistons sustained long term metal fatigue which was not checked due to an absence of appropriate maintenance and record keeping by Carnival. Other parts of the engine showed severe, advanced corrosion reflective of an absence of regular inspection and maintenance. 

Although the Coast Guard was critical of Carnival's neglect in inspecting and maintaining the engine which failed, it should be pointed out that the Coast Guard conducted an annual Control Verification Exam on November 7, 2010 and passed the vessel. What an embarrassment for the Coast Guard to have inspected the cruise ship right before the fire and permitted it to sail with passengers.

The root of the problems with the Splendor and the Triumph is that the inspections conducted by the flag and port states of these poorly maintained ships were inadequate.

The port state (where the ship is registered, like Panama or the Bahamas) is indifferent and incompetent. The reason why foreign corporations like Carnival flag their ships like the Triumph in places like the Bahamas is that it knows that the Bahamas will leave it alone. The business model of the Carnival's of the world is to avoid all U.S.taxes, wage and labor laws, and health and safety laws. A poop cruise is the result.

Yes, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts inspections sometimes when the cruise ships are in U.S. ports, but these "port state" inspections are hardly vigorous. The Coast Guard is facing a budgetary crisis and is grossly under-funded. They need a small army to perform a thorough inspection during the short time a single cruise ship is in a U.S. port. There are sometimes nearly a dozen ships in port over a weekend. The ships are huge of course. Coast Guard inspections are skimpy and are at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspections.   

The cruise industry is extremely wealthy, but the cruise lines don't pay U.S. income taxes. There is simply not enough money in the U.S. budget to hire a sufficient number of Coast Guard inspectors to check on the every-increasingly large fleet of cruise ships.

As matters now stand, the U.S. spends many millions for Coast Guard and Navy services when the foreign-flagged cruise ships break down due to a lack of maintenance.

 

Photo Credit: cntraveler.com

"Old Bag of Bolts" Ruby Saga Breaks Down in Canary Islands

Last week, I received a tip about the Saga Ruby cruise ship (ex - Vistafjord), which is on her last cruise for Saga to the Caribbean from Southampton, that the ship is stranded in Canary Islands due to generator problems.

I had mentioned that the old cruise ship is already apparently sold to Chinese investors and is under International Shipping Partner management. 

The following day, Cruise Critic carried the story which contained what I thought was some rather interesting information. 

Cruise Critic confirmed that there as a "faulty generator" affecting the ship's air conditioning system.

Rather than try and sail over to the Caribbean, Saga announced that the cruise ship will sail in the Mediterranean, where it can operate without air conditioning. 

Cruise Critic quoted a Saga spokesperson, "It was discovered that one of the six generators could not operate properly without a part that needed to be manufactured." Because the air conditioning needs to run at full capacity in the Caribbean, "The Captain decided that for passenger comfort, it would be better to change the itinerary."

That's interesting, a busted generator and they are not even going to spend the money to fix it. 

Of the 557 passengers onboard, around 30 returned to the U.K. and will receive a full refund. Those remaining onboard will receive a 40-percent refund.

As we previously reported, the cruise, which departed from Southampton on December 7th, is the ship's last sailing. 

Saga promised a wonderful time for the passengers who remained.

One knowledgeable maritime expert commented on the situation on my Facebook page: "Good God . . . is this thing still running??? I piloted her 20 years ago and thought she was an old bag of bolts back then. Truly revealing how some owners will literally milk the death out of a ship until she earns her last penny!"  

Saga Ruby

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Holger.Ellgaard

Food Stashed Under Beds & Secret Crime Statistics: The Cruise Industry Has a Lot to Hide

Today the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will conduct a hearing on whether there needs to be greater Congressional oversight of the cruise industry in light of recent cruise ships mishaps. 

There are two recent examples of cruise line conduct which the committee should consider in determining whether Congress should take a closer eye on the cruise lines.

Example 1: A luxury cruise line, Silversea Cruises, recently flunked a surprise inspection by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the cruise line's Silver Shadow cruise ship.  What makes the incident so egregious is that the CDC found that the cruise line engaged in

"an organized effort  . . . to physically remove over 15 full trolleys of dry foods, spices, canned foods, Cruise Industry Consumer Protectioncooked foods, milk, raw meats, pasteurized eggs, cheeses of all types, baking goods, raw fruits, raw vegetables, and a variety of both hand held and counter model food equipment, pans, dishware and utensils to over 10 individual cabins shared by two or three galley crew members in order to avoid inspection by VSP (Vessel Sanitation Program) staff. All the out of temperature potentially hazardous foods were discarded along with most other foods that were not canned or in original containers. The lead VSP inspector poured concentrated chlorine liquid over all the discarded foods as they were dumped into garbage bags to ensure they would not be used again." Read the CDC report here.  Look at the disgusting photographs here.

