The Cruise Industry's Reputation - A Sinking Image

Labadee - Haiti - Royal Caribbean - PR - public relationsThe cruise industry has an image problem.  Royal Caribbean is the main reason.

This year began with Royal Caribbean's business-as-usual approach to ferrying passengers back and forth to its "private destination" in Labadee (actually sovereign Haitian land leased from Baby Doc Duvalier).  While Haitians tried to dig out of the rubble and bury their dead following the devastating earthquake, Royal Caribbean passengers zip lined, jet skied, or sat drinking margaritas on the cruise line's private beach.

Royal Caribbean received widespread condemnation from advertising and PR experts nationwide. 

Newsweek magazine joined the ranks of those questioning Royal Caribbean's corporate morality in an article "Setting Sail on a Haitian Pleasure Cruise - the Moral and Economic Dilemmas of Royal Caribbean's Labadee Port."  On the same day, the widely respected non-profit organization, Center for Responsible Travel, issued a press release chastising Royal Caribbean for not doing enough. The non-profit group characterized the cruise line's move as "unsound" and a "colossal public relations faux pas."

This sentiment echoes the criticism by PR experts in Advertising Age's "Royal Caribbean Blasted for Continuing Stops in Haiti" where the consensus is that this was a "massive debacle" which may have long term damage to the Royal Caribbean "brand." 

The Feministing Blog admonished Royal Caribbean for taking advantage of the incredibly poor country of Haiti and urged its readers to consider going on a cruise line other than RoyalRoyal Caribbean - Labadee Debacle - Caribbean "or tell them that these practices are unacceptable."

Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein told National Public Radio that the decision to continue to sail to Labadee was a "no-brainer," a flippant and indifferent remark reflecting, perhaps, the core values of the "Nation of Why Not?"  

But this nothing new for Royal Caribbean. It's just the latest debacle in a series of public relations blunders dating back over a decade.

In mid 1990's, the cruise industry's arrogance had reached a zenith.  The industry thought itself to be above the law.  Cruise ships routinely dumped everything overboard - from plastic garbage bags to crime scene evidence.  The cruise industry treated the sea like a garbage dump.  It treated crime victims like criminals.   

In the late 1990's, the U.S. Coast Guard caught Royal Caribbean engaged in the widespread Save the Waves - Bogus PR - Royal Caribbean Cruisesdumping of oil and chemicals.  The Justice Department responded by fining the cruise line $1,000,000.  In response, the cruise line went to its PR people who dreamed up a campaign of "Save the Waves."  The PR experts posed the cruise line as a leader in protecting the environment.  Royal Caribbean posted this mantra on signs all over its cruise ships.  All of the waiters, bar tenders, and cabin attendants had to wear "Save the Waves" badges touting the cruise line's commitment to protecting the seas on which it sailed. 

The problem, however, is that the cruise line didn't change its ways.  Royal Caribbean continued to illegally discharge oil, waste and fecal matter everywhere from the Caribbean to the pristine waters of Alaska.

The Feds caught Royal Caribbean dumping again.  And the U.S. government fined the cruise line again - this time $8,000,000 - and placed it on probation.  Did Royal Caribbean learn its lesson?  No, the illegal discharges increased.  While the crew members wore their "save the waves" buttons above deck while serving passengers cocktails, Royal Caribbean engineers below the decks fabricated secret by-pass values to dump everything from raw sewage to chemicals used in the photography labs directly into the ocean. Royal Caribbean cruise ship even dumped oil and sewage into the waters right outside of the executives' windows overlooking Biscayne Bay.

The U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno, a Miami resident herself and an environmentalist as well, Royal Caribbean - Crime Scene? - Cover Up? - PRwas not amused. The discrepancy between how the cruise held itself out to the public as a green company versus its actual criminal conduct was not lost on the Attorney General.  By the time she was through, Royal Caribbean pled guilty to multiple felonies, received another whopping fine of $18,000,000, and agreed to a five year probation.

While Royal Caribbean was forced to clean up its act on the environmental front, it found itself embroiled in multiple lawsuits after women and children were sexually assaulted during cruises.  Its own guests accused it of hiding evidence and tampering with crimes scenes on the cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean went back to its PR consultants for a quick fix of the problem.  The result was a much publicized "zero tolerance" slogan where the cruise line promised to report all crimes to the FBI and to preserve evidence to be used against the perpetrators, who too often were crew members.  But like the "save the waves" marketing gimmick, the "zero tolerance" motto was just Cruise Industry Reputation - Mr. Clean - Sanitized Crime Scenes?another PR scheme.    

All too often, by the time the FBI arrived on the scene following a shipboard rape, all evidence was gone.  The cruise industry was often accused of sanitizing the cabins and steam cleaning the carpets. The destruction of evidence on cruise ships seemed so thorough that it appeared like a scene out of Pulp Fiction where hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) call upon Mr. Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to oversee the meticulous clean up of their bloody car. 

In 2005, I was retained to represent the newlywed bride of George Smith IV, who disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas under mysterious circumstances.  At this time, Royal Caribbean was an admitted corporate felon which had just come of probation for its environmental crimes and lies to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The cruise line quickly labeled Mr. Smith's death to be an "accident."  But there was blood all over the awning below his cabin.  And when photographs of what many thought was a crime scene began appearing on cable news every night, the American public had doubts about what Royal Royal Caribbean - PR - Public Relations - Cover Up?Caribbean was saying.  For the next year, the cruise line fought a highly public PR battle in the press, pandering to their base of travel agents and cruise fans while attacking the grieving families. 

In the process, the cruise line's history of shipboard crimes came into focus.  The U.S. Congress convened five hearings from 2005 through 2009 into the issue of whether cruise ships were safe.  The debate focused almost exclusively on Royal Caribbean's history of sexual assaults, shipboard crimes and unexplained disappearances of passengers.

While Royal Caribbean decided to fight a very public battle in the press, behind the scenes other cruise lines cringed as the cruise industry's image sank further and further.  When things could not get any worse, the President of Royal Caribbean's main competitor, Carnival, entered the public relations nightmare.  President Dickinson publicly proclaimed that the death of young George Smith was a "non-event."  Not only did Carnival's President decide to state this publicly, he chose to do so at the cruise industry's annual "Sea Trade" convention in Miami Beach in front of hundreds of reporters - while sitting next to Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein. 

Rather than distancing himself from such disrespectful comments, Mr. Goldstein sat smiling and was later photographed openly chuckling with Mr. Dickinson in front of the cruise delegates.  Royal Caribbean - PR - RCCL's Adam Goldstein - Public Relations - Carnival's Dickinson About what?  Who knows.  But the damage was done. The cruise industry's indifference and arrogance came through loud and clear. 

Over the past five years, if something outrageous happened on a cruise ship, chances are the ship carried a Royal Caribbean flag.  Child molestation, sexual assault, norovirus, employee theft, passenger and crew member over-boards - you name it, Royal Caribbean has it covered.  As I pointed out in Royal Caribbean Press Statements And Other Gobbledygook, the mantra of other Miami cruise lines is "only at Royal Caribbean could this happen."

In the next couple of weeks, we will report on some of the recent PR blunders by the cruise industry.  And chances are they will involve our friends at Royal Caribbean. 

 

Credits:

Haiti - earthquake     AP (via Mail OnLine)

Royal Caribbean cruise ship        The Consumerist    Don't miss reading "Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites With Viral Marketing Team."

Cabin        MSNBC

Awning     CBS News

And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . .

A handful of recent stories have shed light unwanted light on the image-conscious cruise industry.  Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to paint pictures of care free vacations.  But here are some stories published in the last few days which make you realize that the fun-filled family cruise may a bit different than advertised.

Wedding Disaster on Carnival's Sensation - WKMG, a local television station from Orlando, Cruise PR - Cruise Public Relations reports on the disastrous wedding of a young couple on Carnival's Sensation cruise ship.  Initially delayed by a bomb scare, the wedding party was promised that the ceremony would go forward as planned.  But after arriving three hours late to the cruise ship, they find other passengers wandering into their pre-wedding buffet.  The ship's Captain then wanted them off the ship in thirty minutes.  So they quickly exchanged vows and headed to the reception buffet, which was interrupted by a muster station drill where other passengers arrived wearing life jackets and helped themselves to the buffet.  When the bride wanted to call Carnival's headquarters, the ship told her a per minute telephone charge would apply.  Watch the video, its a disaster.