Yes, a luxury cruise line holding itself out as a 6 star cuisine experience was literally hiding meat, fish, eggs and cheese under the bunks in the crew quarters in order to cheat U.S. sanitation inspectors. Our investigation here and here leads us to the only conclusion that this deception is an industry-wide problem, 

Example 2:  After Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act which was intended to require cruise lines to report crimes to the FBI and the Coast Guard in order to post crimes on an internet site for the public's consideration, the cruise industry and the FBI conspired to hide the information.  Read this disturbing story here.

The President of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, Ken Carver, exposed the cover-up when he sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI and learned that of the 400+ crimes alleged on cruise ships in 2012 alone, the FBI decided to post only 15 crimes on the Coast Guard internet site. A great injustice to the victims and the public. Watch the video below:

It's high time that Congress intervene and protect American families from the cruise industry's hide-and-seek games.      

 

 

Bimini SuperFast Cruise Ship Stuck at the Dock

A new "super-fast" cruise ferry service between Miami and Bimini, the Bahamas started off on the wrong foot when the ship flunked U.S. Coast Guard requirements. The Resorts World's Bimini SuperFast was suppose to sail passengers from Miami over to a new gambling resort in Bimini.

On June 28th the wife of the Bahamian Prime Minister christened the vessel at the Port of Miami with the words: "I name this ship Bimini Superfast and may she bring fair winds and good fortune to all who sail on her.”

But 2 days later, according to the Miami Herald, the ship and its operators failed tests gauging performance in emergency situations. The crew was unable to adequately conduct emergency drills and evacuate passengers off the ship and in lifeboats within 30 minutes. The ship failed to have emergency sources of power and the mechanism that allows lifeboats to drop from the ship malfunctioned.  

A Coast Guard spokesperson said that there was an “overall lack of proficiency by the crew to respond to an emergency situation.” 

Bimini SuperFast received safety inspections overseas after it was built in 2001 including a certificate from Panama to carry passengers.  But for now the Coast Guard has shut the ship down at the Port of Miami awaiting re-inspection.

 

 

Police in Bahamas Defend Dropping Disney Child Molestation Case: "There is No Complaint in the Bahamas and There is No Issue"

A police officer in Nassau, Bahamas finds himself in the middle of a controversy regarding another botched investigation by the Bahamas into a Bahamian-flagged cruise ship matter.    

Nassau police superintendent Paul Rolle is quoted in an article in the Nassau Guardian about the molestation of an 11 year old girl by a 33 year old crew member aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship, saying: "As far as I am concerned there is no complaint in the Bahamas and there is no issue."

These remarkably insensitive comments by police officer Rolle in the Bahamas are an insight into how indifferent many law enforcement officials are in the flag-of-convenience countries where cruise lines register their cruise ships to avoid the scrutiny of the United States.      

Disney Dream Cruise Ship Molestation CaseJust today an article appeared in the Australian press discussing how cruise ship passengers who fall victim to serious crime may find their cases handled in countries like the Bahamas with poor human rights records. The articles states: "More than half of the world's cruise ships are registered in Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas . . . passengers could have their case heard in countries with a poor human rights records and a history of ignoring crimes against women."

In the Disney Dream case, the shipboard video clearly shows the Disney crew member stalking the child and following her into an elevator. The child promptly reported to cruise ship security that the Disney crew member grabbed her breast and kissed her. This occurred an hour and one-half before the ship's departure time. (The Nassau Guardian erroneously reports that the incident occurred on the cruise "shortly after it left Port Canaveral.")  But Disney decided not to promptly report the crime to the Port Canaveral police, choosing instead to sail out of the U.S. jurisdiction. It reported the matter the next day to the Bahamas which permitted the crew member to fly home to India.

In an article "Police Defend Action in Cruise Ship Matter," Officer Rolle says:

"The Americans already have their laws as to how they deal with matters on-board any ship that is owed by Americans or an American company. The fact is that the individuals at the time did not wish any complaint and no one has since come forward and indicated that they wanted to make a complaint."