The Death of Carnival Cruise Passenger Carol Olson - The Baltimore Sun covered the tragic death of a cruise passenger during a snorkeling excursion sold by Carnival which by all accounts was haphazard and disorganized.  Reporter Frank Roylance's wrote a blockbuster article entitled "Pleasure Cruises Bring Risks, Too - Families Say Tragedies Expose Cruise Lines' Limited Liability."  He touches upon an issue which the cruise lines like to keep secret - namely that cruise lines have insulated themselves from liability when the negligence of "independent contractors" like excursion companies and ship doctors ends up killing passengers. Roylance discusses cruise fires, drownings, disappearances, and crime.  

Date Rape Drugs on Princess Cruises -  The International Cruise Victims website just published a story "Cruise From Hell" where parents recount the terror of their daughter who goes to a teen center on Princess Cruises' Grand Princess only to end up missing.  According to the article, the daughter is eventually found semi-conscious by a stairwell.  The family reports that they endured the indignity of a security guard telling their daughter "where have you been, you little slut?"  Although the ship initially confirmed the involvement of a date rape drug, the cruise line later wrote the family a letter, saying that nothing happened.  Princess denied that any of the surveillance tapes showed anything - a tale we have heard before.

Royal Caribbean No Help To Passengers From the Tar Heel State - In a story we touched upon yesterday,  ABC affiliate WTVD News11 in North Carolina aired a story yesterday about a number of families who traveled to Miami only to find that Royal Caribbean's policies regarding the use of birth certificates as identification were inconsistent and confusing. The cruise line refused to permit passengers to board who had their original certificates from the hospitals where they were born, but let others aboard who had  facsimile copies from the clerk's office.  The $15,000,000,000 Cruise PR - Cruise Industry Reputationcorporation would not let any of the frantic passengers use their machines at the port.  Many frustrated customers spent $1,5000 each for a family vacation, only to be turned away from the ship.  Watch the video.

Carnival Terrorizes Passengers, Then Calls Their Stories "Ridiculous" -  Two weeks ago, the Carnival Ecstasy cruise ship was sailing across the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico when it suddenly and unexpectedly made a 90 degree turn which emptied the pool, ripped tables bolted to the deck loose, injured 60 passengers, and terrorized hundreds more.  Carnival claimed that the ship turned to port and listed around 12 degrees to avoid what Carnival called a "loose" buoy. 40 passengers left comments on our blog, stating that the ship actually turned to starboard, listed as much as 30 degrees, and may have been trying to avoid a fixed buoy marking small islands later documented on a maritime chart.  Carnival's PR spokesperson mocked the passengers, called their claims "ridiculous," and refused to apologize.       

The cruise industry's dubious reputation has never recovered after the Department of Justice caught Carnival and Royal Caribbean engaging in wide spread dumping, falsification of log books, and lying and fined them a total of $45,000,000 ten years ago.   

Stories like these suggest that cruise lines still have a hard time telling the truth or treating their customers fairly and squarely.  And the cruise industry wonders why it has an image problem . . .    

 

Like this article?  Then we suggest reading:

Cruise Lines and Social Media - P & O Cruises Hits A Home Run

Advertising Age - Royal Caribbean Blasted for Continuing Stops in Haiti - Despite Generous Efforts, PR Pros Say Cruise Line Has Damaged Reputation With Its Response

Or read a puff piece by a traveler writer regarding the cruise industry's reputation: Bad Rap: Why the News Media's Cruise Reporting Goes Negative

Have you subscribed to Cruise Law News (CLN)?  Just enter your email in the box at the left or sign up for a RSS feed. 

Have a suggestion for an article?  Let us hear from you in the contact box, above left. 

 

Credits:

Cruise ship and waiters               Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Injured Carnival Ecstasy passenger          Brandy and Ashley Vickery (via ABC13 "Sixty Passengers Hurt on Galveston-Based Cruise Ship")  

What's Up With The Water on Carnival's Liberty Cruise Ship?

Obtaining accurate information from the cruise industry is difficult.  Whenever passengers have a complaint, the cruise lines either ignore them or the cruise lines' customer relations departments send them a nonsensical letter several weeks later dismissing their complaints or offering a 25% on a future cruise.  This often infuriates the passengers who have no intention of ever sailing on a particular cruise line again and are seeking specific information to their legitimate inquiries. 

There are websites which provide an excellent source of information that the cruise lines don't want you to know.  One is CruiseJunkie, run by Professor Ross Klein in Canada.  Dr. Klein tracks safety issues, environmental concerns, and passenger and crew complaints. He has testified several times regarding cruise ship crime before our U.S. Congress.

Carnival Cruise Ship Liberty - WaterThis morning I read an interesting article on CruiseJunkie regarding a passenger's complaint that the water in the sink and toilet was brown and disgusting looking.  The passenger was a cancer survivor and was concerned whether the water may have been toxic.  Photos of the sink and toilet are courtesy of CruiseJunkie.  Take a look. 

Gross!

But the purpose of writing about this is not just to gross you out.  It is to demonstrate how cruise lines respond to concerns like this.

The shipboard officers and crew offered no assistance or explanation, and would not even send a few complimentary bottles of water to the cabin.  And when the passenger returned home and wrote to Carnival, the cruise line's "Guest Care" team sent what the passenger accurately characterized as a "nonsensical letter" stating "Designing memorable trips is the heart of our business . . . Great food and service . . . will create wonderful memories . . ."  The letter ended with no explanation regarding the source of the contaminated water but regretted that the passenger "felt let down."

The passenger contacted the Florida Division of Consumer Services, the US Public Health Service, and the Federal Maritime Commission - all of whom informed him that they have no regulatory authority over the cruise line industry.

This is what happens when the cruise industry is unregulated and is not obligated to report incidents to health or safety regulators.  Cruise lines like Carnival are not forthcoming with truthful information.  Whether it's the senior PR spokesperson or a low level clerk in the customer services' department, they will write a letter or issue a press statement treating the U.S. public like idiots.  

So the mystery of the disgusting water on Carnival's Liberty will remain, like many disturbing incidents on cruise ships, a mystery.    

Carnival Cruise Ship - Liberty - Water

Photographs courtesy CruiseJunkie.com

May 3, 2010 Update:

This is not the first time passengers have complained about the water on Carnival's Liberty cruise ship.  A reader brought the following YouTube video to our attention.  Take a look: 

 

 

 

Have you subscribed to Cruise Law News (CLN)?  Interested in receiving CLN afticles via email?  Then type your email address in at the box at the upper left.  Or sign up for a RSS feed.   Thanks! 

Reason No. 7 Not to Cruise: Cruise Lines Exploit Foreign Crew Members, Like You'd Never Believe

Cruise Critic ran an article a couple of weeks ago about the Top 10 Reasons To Cruise.  I responded with my article "Top Ten Reasons Not To Cruise."  I previously addressed the first six  reasons not to cruise, which are at the bottom of this article.*

The purpose of this series is not to convince you not to cruise, but to educate consumers regarding the dangers inherent in and the consequences of cruising.  I'm not your big brother, trust me.  It you want to cruise, that's entirely your business and none of mine.   But at least educate yourself before you take your family on a vacation you may regret.  

St. Vincent - Royal Caribbean - Exploitation - Crew MemberThe 7th reason not to cruise may not leave much of an impression on most of my American readers because it involves "foreign crew members" who most passengers will never meet.

Our firm and clients have been featured over a hundred times on every major television station, cable news network, radio, newspaper and magazine in the U.S. and abroad.  But the news sources are interested almost exclusively in crimes or injuries involving U.S. passengers.  An injured or victimized crew member from Jamaica, India, or Nicaragua is usually of no interest to U.S. reporters.

The exception was several years ago when The Miami New Times ran a story "Screwed If By Sea - Cruise Lines Throw Workers Overboard When It Comes to Providing Urgent Medical Care."