Rolle is wrong on both counts.

Disney Cruise Line is not an "American" company. It legally operates as the "Magical Cruise Line" and incorporated itself in the U.K. and registered its cruise ships in the Bahamas to avoid U.S. taxes, labor laws and oversight. 

Regarding the victim's alleged decision not to make a complaint, the fact is that the little girl and her Disney Cruise Sexual Assault - Child Molestationgrandmother did make a complaint to the security personnel of the Bahamian-flagged cruise ship. A victim does not have to make multiple complaints on and off the ship over multiple days. The girl cooperated in answering the security officer's questions (in tears), completing forms and identifying the Disney perpetrator. The girl and her grandmother demonstrated courage by pressing criminal charges when they should have been enjoying the beginning of a cruise of a lifetime. 

If Disney had reported the crime immediately to the police in Port Canaveral or provided the child's grandmother with the local police's telephone numbers, the case would have turned out differently. As the Brevard County Attorney General said: "the decision to prosecute that serious a crime in Florida rests with a prosecutor, not a grandmother."

Plus, there are many reasons why a child and her grandmother may have decided not to make a second complaint in the Bahamas. How was the child treated after making the first complaint?  The Disney perpetrator should have been handcuffed and taken off the cruise ship and the girl should have seen a counselor. Instead, the girl was forced to sail on the ship with the perpetrator still aboard.

The reporter investigating the crime, Tony Pipitone, said that the cruise line repeatedly provided him with false information. Did Disney also lie to the child and her grandmother?  In many cases, we see the cruise lines and police officers at the next port of call intimidate the victim's family. They tell them that they will have to travel back to port of call repeatedly for criminal hearings and trial. By the time the cruise ship arrived in Nassau, the little girl and her grandmother were undoubtedly tired and traumatized. They had not been permitted to speak with U.S. law enforcement, a social worker or counselor, or their own legal representatives.  Instead they had to deal with Disney and the Bahamas which have their own agenda to keep matters like this quiet.

Rolle is sensitive to issues of tourism. He understands the effects of crime on tourism both in the Bahamas and on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships. When a U.S. crew member was shot and killed in Nassau two weeks ago, Rolle defended himself saying "We aren’t no play-play cartoon police force." He told the Nassau Guardian "Tourism is our life blood.”  

Nassau Bahamas Paul Rolle Police Superintendent Bahamas police officer Rolle is also no stranger to Disney cruise ship controversies and protecting Disney's image. When a Disney crew member, Rebecca Coriam, disappeared from the Bahamian-flagged Disney Wonder two years ago under disturbing circumstances, it was Rolle who the Bahamas tasked with flying over to Los Angeles to briefly board the cruise ship to investigate what happened.  Rolle conducted a quickie investigation which of course exonerated Disney. The international media characterized Rolle's efforts as a "farce" designed to assist Disney in covering the matter up. 

Rolle promised the Coriam family that he would release the results of his "investigation" into their daughter's disappearance. But he has persistently refused to do so. To date, the Bahamas refuses to cooperate with the Coriam family and has kept Rolle's report secret from the family. Disney and the Bahamas have erected a wall of silence when the Coriam family seek information about Rebecca.      

With the likes of tourism-sensitive Officer Rolle responsible for official cruise ship investigations, it is no wonder that Disney refused to timely report the child molestation to the U.S. police in Port Canaveral. By sailing the crime scene over to the Bahamas, media-sensitive Disney assured that its police friends in Nassau would do nothing. Disney could then fly its child-molester employee home with Rolle's blessings.  

 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit:

Top: WKMG Channel 6 in Orlando

Middle: Jim Walker

Bottom: Nassau Guardian

Breaking News: Carnival Incorporates in the U.S. and Subjects Itself to U.S. Tax, Labor, Wage, Safety & Environmental Regulations

In an exclusive story, Cruise Line News has learned that cruise industry giant Carnival Corporation recently incorporated its business in the United States (in the state of Delaware). Carnival intends to announce this historic development tomorrow, April 2nd, at Carnival's headquarters in Miami.

Since 1972, Carnival has incorporated its business and registered its cruise ships in the country of Panama. For over 40 years, Carnival cruise ships have flown the flag of Panama in order to avoid the onerous safety regulations, excessive labor laws, unreasonable environmental laws, and high taxes of the United States of America.

Cruise Law News' discovery of this historic event came about when prominent maritime lawyer Jim Walker bumped into Carnival's CEO Micky Arison at court side when Arison's championship basketball team, the Miami Heat, won another game.  Maritime ace lawyer Walker asked Arison: "Micky, if Dwayne Wade and LeBron James earn several hundred million dollars from Carnival and pay Micky Arison - Miami Heat - Carnival Cruisetens of millions of dollars in U.S. taxes, don't you think it is fair that Carnival - which earns over 15 billion dollars a year in cruise ticket sale - pays a few billion dollars in U.S. taxes?"

Perhaps it was the euphoria of the Heat beating the San Antonia Spurs by two points in a close overtime victory, but Micky was ecstatic. "Yes, let's do it!" he said handing maritime lawyer Walker a half-eaten hot dog and three-quarters of a warm Bud Light which a Miami cheerleader handed Micky in the first quarter of the previous game a few days earlier.

While quickly consuming the beer and hot dog in the excitement of the moment, expert cruise lawyer Walker happened to have U.S. articles of incorporation which he handed to Micky to sign as well as U.S. flags to fly on the Carnival fleet of cruise ships.

Arison has been under intense pressure lately following fires, collisions, sinkings, pirate-attacks, flounderings, norovirus outbreaks and a Jon Secada onboard concert which have ruined the last 37 Carnival cruises.  Just last week Senator Jay Rockefeller called Arison a "scallywag" on national TV. Rockefeller challenged Arison to pay his fair share of U.S. taxes on the bounty his foreign-flagged cruise ships collect on the high seas. 

Micky commented that he was embarrassed that his father Ted, the founder of Carnival Cruise Lines 40 years ago, denounced his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying some 10 billion dollars in U.S. taxes.

"I want to make certain that Carnival pays one hundred % of our U.S. tax obligations (estimated to be over $5,000,000,000 a year) plus be subjected to the most rigorous U.S. safety, wage,and labor laws and the most stringent U.S. environmental regulations, Micky announced over the arena's PA system! "I want Carnival Cruise Line to be synonymous with Old Betsy - the U.S. Stars and Stripes - what the U.S. stands for! Its time that indigent crew members from India and Nicaragua who earn $500 working 360 hours a month be entitled to the full benefit of U.S. employment laws, a 401(k) retirement fund, severance pay, and a college fund for their children!"

While appreciative of Arison's change of heart, sources say Walker was miffed that Arison demanded that he pay $6 for the remains of the hot dog and $7.50 for the rest of the Bud Light.

April 1 2013 Update: South Florida Business Journal picks up on this shocking development in the cruise industry. Read here.

Carnival Elation Joins Club of Disabled / Impaired Cruise Ships

Carnival Elation Cruise ShipWith Carnival under a microscope, the cruise line continues to experience bad PR as yet another Carnival cruise ship experienced a mechanical failure.

The Chicago Tribune reports that last weekend, the Carnival Elation had to get a tugboat escort down the Mississippi River after a mechanical problem.

In the last 2 months, four of Carnival's ship suffered full or partial power failures, the Triumph, Dream, Legend and the Elation

It's early in the year, stay tuned.

March 16 2013 Update:  That didn't take long: Yet Another Carnival Cruise Ship Flounders - P&O Ventura Suffers Propulsion Problems
  

Photo Credit: Vacay.ca / Why You Should Say No to a Vacation Cruise 

An "Outlaw Industry" Watched By "Paper Tigers"

Newsweek's Daily Beast Blog published an insightful article about the real issues behind the Triumph cruise ship fire. Entitled "Carnival Cruise From Hell," the article explains that the situation involves a lot more than just another stinky ship bobbing around on the high seas. Rather, Newsweek writes that the fiasco is "a troubling indicator of pervasive safety problems in a booming industry with little oversight."

Written by Eve Conant, the articles points out that last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the entire U.S. fleet of Boeing 787s over fire-safety concerns. But where is the maritime equivalent of the FAA overseeing the cruise lines? It has been outsourced to third world countries like the Bahamas which has neither the interest or capability of regulating the billion dollar U.S. cruise industry. 

Newsweek interviewed me for the article, but criticism from lawyers who routinely sue the cruise lines are often met with skepticism.  