The article focused on one of our crew member clients from the little island of St. Vincent who, after suffering second and third degree burns on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing to Alaska - was sent by Royal Caribbean on a journey from Alaska to Los Angeles to Miami to Barbados to St. Vincent - as part of a plan by the cruise line Royal Caribbean to abandon him in a third world country with no medical treatment. 

Take a moment and read the article.

You will smell the crew member's rotting flesh half way through the article.

Is "evil," or "diabolical," or "criminal" too strong of a word for this degree of corporate malfeasance?  I suppose it depends if it involved you - or a "foreign" crew member. 

The exploitation of crew members, particularly "utility cleaners" who often work 360 hours a month for around $540 a month, continues.  Last year we addressed the problem in an articles entitled:

"Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award; and

Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft.

There are few Americans who would cruise if they knew how poorly the cruise lines treat their crew members.  The absolute worst cruise lines which abuse their crew members are Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises - the only winners of Cruise Law News' popular "Worst Cruise Line In The World Award."

Read the first six reasons not to cruise and then add this article into the mix.  Are you really going to cruise with your family on one of these foreign-flagged cruise ships which exploit the souls of the hard working men and women from Jamaica, India, Nicaragua and St. Vincent?

 

Tomorrow - Reason No. 8 Not To Cruise: Blackwater, Blackwater, Blackwater

 

Credits:   Jim Walker's Cruise Law Flickr Page 

 

*Cruise Law News' Last  6 Reasons Not To Cruise 

No. 1: Cruise Lines Are A Perfect Place To Sexually Abuse Children

No. 2: Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Place to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It!

No. 3: Carnival, Royal Caribbean And NCL Are Corporate Felons

No. 4: If You Are A Victim On A Cruise Ship, The Cruise Line Will Treat You Like A Criminal

No. 5: If You Are Retired Or A Child, The Cruise Line Considers Your Life Worthless

No. 6: If The Ship Doctor Kills You, Too Bad

"Danger On The Love Boat: Cruise Ship Crimes, Disappearances & Cover Ups"

For the past three years, I have written several hundreds of pages of stories about the cruise ship cases we have handled.  The cruise lines' skill, in engaging in an endless number of stunts and cover ups before judges and juries, our U.S. Congress and the American people, never ceases to amaze me. 

I have written these stories with an eye toward incorporating these experiences into a book about cruise ship crime.  We have represented over 70 victims of sexual assault on cruise ships.  Some cruise lines are nasty and other lines are even nastier regarding how they treat the victims.  A central focus of my writing has been the extraordinary steps taken by the cruise lines to keep the public from knowing the truth about what happens on the high seas. 

"Danger On The Love Boat - Cruise Ship Crimes, Disappearances, Cover Ups"®I have released tidbits of these stories as blog articles here on Cruise Law News ("CLN") to see if there is an interest.

So far, I have received a lot of encouragement.  Most recently, I received a nice recommendation via a #FollowFriday recommendation on Twitter from a very talented paralegal, Kristina Duncan, whose Twitter page is @legalninjaKris.  A reader to her blog made the following comment:

Mr. Walker’s series is a compelling presentation of cruising’s nasty underbelly.  It should be read by everyone considering a cruise, so they will be aware of the risks before signing a contract.  It is shocking to see how much support in law cruise operators have in defense of the outrageous behavior Mr. Walker documents.  There is an obvious need for serious legislation to deal with these issues.  I hope Mr. Walker will see his series titles as chapters in a much-needed book exposing cruise operator conduct to the American public.  Thank you for publicizing this informative series.

So with thanks to Ms. Duncan, I'll admit that a cruise book has been in the works for a while.  I have a commitment from a good publishing house. There are many stories that are not well known, yet.  Like the outrageous circumstances surrounding the "disappearance" of Italian crew member Angelo Faliva (photo above), as well as other equally disturbing crimes not yet revealed to the public.  The task now is to figure out which stories are the most compelling and to turn the manuscript over to the publishing company.  

I will donate 100% of the "profits" (if any) to a non-profit organization involved in cruise safety issues.  If no one buys a copy, I'll buy a 1,000 myself and pass them out to my friends and family - and then send the other 993 copies to whoever wants one!  

I hear that most publishing companies like to make the decision to name the books they publish.  We'll see if that happens.  I am struggling with the title.  I am thinking of: "Danger On The Love Boat: Cruise Ship Crimes, Disappearances & Cover Ups."®

The lawyers and support staff at Cruise Law don't like the title.  What so you think?

Contact me on the "Ask Jim A Question" box to the left, or leave a comment below, or call me at (305) 995-5300 with your thoughts.  I'll send a couple of free copies to anyone who can think of a good name for the book.

Thanks!  

 

Credits:       vascellor.it 

Reason No. 3 Not To Cruise: Carnival, Royal Caribbean And NCL Are Corporate Felons

This is reason no. 3 in the series: Top 10 Reasons Not To Cruise

In law school, I learned that evidence of a felony or a crime involving dishonesty can be introduced at trial to be considered by the jury to assess a person's credibility.  The same rule of evidence applies equally to corporations, like cruise lines.

Would you do business with someone who committed repeated crimes involving dishonesty?   If you have taken a cruise, chances are that you have already done business with a corporate felon.

In 1999, Royal Caribbean pled guilty in six jurisdictions to charges of wide-spread fleet-wide practices of routinely discharging oil-contaminated wastes and pollutants (including in Alaska's Inside Passage), and repeatedly making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard.  The illegal discharges and falsification of log books took place on Royal Caribbean cruise ships entering ports in Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Anchorage, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Save The Waves - Royal Caribbean - Corporate FelonThe U.S. leveled the felony charges not just because of the repeated and massive scale of the dumping of pollutants but because the cruise line continued to lie. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno stated at a press conference: 

.  .  . at the same time that their ships were sailing into the inland passage of Alaska, one of the most sensitive and beautiful eco-systems in our nation, their crew members were wearing buttons that said, 'Save the Waves.'  That's what they were wearing above deck.  Below deck, business as usual was going on and oily contaminated bilge water was being dumped overboard . . .

Attorney General Reno was rightfully pissed: " .  .  . if people flim-flam us, they should expect the consequences .  .  ."  When the sentencing was over, the U.S. Government fined Royal Caribbean a total of $27,000,000 and placed the cruise line on probation for five years.

When this occurred, the "inside word" in Miami was that all of the other cruise lines were dumping pollutants and lying about it, but only Royal Caribbean got caught.

In 2002, the U.S. Government caught up with Carnival as well.

By the time the investigation was over, Carnival pled guilty to numerous felonies for discharging oily waste into the sea.  Like Royal Caribbean, Carnival routinely falsified its oil record books in order to conceal its illegal practices.  The U.S. Government leveled a $18,000,000 fine and placed Carnival on probation.

A few months later, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) - feeling the heat - stepped forward and pled guilty to a felony of routinely circumventing the oily water separator, dumping oily bilge directly into Cruise Line Corporate Felons - Pollution - Lyingthe ocean on a regular basis, and falsifying its record keeping.  NCL admitted that it engaged in a practice of "systematically lying to the United States Coast Guard over a period of years." 

The Department of Justice issued a fine of only $1,500,000, primarily because NCL admitted its wrongdoing rather than lying and scheming like Royal Caribbean and Carnival.

Since these incidents, all of these cruise lines and their subsidiaries have been caught dumping illegal levels of pollutants in violation of state laws or memorandum of understandings with states like California.  Carnival's subsidiary Princess Cruises is the most prolific violator of Alaska's wastewater regulations over the course of the last year.

The U.S. public has a choice where to go on vacation.  For example, the United States has an incredible number of beautiful National Parks to visit.  The parks are staffed by environmentalists dedicated to protecting the park's animals, birds, waters and land.  Why not give a National Park a try this summer?

But cruising?  Do you really want to hand your hard earned income over to admitted corporate felons, which are registered in foreign countries in order to avoid U.S. taxes, and which are continuing to pollute our waters?      

 

Tomorrow: Reason No. 4 Not to Cruise: If You Are A Victim On A Cruise Ship, The Cruise Line Will Treat You Like A Criminal

Do you have a comment?  Let us hear from you in the comment section below.

Reason No. 2 Not To Cruise: Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Place to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It!

This is reason no. 2 in the series: Top 10 Reasons Not To Cruise

Imagine owning a business where one of your employees drugged and raped a patron.  What would you do?   

Would you interrogate the victim before calling the police?  Would you tape record the victim without her permission?  Would you demand that the victim prepare written statements before she could receive medical treatment?   Would you scramble your defense lawyers to the scene to look for a way to build a case against the victim?  Would you refuse to provide the name and address of your Cime Rocks The Boats - Cruise Ship Crimeemployee to the victim?  Would you work with your employee's criminal defense lawyers, and meet the assailant in jail, in an effort to help him win an acquittal at the criminal trial?   

Of course not, but this is exactly what happens on many cruise ships today.

Unlike airplanes with Federal Marshals, cruise ships have no police authorities aboard.  The few security guards on the ships are loyal to their employer who pays their salary - not to the passenger. 

When a crime occurs, the cruise lines first notify their risk managements departments and their defense lawyers.  If the closed circuit television (CCTV) tapes exculpate the cruise line, the cruise line keeps the tapes.  Otherwise, the CCTV images are invariably taped over, "lost" or the cruise line will claim that the CCTV system was not working.  The cruise lines will protect their own employee's legal interests - not the passenger's rights. 

In some criminal cases we have handled, the cruise lines did not bother to notify the FBI; in other cases, the cruise lines notified the FBI only after they destroyed evidence and sanitized the crime scene. The result is that criminals on cruise ships are rarely prosecuted.

In fact, some cruise lines have never had a crew member ever convicted of a sex crime or other felony.

Most crew members know that nothing will happen to them if they commit a crime on the ship.  Because there is no criminal accountability, there is no deterrence to crimes on cruises ships.  This is not my opinion, but the conclusions reached by security and sexual harassment experts who have studied the problem. 

In 1999, Royal Caribbean hired two top notch firms to study the problem of sexual assaults on the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity fleet of cruise ships.  The cruise line retained a consulting firm called "Sheridan, Swailes" to study the company's security systems.  Royal Caribbean also retained a nationally recognized expert on sexual harassment issues, Dr. Kay Krohne, who previously was a commanding officer at the Naval Training Station in San Diego. 

Kay Krohne - Cruise Sexual Assault - Cruise Sexual HarassmentAfter conducting an extensive analysis of the Royal Caribbean / Celebrity fleet, these experts concluded that sexual misconduct occurred "frequently" during cruises.  They attributed this problem to the fact that most crew members were not afraid of being arrested, much less convicted.  Dr. Krohne reported that the worst thing that could happen to a crew member who committed a crime on a Royal Caribbean or Celebrity cruise ship was to be sent on a one way flight home.

The experts concluded that male cabin attendants and bartenders were the most likely crew members to commit a crime.  The most likely location?  The passengers cabin.  The experts recommended a number of improvements, such as placing CCTV cameras in the passenger hallways, deactivating passenger cabin key cards used by crew members after working hours, and implementing steps to collect and preserve evidence to be used against the crew members at trial.  Without having a system in place that will result in crew members being arrested, the experts concluded that the crimes would continue.    

Unfortunately, when the executives at Royal Caribbean received the reports - they did not implement any of the recommended improvements.  Instead, they chose to tell the U.S. public that crime on cruise ships was "rare."  When a crime inevitably occurred, the cruise line then sent their defense lawyers to the next port to board the ship long before the FBI arrived. 

The result is that by the time the FBI arrives or the cruise ship returns to a foreign port, the evidence is long gone. 

In an article entitled "Crime Rocks The Boats," TIME Magazine addressed this problem.  TIME reported on troubling cases involving two of our clients - Janet Kelly who was drugged and raped during a cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico, and Jennifer Hagel whose husband George Smith IV "disappeared" from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship during their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean.  In both cases, the cruise lines scrambled their defense lawyers to the cruise ships and quickly began compromising the passengers' potential criminal and civil cases.  TIME raised the question why "only 7% of the 135 federal investigations into sexual assault over the past five George Smith IV - Missing - Royal Caribbeanyears were prosecuted.  Why were 93% of the cases dropped?"  TIME reported on the FBI's explanation, as follows:

"By the time we can get to [the victim and witnesses], a period of time has passed, people's memories change, they were intoxicated, or there is a lack of evidence because it was cleaned."

TIME addressed the problem of crimes on the high seas and the cruise industry's efforts to cover the problem up, and quoted me in the process:

".  .  .  the only authorities most cruise-crime victims can turn to are the ship's security personnel, who have a strong incentive to protect the industry's fun-in-the-sun image.  'The cruise line controls the scene of the crime, controls the witnesses, controls the evidence,' says Miami attorney James Walker, who represented Kelly.  'It's all being filtered through the company's risk-management department.'  Court documents seen by TIME back up that contention. In one case, a passenger who was examined on board for evidence of gang rape sued the cruise line after ship security, by allowing housekeeping to repeatedly steam-clean the carpet, failed to preserve the alleged crime scene.  In another case, a passenger accused of sexual assault testified that a ship security officer coached him to state that "no sex was performed by anyone."

TIME also quoted another maritime lawyer in Miami that cruise lines " .  .  . are silently working against the victim. They're busy trying to make sure criminal cases don't see the light of day."

The LA Times also discussed the lack of prosecutions of cruise crimes in a blockbuster article entitled "Cruise Industry's Dark Waters - What Happens At Sea Stays There As Crimes On Liners Go Unresolved."  The newspaper reported on the cruise industry's lack of candor to the U.S. Congress during hearings on cruise crimes and the cruise lines' under-reporting of such crimes.  During one of the Congressional hearings which took place from 2005 - 2008, Congressman Christopher Shays questioned whether the cruise lines are keeping some crimes off the books:

"There's a huge incentive to downplay any incident, to sail on .  .  .  Is going on a cruise the perfect way to commit the perfect crime?"

In the last two years, some cruise lines have changed their approach to handling shipboard crimes.  Royal Caribbean, for example, stopped sending trial lawyers to the cruise ships, but other cruise lines still do so.  Royal Caribbean now has a "Global Security" team, consisting of former FBI agents, which handles the investigations.  But the FBI never had a good record investigating cruise crimes in the first place.  Will this lead to a greater number of arrests and convictions - or is this just more of the same?       

Recent incidents suggest that the problem continues. 

In November of last year, an Italian chef, Angelo Faliva, "disappeared" from a Princess Cruises cruise ship after the ship left Fort Lauderdale.  Mr. Faliva, like George Smith IV, was a healthy, happy, energetic and well-liked young man with a bright future ahead of him.  But when he went overboard between Aruba and Columbia, the cruise line's crisis management team took center stage.  Princess claimed that it was "puzzled" and didn't know what happened - a claim considered to be dubious given the hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the cruise ship.

Angelo Faliva - Missing - Princess CruisesThe "mystery" of Mr. Faliva soon resembled  the typical case of corporate malfeasance which has characterized the cruise industry.  According to the Faliva family, Princess Cruises refuses to cooperate.  

The case also illustrates the indifference exhibited by the flag state, in this case the country of Bermuda which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminals on Princess cruise ships which fly Bermuda flags.  It took two weeks before Bermuda bothered to travel to the cruise ship.  Like the Bahamas, Liberia, and Panama where the cruise lines register their cruise ships, Bermuda has done little to investigate the disappearance.  

There seems to be a "quid pro quo" in place.  In exchange for the hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars paid by the cruise lines in registration fees, flag states like Bermuda will conduct no real investigation.  The cruise line is left to handle criminal incidents "internally."   The worst that happens is the offending crew members receives a one way ticket home.  The victim's family is left to deal with the cruise line's stonewalling and the flag state's indifference.      

Earlier last year, Bermuda refused to arrest a bar employee, aboard the Coral Princess cruise ship, who admitted raping an unconscious woman after a crew party.  Princess Cruises then flew the rapist from Seattle back to the Philippines with only a slap on his wrist. 

Where is Princess Cruises' self-admitted rapist today?  Is he working for another cruise line serving drinks to cruise passengers?   Did Princess notify Royal Caribbean, NCL, or its parent corporation Carnival about the rapist so that they would not hire a known rapist?