Jim Hall - Cruise Danger - National Transportation Safety Board NTSBWhat's impressive about the article is that Newsweek interviewed a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Jim Hall.

Unlike recent NTSB officials who angled for lucrative consulting jobs with the cruise lines and gave the industry a free pass, Jim Hall earned a reputation for objectivity and credibility when he was the NTBS's top dog from 1994 - 2001. He was involved in investigatng serious accidents in both the aviation and cruise industries. He voiced his concerns that there would be continued problems in the maritime industry because there was no real oversight over the cruise lines.

Here are the recent comment's made by Hall to Newsweek:

Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration, says the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors” much like in the poorly regulated motor-coach industry, which saw its latest fatal bus crash in Southern California earlier this month. “The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,” says Hall.

Ships may seem and feel American but are mostly “flagged” in countries like the Bahamas or Panama in order to operate outside of what he says are reasonable safety standards. “It is, and has been, an outlaw industry,” says Hall. “People who book cruises should be aware of that.”

Cruise lines are an "outlaw industry" watched over by "paper tigers?"  Spot on.  And remember these comments are by a former chairman of the NTSB.  

Cunard Drops Union Jack to Avoid British Labor Laws

Cunard's three cruise ships, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, will no longer fly the Union Jack.

After 171 years of flying the Union Jack with Southampton painted on the stern, Cunard's cruise ships will now be registered in Bermuda and will bear the name Hamilton - Bermuda's capital. 

The question arises why Cunard, which has flown the British flag on its ships since 1840, would suddenly decide to flay a flag of convenience today?

Union Jack - Cunard Cruise Ship - Flag of Convenience - Cunard claims that the reason is simple.  It wants to offer "weddings at sea" where the captain can perform marriages.  Other cruise lines, like Princess Cruises which is flagged in Bermuda, earn income by performing marriages of passengers during cruises.  However, weddings at sea are not allowed under British law. 

But there is more to this story.  Britain's new "Equality Act 2010" requires that ship employees from EU countries who are working on British flagged vessel such as the Cunard cruise ships must be paid wages equal to those of the British crewmembers. By dropping the British flag, Cunard is dropping all the British wage and labor laws.  

Earlier this year, the New York Times published an excellent article regarding the shipping industry's use of "flags of convenience."  Entitled "Flying the Flag, Fleeing the State," the article explains how unscrupulous ship owners evade responsibility for environmental damage, exploitative labor and unsafe work conditions, and criminal behavior. 

The article reveals that ships used to fly the flags of their nation which protected the seafarers and passengers and punished the shipping companies when they broke the law.  But this changed when American flagged ships began flying the flags of foreign countries in order in order to avoid U.S. laws and government oversight.   The "foreign registries" were in countries with no government oversight and no real connection to the vessel or its owners in the first place, like Panama, Liberia, North Korea and even landlocked Mongolia.  The registries often fail to monitor the safety and working conditions on ships or investigate accidents.    

What are the real consequences of a cruise ship flying a flag of convenience?

For passengers or crewmembers who are victimized by a shipboard crime, Bermuda will have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes. You can read about the indifference and lackluster efforts of the Bermuda authorities in a recent article here.    

For crewmembers, they can be easily exploited.  The New York Times article points out that there is a "human cost" which includes long hours, punishing work, and little rest; some international regulations permit 98-hour work weeks.  Cruise line employees are a good example.  Stateroom attendants and cleaners work a minimum of 12 hours a day and often are pushed to 14 to 16 hours when required to handle luggage on embarkation days, ending up with a 90 plus hour work week and no days off.  Cruise ship cleaners earn a maximum of $545 a month working a minimum of 360 hours a month.  Repetitive injuries to these crew members frequently occur, and just as frequently the cruise lines abandon them in countries like Nicaragua or India with inadequate medical care.

Because most ship employees are non U.S. citizens, the U.S. public has been indifferent to their plight.  But the problem inherent in flags of convenience came home to the U.S. last year when the offshore Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and 11 American oil and gas workers perished.  

The U.S. Coast Guard released a preliminary report  about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Coast Guard criticized not only rig owner, Transocean, but the foreign registry in the Marshall Islands where Transocean registered the rig.  Just like a cruise ship, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was considered to be a vessel which had to be registered. 