In the case of Janet Kelly, the cruise line flew her rapist (also a bar employee) from the cruise ship in Los Angeles back to his home country (Jamaica) after he drugged and raped her.  We learned that he then applied for a job with Princess Cruises which accepted him into its fleet of cruise ships.  He then freely interacted with the Princess passengers, who were unaware of his criminal past.

The current system of flying rapist crew members back to their home countries with no criminal accountability - only to be re-hired by another cruise line - is exactly the problem which Dr. Wunderwelt Wisen - Cruise Crimes and DisappearancesKay Krohne warned about over a decade ago.  It is a rotten and disgraceful practice.  Sexual predators are emboldened by the cruise line's malfeasance.  They will strike again.   

Given the work of victim organizations, like the International Cruise Victims, there is an increasing international awareness that cruise lines like Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean frequently cover up crimes and work to make certain that mysterious "disappearances" remain just that - "mysteries."  

Just the other week, the German magazine "Wunderwelt Wisen" discussed the string of disturbing cases of passengers James Scavonne (Carnival), Dianne Brimble (P and O Cruises), Merrian Carver (Celebrity Cruises), Christopher Caldwell (Carnival), and George Smith IV (Royal Caribbean), as well as the recent disappearance of Italian crew member Angelo Faliva (Princess Cruises).

Under the title "Dream Boats," the magazine analogized a tourist who boards a cruise ship as someone going on a holiday into a small town without a police station, concluding that:

"Dream ships are perfect for the perfect crime." 

 

Tomorrow, we will discuss Reason No. 3 Not To Cruise: Carnival, Royal Caribbean And NCL Are Corporate Felons  

Do you have a comment?  Let us hear from you below.

Princess Cruises Uses Surveillance Film to Kick Kids Off Cruise Ship for Throwing Food Overboard

While reading cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein's most excellent cruise site - Cruise Junkie - I found an excerpt of a letter written by a grandmother who was upset that her two grandchildren were booted from the Sapphire Princess cruise ship.  As it turns out, security personnel reviewing the Princess Cruises - Wedding Cam - Sapphire Princesssurveillance cameras spotted the kids throwing some food overboard

Dr. Klein found the conduct of the cruise line "outrageous" for no other reason than the cruise ship itself regularly discharges liquefied food waste as part of normal discharge operations. 

Indeed, as I have written about in prior blogs, this is more than a little bit ironic because  Princess Cruises has repeatedly violated waste water regulations:    

In September, the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Pacific  PrincessSapphire Princess and Sea Princess were cited for violating the Alaska waste water quality standards.  Again, in October, the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Pacific Princess, Sapphire Princess and Sea Princess - together with the Golden Princess - were cited for water discharge violations.  In November, the same culprits - the Diamond Princess, Island Princess, Sea Princess, Golden Princess and Diamond Princess were busted for pollution.

Princess Cruises ruined a family's vacation for some kids throwing a couple of chicken wings overboard while the cruise lines routinely discharges copper, ammonia, zinc, bacteria and nasty fecal matter into Alaska's pristine waters?

Nuts!

While I agree that Princess Cruises' conduct is ridiculous, my perspective is a little bit different.

As we have written about in prior articles, a Princess Cruises' crewmember Angelo Faliva "disappeared" from one of the Princess cruise ships last November.  There are hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the cruise ship.  Yet the cruise line claims that it has no idea what happened to this young man?

Princess Cruises - Bridge Cam - Caribbean Princess Nuts! 

Now let me ask you this:  How can the Princess security kick some teenagers off a cruise ship after seeing them throwing some food overboard based on their surveillance cameras - and then claim that its surveillance cameras could not detect a 6 foot tall man going overboard?

Like the Coral Princess where Mr. Faliva "disappeared," the Sapphire Princess has lots of surveillance cameras, as well as wedding cams and bridge cams which you can see detailed images 5,000 miles away from the comfort of your home.  But the Coral Princess doesn't have a single surveillance cam of an adult man going overboard? 

Nuts!  

Does this cruise line destroy surveillance films when its crewmembers go overboard but arbitrarily use surveillance films to kick children off of its cruise ships?   

You decide.  Read some of the articles about the plight of the Faliva family, and then consider how this family on the Sapphire Princess was abused by Princess' selective use of the cruise ship's surveillance cameras: 

For Christmas, my husband and I gave our two grown sons and their families a cruise to Mexico on the Sapphire Princess departing and returning to Los Angeles. We were spending Christmas on the ship. It would have been the first time I had managed to get both families together in 20 years for the holiday. On Dec. 23, at sea between Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, my two grandsons, age 13 ands 15, were in a cabin of another boy they had met on the ship and they had thrown some Princess Cruises - Wedding Cam - Emerald Princessarticles of food overboard including a fork. Apparently, they were spotted on camera by security.

The next day in Cabo San Lucas (Christmas Eve day), my son, his wife and the two boys were ordered off the ship by Captain Tony Herriott and had to pay their own way back to Los Angeles. Three other families whose sons were also involved were ordered off the ship. The Captain's actions devastated us all. Needless to say, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were very depressing days for the seven of us that remained on board.

There is now a new Christmas Grinch out there and he is the Captain of a Princess cruise ship!

 

Credits:    Wedding and Bridge Cams             Princess Cruises

 

Update on Missing Crewmember Angelo Faliva - a Story of "Pain & Incompetency"

An Italian blogger Stefano Nazzi provides updated information regarding the "disappearance" of Italian crew member Angelo Faliva from the Coral Princess cruise ship operated by Princess Cruises.

In his article entitled "Chi Indaga Sulla Scomparsa di Angelo Faliva?" Mr. Nazzi questions whether anyone is actually investigating Mr. Faliva's disappearance.  He characterizes the situation as Angelo Faliva - Coral Princess Cruise Ship - Princess Cruises an "ugly story" - one "of pain" suffered by the Faliva family and "incompetence and laxity" by the police in Bermuda. 

In theory, the country of Bermuda is suppose to be investigating the case, because Princess Cruises flags its cruise ships in that country to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. labor and wage laws.  

The fact that Bermuda has no genuine interest in investigating crimes and mysterious incidents on Princess cruise ships is becoming increasingly apparent.  Princess Cruises operates its fleet of cruise ships out of its corporate headquarters in Santa Clarita, California.  The police in Bermuda are literally and figuratively in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, apparently doing little to provide answers for the Faliva family.

The Italian blog suggests that the police in Bermuda have still not inspected Mr. Faliva's three cellular telephones or his computer and camera. Nor have they examined the records of the cruise ship's surveillance cameras.  When Mr. Faliva's younger sister, Chiara, inquired into the delay, the police in Bermuda complained that they were busy with other matters.  They wrote that they felt harassed by Ms. Faliva and preferred to be left alone!

The blog also contains a comment by Chiara Faliva that her family believes that the Princess cruise ship knows more about her brother's death than it will admit.  And the authorities in Bermuda are providing no answers as the family's search for information approaches three months.      

She writes that "frankly I believe that persons on board the ship know what happened at my brother.  Besides the sadness, pain, and anger, I experience also disgust, amazement and incredulity . . ." by the attitude of the "investigating" authorities.   

Angelo Faliva (below, in the galley of the Coral Princess) was a happy and well liked chef who enjoyed working on the cruise ship.  How can there be no explanation provided by Princess Cruises?  

We have written many articles about the cruise line's malfeasance and the flag state's refusal to provide answers. 
  
Do you have information about this story?  Please contact Ms. Chiara chiara_faliva@msn.com

Angelo Faliva - Coral Princess Cruise Ship - Princess Cruises

 

Credits:

Photographs of Angelo Faliva      Chiara Faliva

Oasis of the Seas - Wow! - Another Cruise Puff Piece By the Miami Herald

An article this morning caught my eye: "Newest and Biggest Cruise Ship: Oasis of the Seas." The article contains the usual "wow-look-how-big-it-is!" style of writing which is most typically associated with travel agents.  You know, those travel agents doubling as authors whose interest Miami Heraldin describing this monster-of-cruise-ship is hopelessly intertwined with obtaining commissions by selling cruises. 

Then I realized that the article (appearing in a Dallas newspaper) was written by Jane Wooldridge who is the business editor of the Miami Herald.

I have written about the Miami Herald and Ms. Wooldridge in several prior articles: Miami Herald: Asleep at the Wheel Regarding the Cruise Industry and Miami Herald - See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.

There have been an incredible number of newsworthy developments involving cruise lines over the past five years - missing passengers, high profile sexual assaults, endless pollution fines, fires, sinkings, and five Congressional hearings involving Miami based cruise lines. But the Miami Herald wouldn't touch these stories.  It did not even report on the passage of the first cruise crime bill in the 40 history of the cruise industry. 

The Miami Herald's writers never publish anything negative or controversial which might embarrass their cruise line friends.  Credible newspapers with real journalists are left to cover these legitimate stories - like the Los Angeles Times, the San Fransisco Chronicle, or the New York Times.

The Miami Herald sold out to the Miami-based  cruise industry long ago.  This latest article is just the same old cruise cheerleading that the Herald is known for.  Consider the gushing adjectives chosen in the description of the mega ship:  "wow ... amazing . . . Oasis of the Seas - Monster of the Seasrevolutionary."  Can you imagine a business editor anywhere writing such drivel? The article contained quotes only from other cruise enthusiasts, travel agents and the cruise line's CEO, Richard Fain. 

The spectacle of the Oasis of the Seas raises disturbing questions which I have mentioned in numerous articles. But you will find no hint of controversy in articles by Miami Herald employees who consistently write travel pieces designed to sell tickets for their cruise line advertisers.  

Is it just coincidence that the article uses the word "Wow" (caps in original), when the corporate mantra at  Royal Caribbean is "Deliver the Wow?"   

And the latest controversy of this Cloverfield-like-beast-of-cruise-ship sailing past the ruins of Haiti to the cruise line's "private destination" of Labadee seems to many like corporate malfeasance on steroids.  But the Herald will look the other way.

See no evil.  Hear no evil.  Speak no evil.  The tradition of the Miami Herald continues.

 

Credits:

Newspaper vending machine        Daquella Manera Flickr Photostream 

Oasis of the Seas                       Kenneth Karsten via shipspotting.com

Royal Caribbean "Returns" to its Trademarked, Private Fantasy Island of LabadeeĀ® - While Haiti Suffers

Labadee Haiti Royal CaribbenaFollowing the devastation and destruction of Port of Prince, Royal Caribbean faced the potential public relations nightmare of sailing its mega cruise ships into its private resort of Labadee with thousands of affluent Americans partying and gorging themselves while over 100,000 Haitians lay dead and decaying in the streets and millions more already impoverished Haitians face hunger and hopelessness.     

The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. reported that Royal Caribbean's decision to go ahead with scheduled cruises into Labadee "divided passengers." One passenger commented on the popular Cruise Critic forum that he was "sickened" by the thought of frolicking in the Haitian port while other suffered:

"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water . . .  It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving," said another. "I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''

Another article "Cruise Ship Docks at Private Beach in Haiti for Barbeque and Water Sports" debates the appropriateness of all of this. The comments range from pointing out the "grotesqueness" of the spectacle of thousands of partying Americans in an idyllic beach to the nonchalant attitude - "life goes on . . . and as always, life is for the living."

There has always been an uneasy disconnect between the opulence of a cruise ship like Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas and a country as desperately impoverished as Haiti with a poverty rate of around 80 to 85 %.  Most Haitians are forced to survive on less than $2 a day.  The U.S. passengers on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, on the other hand, spend more for the Labadee - Haiti - Inside the fence - isolated from povertycruise, drinks, casino chips, and excursions than most Haitians will see for decades.  In addition to the Independence, Royal Caribbean's Navigator, Freedom, Enchantment and Liberty of the Seas, as well as its subsidiary Celebrity Cruises' Solstice, will all call on Labadee this year. 

The disparity between the haves and the have-nots will become even more pronounced as the $1,400,000,000 (billion) Oasis of the Seas, which visited Labadee in December last year, will begin arriving every other week in Labadee starting in May.

The executives at Royal Caribbean know how to make a hard bargain with Caribbean islands which have little economic bargaining power. CEO Richard Fain cut a deal where for only $6 a passenger (paid by the passenger), Haiti turned over a 260 acre tropical waterfront paradise of Haitian sovereign land for Royal Caribbean to consider it "private property" bearing the trademarked name "Labadee®." Yes, that's right.  This is a name that Royal Caribbean trademarked  as a variation of the French slave owner Marquis de La'Badie who settled in Haiti in the 1600's.

Many years ago an article revealed the hypocrisy of this whole endeavor.  Entitled "Fantasy Island:  Royal Carribean Parcels Off a Piece of Haiti," the article explained that Royal Caribbean began docking in Haiti in January 1986 after the ruthless dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier leased the land to Royal Caribbean.  He thereafter fled to France and the country turned into chaos for the next decade. 

Cruise Ship - Party - Eat, Drink and Be MerryRoyal Caribbean's timing was perfect.

The article continues: "plagued by a ravaged economy, residual political unrest, and 7,000 unemployed soldiers, the Haitian government was willing to bargain . . . Royal Caribbean got dirt-cheap entry, minimal regulation, and tactful silence."  The Haitian government earns less than $30,000 a week from the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, but, as Haiti's minister of tourism said: "we need to start somewhere."  Haiti was desperate. Royal Caribbean was Haiti's only choice.

Many argue that for the past many years, Royal Caribbean has not promoted or invested in Haiti.  Instead, as the article explains, it "exploited an acquiescent government and dictated its own terms of entry."  Its plan was to sell U.S. customers on an imaginary paradise.

Travel agents took the cue from Royal Caribbean and marketed the port as a "private island."  The fact that it was no island at all, but part of the mainland of Haiti, didn't bother the travel agents or the cruise line.  And it worked.  Consider a cruise review a couple of years ago:

One of the best Private Island experiences you could ever wish for! Labadee has four beaches and facilities for lots of people! Labadee is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean for the exclusive use of it's own passengers only . . .  Royal Caribbean maintains a nice lunch area on the island.  Here you can graze at your heart's content,  The cuisine was hamburgers, hot dogs, Haiti - Earthquake - Disasterchicken, ribs, various salads, and deserts. No charge. It's all included in the cost of your cruise!

Even last week, the Miami Herald ran a headline, cluelessly referring to Royal Caribbean returning to the "island" of Labadee. But the pretense of an island is only half of the illusion. Not only did Royal Caribbean fail to promote Haiti, it didn't even refer to Labadee as being in Haiti.  Rather it referred to Labadee as part of Hispaniola (the island comprising the Dominican Republic and Haiti) to try and keep the image of Haiti's poverty, violence, and civil unrest away from its customers.  

Labadee might as well be an island, considering that Royal Caribbean hires armed guards to patrol the 10-12 foot fences which isolate the Haitians from the cruise line's "private island."  Royal Caribbean keeps the locals away from its passengers who are "happily ensconced on the shores of paradise" with no idea that just over the walls are shanty-towns, sweat shops, and hungry and impoverished Haitians. The money spent in the private paradise of Labadee doesn't spread far beyond the fences. The article points out that all of the food, drinks, and even the tropical fruits and vegetables all come from Miami.

So now after isolating itself physically, financially and figuratively from Haiti for the past 20 years, Royal Caribbean is trying to justify not disrupting its business while not seeming indifferent to a country it has been indifferent to for 20 years. It just spent big bucks ($50,000,000) building a new wharf - one of the few locations which can handle the new mega ship Oasis of the Seas - as well as the world's longest zip line and an alpine coaster.  Royal Caribbean is banking on bringing the Oasis' 6,000 captive passengers onto that new wharf and charging them for the new zip line ($65), or wave runners ($80) or para-sailing, etc.      

In the last few days, Royal Caribbean has made a big deal talking about offloading pallets of food for Haiti. Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas sailed with only 60 cases of food and water  last Friday according to the Royal Caribbean President's "Nation of Why Not?" blog. That's just four pallets. The blog has some photographs of the few pallets from the Independence of the Seas - four pallets of flour, tomato sauce, can goods, and water bottles. Four pallets?  Considering that on a typical seven-day cruise Labadee - Haiti - Royal Caribbean "Private Destination"the cruise ship's passengers consume over 100,000 pounds of food and 12,000 gallons of alcohol over the course of over a hundred thousand meals- the photograph of the meager provisions sitting on the dock dwarfed by the huge Independence of the Seas seems like a sick joke. 