Why did the rig owners decide to go all of the way to an island in the Pacific to register its oil rig, you may ask?   For the same reason cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean went to South America and Africa to register their cruise ships in Panama and Liberia - to avoid U.S. laws and oversight. 

Now Cunard, owned by Carnival whose cruise ships fly the flags of Panama, has finally followed suit by registering its three cruise ships in a rocky island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yes, Cunard now can marry passengers at sea.  But many crewmembers will lose employment rights and victims of shipboard crime on the Cunard fleet will quickly find themselves in a no-man's land.     

 

October 20, 2011 Update:  The Cunard cruise ships will now fly the Red Ensign.  The Red Ensign Group is comprised of the United Kingdom, Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and UK Overseas Territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St Helena and the Turks & Caicos Islands) which operate shipping registers. 

This will permit the ships to be referred to as "British ships" but in reality be subject to the employment laws of Bermuda. 

October 21, 2011 Update:  Cunard fans are leaving brutal comments at the Cunard facebook page about use of a flag of convenience (my comment was quickly deleted).  You can read the comments here.

Why Can't You Cruise From One U.S. Port to Another U.S. Port?

Every so often we receive an email or telephone call from someone asking why cruise ships can't sail from one U.S. port to another. 

The reason is because there is a Federal law which prohibits foreign flagged ships from coastwise trade between U.S. ports.  Only U.S. flagged ship can do that.  The thought at one time was that such a law would promote U.S. shipping by providing preferential treatment of US vessels over "foreign" vessels.

Jones Act - Cabotage - U.S. Shipping - Cruise Ship The law in question is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.  This is a U.S. Federal statute which regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.  Section 27, known as the Jones Act, deals with the concept of "cabotage" (coastal shipping).  The law requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens. 

This is why you don't see a cruise ship sailing from New Orleans to Galveston and letting off passengers (for example).   The reality today of course is that virtually all cruise ships are foreign flagged in order to avoid US taxes and occupational laws. So the entire US based cruise fleet can't sail from one US port to another.

Critics of the law argue that the law increases the costs of shipping good between U.S. ports.  U.S. shipbuilders are also substantially higher than vessels constructed overseas.  As a result, U.S. shipyards now build only 1 percent of the world's large commercial vessels.

There is now a bill which has been introduced  to amend the law to allow foreign-flag cruise ships to operate in the coastwise trade of the United States.  It was introduced by Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and co-sponsored by Ron Paul.  Representative Farenhold believes that opening up coastal trade to all cruise ships will result in more cruise ships sailing from one US port to another and the US and Texas would benefit economically.

However, U.S. shipbuilders and companies engaged in coastwise trade are opposed to amending the law.  A recent controversy regarding shipping crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve reveals that the new bills will face strong opposition.

The Boston Herald published an article discussing the Obama administration's decision to waive the requirements of the Jones Act against foreign flagged ships regarding the transportation of oil from one U.S. port to another.  The Jones Act cabotage requirements prohibit shipments from reserve holdings on the Louisiana and Texas coasts to East Coast refineries.

Buyers of the oil wanted to use large tankers to transport the 30 million barrels being sold, because they are larger and cheaper than most U.S. coastwise vessels and barges.  However, there are only nine large tankers flying the U.S. flag, all of which sail from Alaska to California.  The administration let the buyers use foreign ships for 46 out of 47 shipments.

This caused American shipping companies to become "understandably furious," according to the Boston Herald which calls from the repeal of the Jones Act.  "The Jones Act is a smelly piece of protectionism that should have been repealed 50 years ago," says the Herald.

My prediction is that the bill will not make it out of committee. 

Even changing the Jones Act will not significantly affect the cruise industry, which will continue to buy foreign ships, fly foreign flags, and hire foreign employees to save money.   

Alaska Longshore Union: Cruise Lines Violate U.S. Laws

The Juneau Empire published an interesting article this morning about how the cruise industry routinely ignores a U.S. law requiring the use of U.S. longshore workers to perform certain duties, such as operating tender boats and handling cargo and luggage.   

The newspaper reports that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) plans to picket today over the practice of the cruise lines which refuse to utilize U.S. union workers when the foreign flagged cruise ships call on Juneau and other ports in Alaska.