Subsequent articles mention that other cruises have included up to 40 pallets of food, photographs of which no one has seen, but if true this still is a pittance given the enormous needs of the Haitian people and the huge capabilities of Royal Caribbean's cruise ships. 

Supporters of the cruise line point out that Royal Caribbean also pledged to donate a million dollars to Haiti over an unspecified period of time.  It talks about using the net profits collected from the passenger's monies spent in Labadee.  Whether this occurs over the course of 6 months or a year remains to be seen.  Now a million dollars is a lot of money to me and probably anyone reading this article, but it is peanuts for a cruise line like Royal Caribbean. 

Royal Caribbean collects around $6,000,000,000 (billion) a year.  And because it registered its business in Liberia and its cruise ships fly the foreign flags of Liberia or the Bahamas, it pays $0 in federal Income taxes. $0.     

Why only a million dollars?  That will accomplish little. Even Royal Caribbean's competitor Carnival promised to send $5 million to Haiti, and it has no relationship with Haiti.  The $6 a passenger deal which Royal Caribbean struck with the leaders of Haiti rips the Haitian people off.  $6 to go into a 260 acre private paradise?  Well established ports in Alaska collect $50 a passenger in head taxes just to step off of the cruise ship. 

Americans are generous people. For the next two years, Haiti should receive $100 a passenger.   With 6,000 passengers from the Oasis of the Seas alone coming into Labadee a week, the country could receive $600,000 a week Richard Fain - President Clinton - Adam Goldstein - Labadee - Before Disasterrather than the current pittance of $30,000.  Each  passenger can pay $50 and the cruise line can pay the other $50.

If the cruise line can collect $65 for a 2 minute zip line in Labadee for fun, it can sure as hell can pay $50 a passenger to Haiti to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding before its eyes.

$600,000 a week could begin accomplish something.

But instead the cruise line is talking peanuts.  And its PR people have created the illusion that the Royal Caribbean executives are in Haiti walking the streets and helping the people.  

Royal Caribbean's website shows a photograph of CEO Fain and President Goldstein (above) walking with President Clinton with the mountains of Haiti in the background, next to headlines:

"HUMANITARIAN AID TO HAITI."  

The photograph looks impressive; any photo shoot with a President is worth hanging on your wall.  But neither Mr. Fain nor Mr. Goldstein have traveled to Haiti since the disaster.  And the photograph has nothing to do with humanitarian aid.  It was actually taken last year before the earthquake when President Clinton was visiting Haiti on an official visit as the United Nations special envoy. 

This U.N. trip was covered by Jason Maloney, of the Pulitzer Center, who ironically enough commented on Royal Caribbean's historical reluctance to support or even acknowledge Haiti. The center explained that there are "political sensitivities surrounding the ownership of the resort."  It called Royal Caribbean Pulitzer Center - Labadee - Haiti - Richard Fain - President Clinton - Adam Goldstein - Before Earthquakeout on its claim that Labadee is a “private beach destination” or the company’s “private island.”  It also ran a photograph (left) of CEO Fain, President Clinton, and Royal Caribbean President Goldstein (in baseball cap and shorts) when Clinton was visiting the cruise line's "private destination." 

It seems rather shameful for Royal Caribbean to pull out a photo which has nothing to do with the "humanitarian" crisis for its own PR purposes.

Royal Caribbean has a net worth of $15,000,000,000.  It has a (tax free) annual income almost twice greater than Haiti's gross national product. 

So in this context - Royal Caribbean's highly publicized pledge of a a measly one million dollars, random pallets of food and water, and a misleading photograph of the cruise line executives with an ex-President are - - - pitiful. 

Royal Caribbean is proposing nothing meaningful to address the profound problems of this impoverished and exploited country.   

 

To help Haiti, text HAITI and a donation of $10 will go to the Red Cross.  As of this posting, Americans have donated over $19 million via texting for Haiti.  

 For other articles on this issue:

South Florida Business Journal (Kevin Gale)

The Guardian "The Haves & Have Nots in Haiti" (Gwyn Topam)

Sphere "Vacationing in Hell: Cruise Ships Land in Haiti" (Dave Thier)

"Cruise Ships in Haiti and Misdirected Moral Outrage" @thethirdestate

 

 Credits:

Haiti - earthquake     AP (via Mail OnLine)

Royal Caribbean cruise ship        thewe.cc 

Haiti - earthquake                             @CarelPedre via @Mashable

Independence of the Seas                 "Nation of Why Not?" blog

Royal Caribbean executives (top)       Royal Caribbean's website

Royal Caribbean executives (bottom)     Pulitzer Center

null

Asleep At the Wheel: What Does the Delayed Reporting of Neha Chhikara's Disappearance from the Monarch of the Seas Reveal About Royal Caribbean's Shipboard Security?

Asleep Security Guard - Royal Caribbean Cruises - Cruise ShipThe tragedy of Neha Chhikara's disappearance from the Monarch of the Seas raises a lot of issues.    
 
Why did her husband, described as a Royal Caribbean "manager," wait 8 hours before reporting his distraught wife missing?  Why almost a ten hour delay from the time of Ms. Chhikara going overboard until the cruise line reported the incident to the US Coast Guard?
 
Ms. Chhikara was picked up on CCTV video when she went overboard.  But does Royal Caribbean monitor its own video cameras? 
 
Were any security guards awake?

When finally notified, the US Coast Guard scrambled an HU-25 Falcon jet crew, an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, a C-130 Hercules aircraft and the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Cormorant to search for Ms. Chhikara. But this was 10 hours after she went overboard.

The cost of this search could have easily paid for 10 camera operators and 10 more security guards. The technology has long existed for a computerized system using motion detectors tied in with the video cameras to signal an alarm to the bridge when the cameras/detectors are triggered by a person going overboard (whether they jump or are pushed). The video image would be captured on a bridge computer screen and the exact location of the overboard would be documented. Then the Coast Guard would at least have a chance to save the day. 
 
Royal Caribbean needs to spend some of its billions investing in security guards, surveillance camera operators and bringing its security technology up to the standards of the 21st century.
 
But this is a game of money and Royal Caribbean is behind the 8 ball.  It's still scratching its head trying to figure out how it can pay for both the Oasis of the Seas and her sister mega-ship Allure of the Seas which will arrive in less than a year.
 
Royal Caribbean is content on letting the U.S. Government foot the bill for the rescue which was doomed by the cruise line's delay. This is unfair, particularly considering that Royal Caribbean pays no Federal income tax for the almost $6,000,000,000 (billion!) in annual ticket sales and onboard revenues (alcohol, casino, excursions, you name it) which the cruise line collects from tax paying U.S. passengers.
 
So if you buy a cruise with your after-tax-dollars, and a wife of an allegedly abusive Royal Caribbean crew member jumps overboard to end her suffering, and Royal Caribbean calls the U.S. Coast Guard 10 hours late - U.S. taxpayers get to pay for the $600,000 or so spent by the U.S. Coast Guard flying jets and helicopters and patrolling cutters around in circles looking for a needle in a haystack.
 
To make matter worse, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean know they are not going to pay any real Asleep At The Wheel? - Royal Caribbean - Securitydamages even if they get sued for their malfeasance.  Royal Caribbean's ultimate exposure to damages is limited by the Death On The High Seas Act - which we have written about in prior articles.
 
This scenario of overboard passengers and delayed reporting will repeat itself unless the cruise line faces financial accountability - or Congress gets involved and mandates some meaningful safety improvements on these foreign flagged cruise ships.    

The story also raises larger issues regarding passenger safety.  If someone can go over a rail and into the water "undetected" by Royal Caribbean security, someone (like a terrorist) can come over the rail and onto the ship just as easily and hold the ship's crew and passengers hostage.    

These types of stories reveal that there are not enough security guards patrolling the decks of Royal Caribbean cruise ships.  And no one looks at the surveillance cameras - until it is too late.
 