Longshore Union - Alaska - Cruise Ships - ILWUThe president of the local longshore union (Alaska Longshore Division Local 200 Unit 16) is quoted in the newspaper as saying that the cruise industry is in "blatant disregard" of the Immigration and Nationality Act - INA: ACT 258 (Limitations On Performance Of Longshore work By Alien Crewmen)

A representative of the cruise industry responded to the longshore union's complaints by stating that the cruise ships only recently began utilizing U.S. ship crew members for tender boat operations after the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol required the use of American employees.

The issue remains whether the cruise lines are violating the INA by not using union workers to perform the tender and other longshore operations. 

The union representative stated that the union employees intend to demonstrate in Juneau and later in Sitka and Ketchikan, but are not going to disrupt the cruise ship operations.

in addition to Alaska, the ILWU primarily represents dock workers on the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii and British Columbia, Canada.  The union was established in 1937 after the 1934 "West Coast Waterfront Strike," a 3 month long strike that turned violent in California. 

This issue is just the latest dispute between the ILWU and the cruise industry.  Cruise ships routinely try and use their non-U.S. non-union crewmembers to perform shore-side longshore duties such cargo work, baggage handling, tender operations, and making electrical power connections when the cruise ships are in port.            

Flags of Convenience: Avoiding Taxes, Safety & Labor Regulations, and Justice

Panama Flag of ConvenienceA reader of Cruise Law News (CLN) brought an excellent opinion piece from the New York Times regarding the shipping industry's use of "flags of convenience" to my attention.  Entitled "Flying the Flag, Fleeing the State" and written by Rose George, the article explains how unscrupulous ship owners evade responsibility for environmental damage, exploitative labor and unsafe work conditions, and criminal behavior. 

The article reveals that ships used to fly the flags of their nation which protected the seafarers and passengers and punished the shipping companies when they broke the law.  But this changed when American flagged ships began flying the flags of foreign countries in order in order to avoid U.S. laws and government oversight.   The "foreign registries" were in countries with no government oversight and no real connection to the vessel or its owners in the first place, like Panama (flag above left), Liberia, North Korea and even landlocked Mongolia.  The registries often fail to monitor the safety and working conditions on ships or investigate accidents.    

What are the real consequences to employees working on foreign flagged ships? 

The New York Times article points out that there is a "human cost" which includes long hours, punishing work, and little rest; some international regulations permit 98-hour work weeks.  Cruise line employees are a good example.  Stateroom attendants and cleaners work a minimum of 12 hours a day and often are pushed to 14 to 16 hours when required to handle luggage on embarkation days, ending up with a 90 plus hour work week and no days off.  Cruise ship cleaners earn a maximum of $545 a month working a minimum of 360 hours a month.  Repetitive injuries to these crew members frequently occur, and just as frequently the cruise lines abandon them in countries like Nicaragua or India with inadequate medical care.

No foreign registry in Liberia, which often rages in civil war itself, gives a damn about the working conditions which men and women from Nicaragua or India face daily on Liberian flagged cruise ships.    

Because most ship employees are non U.S. citizens, the U.S. public has been indifferent to their plight.  But the problem inherent in flags of convenience came home to the U.S. last year when the offshore Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and 11 American oil and gas workers perished.  

The U.S. Coast Guard just released a preliminary report  about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Coast Guard criticized not only rig owner, Transocean, but the foreign registry in the Marshall Islands (flag below) where Transocean registered the rig.  Just like a cruise ship, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was considered to be a vessel which had to be registered. 

Why did the rig owners decide to go all of the way to an island in the Pacific to register its oil rig, you may ask?   For the same reason cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean went to South America and Africa to register their cruise ships in Panama and Liberia - to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. Marshall Islands Flag of Conveniencesafety regulations, and U.S. labor laws.  

One of the the Coast Guard's initial conclusions is that the Marshall Islands "abdicated" its safety responsibilities.  Transocean got just what it wanted - lax safety inspections and substandard safety requirements from the little spec of an island in the Pacific.   The owners enjoyed lower operating costs in addition to the substantial tax benefits of flying a flag of convenience.  But the financial benefits came at the expense of poor training, poorly maintained equipment, and even poorer safety procedures which resulted in inoperable alarms and failed shut-down systems.  

The ultimate result of the Marshall Islands flag of convenience?  11 dead men.  And 11 families consumed with grief and suffering.  

 

For additonal information, read:

Like Cruise Ships, Foreign Flagged Oil Rigs Avoid U.S. Laws

No Taxes - The Cruise Lines' Dirty Little Secret