Is anyone awake at Royal Caribbean?
 
 
 
Photographs credits:
 
Oluniyi D. Ajao Blog
 
Charles James Wright Blog

"Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award

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 Royal Caribbean - Worst Cruise Line in the WorldCruises.  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?"

Lets-Screw-The-Crew-Members-First

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 Crew Member Medical Treatmentthe 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.    

Royal Caribbean - Crew Member Medical Care 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 Leukemia - Crew Member Medical TreatmentSeptember. 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. 

Crew Member Medical Treatment - Cancer 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 Royal Caribbean Cruises - Worst Cruise lIne in the World 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.

 

Photo Credits

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

Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft

In 2004, The Miami New Times interviewed me as part of an investigation into how cruise lines treat their crew members once they become ill or injured. The article was entitled "Screwed If By Sea - Cruise Lines Throw Workers Overboard When It Comes to Providing Urgent Medical Care."

The article focused on the two largest cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Around 75% of U.S. passengers sail on cruise ships owned or operated by these giants. Virtually all crew members are non - U.S. employees, from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, or Honduras where medical care is either non-existent or spotty at best.  

Maintenance and Cure - the Oldest Legal Doctrine in the United States

Cruise lines are legally obligated to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to their crew members whenever they become ill or injured on the cruise ships. The doctrine is called "maintenance and cure," and has existed in the U.S. for almost 200 years. It is one of the few absolute legal doctrines in the world. Traced back to the Medieval Sea Codes, the doctrine evolved over the centuries out of a concern that hard working crew members should not be abandoned in distant ports. Shipowners are required to provide medical treatment and sustenance so that the crew members will recover from their illnesses. In a nutshell, the maintenance and cure doctrine requires the cruise lines to treat crew members as if they were their own children.

Neglectful Parents in 2004

The "Screwed If By Sea" article revealed that Carnival and Royal Caribbean were very neglectful parents.

The article hit the cruise industry like a bomb. The public learned that the cruise lines were acting outrageously. The New Times revealed that Royal Caribbean kept a seriously burned crew member in his cabin with nothing but Ibuprofen, and then tried to ship him back to the Caribbean from Alaska with no arrangements for medical care. In another case, Royal Caribbean sent a crew member with cancer home to die with no medical treatment. Although the cruise lines were based here in Miami and their cruise ships regularly called on ports in Florida where appropriate medical care is readily available, the companies schemed to send the ship employees to the far corners of the earth where the crew members would languish and their medical conditions would undoubtedly worsen.

How Are Carnival and Royal Caribbean Behaving Today?

The article was published in 2004, five years ago. How are these companies treating their crew members today?

Carnival is doing better. Although some maritime lawyers may disagree, I have found that Carnival is making an effort to more or less provide appropriate care to their sick crew members. For example, we represent a crew member from India who suffered a serious knee injury. He developed osteomyelitis. Once we became involved, Carnival authorized and paid for treatment at the Mayo Clinic where the crew member received outstanding medical care by a team of orthopedic and infectious disease specialists. Carnival efficiently arranged for transportation, food and living accommodations. Our client improved. Carnival did what it was legally required to do. Our client benefited.  A win-win situation.

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, has gotten worse. In 2004, Royal Caribbean paid $25 a day toward the living expenses of its crew members - a figure which could provide a meager sustenance for some but not all employees. But now, Royal Caribbean provides only $12 a day. No one in the world can eat, cover their rent and utilities, and pay for transportation on such a pittance. Royal Caribbean knows it, but does not care.

Royal Caribbean has also adopted a strict keep-them-out-of-the-U.S. policy. The company saves money by sending its employee to places like Nicaragua and St. Vincent. But these places lack basic medical facilities and basic medicines. The crew member’s heath and life are compromised in the process.

A Royal Money Game

Unlike Carnival, Royal Caribbean is saddled with huge debts. It is struggling financially to bring the $1,000,000,000 Oasis of the Seas, an unnecessary extravagance, into service.  But it is nickeling its crew members, literally, to death. We lost one client to cancer because Royal Caribbean refused to schedule a follow up appointment over the course of five months. Royal Caribbean is neglecting other crew members with serious medical problems, like debilitating neurological injuries and leukemia.

Royal Caribbean is one cruise line which continues to demonstrate that it cares more about money than its crew members.

 

Photo credits

Photo of cruise ship and Royal Caribbean crew member, Mr. Doran McDonald - Jonathon Postal, Miami New Times      

Cruise Inc. - Big Money On the High Seas - CNBC      

Voting for "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award Ends Soon!

Earlier this month, I announced that I will be awarding the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award to the cruise line demonstrating the worst in gross negligence and indifference towards passenger and crew member health and safety. This will be a monthly award. 

Over the past month, we have received many e-mails nominating a variety of cruise lines and a couple of cruise line tycoons. Mostly passengers have emailed us with a variety of stories, many are just plain sad.  Some of the stories demonstrate such callousness by the cruise lines that your blood will boil.

A few crew members contacted us  Without except they were afraid to reveal their real names in fear of retaliation.

A couple of environmental groups contacted us as well.

So far two cruise lines are vying neck to neck for the award.  After 26 years of being a maritime lawyer I thought that I had seen it all. These two companies have treated their crew members like garbage. At this point, I don't know who is most deserving of the first month's award. 

The voting for this month ends on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. EST. I will be announcing the winner, er loser, in October.

Feel free to tweet your nominee to me at my Twitter page @CruiseLaw

 

Photo credit:

Cruise Ship Tycoon         Activisim

"Suicide" - One of the Cruise Lines' Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea

For the past many years, I have watched cruise lines respond to each disappearance at sea by blaming the passenger.

Selling Dreams of Carefree Vacations

Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to create the illusion of carefree vacation getaways where hard working Americans can relax, let their guard down, and forget the worries of city life. Passenger "disappearances" are inconsistent with the cruise industry’s marketing image which sells tickets.

When a passenger "disappears," there are a number of possible explanations.  Was foul play involved?  Did the passenger act carelessly due to alcohol?  Was the intoxication due to the cruise line's negligence in over-serving the passenger to make the targeted profits for the cruise?  Or was the disappearance due to a plan by the passenger to end his or her life?   

The possibilities are many but the cruise lines' conclusions are few. Cruise ships are quick to attack the passengers’ character and to steer blame away from themselves when a passenger goes overboard.

Merrian Carver - Royal Caribbean Cover Up, Stonewalling, and the Big Lie

When 40 year old Boston resident Merrian Carver "disappeared" from the cruise ship Mercury operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary brand Celebrity Cruises, the cruise line tried its best to cover the incident up. It didn’t report Merrian missing to either the FBI or the Alaskan State Troopers, even though the cabin attendant reported her missing early in the cruise. Merrian’s Dad, insurance executive Ken Carver, began a serious investigation. Royal Caribbean responded by lying to Mr. Carver and disposing of evidence.  Mr. Carver didn’t go away and the story went public.  The The Arizona Republic published an excellently researched and written story.  In response, the cruise line reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a good excuse: " . . . there is very little a cruise line, a resort or a hotel can do to prevent someone from committing suicide." 

Aside of the speculation fueled by the cruise line's lawyers and PR team, there was no competent evidence whatsoever for Royal Caribbean's self serving announcement to the media. If it was a suicide, why did Royal Caribbean work so hard to cover the incident up and lie to Mr. Carver?  Indeed, there is now an issue whether a crew member was involved in Merrian's death.  

George Smith IV - Attack the Victim

I witnessed the same type of corporate thuggery while representing Jennifer Hagel whose husband George Smith of Greenwich Connecticut disappeared under suspicious circumstances during the couple’s honeymoon cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. For months the Hagel and Smith families patiently waited for information explaining the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the healthy and handsome 26 year old man.

But when their frustration forced them to the press for answers, the cruise industry’s response was quick and brutal. Michael Crye, representing the International Council of Cruise Lines ( the predecessor to today’s Cruise Line International Association - "CLIA") told an AP reporter investigating the story " . . . its difficult if someone chooses to do harm to themselves . . ."

Carefully Planned Hit and Run Attacks By Cruise Line PR Departments 

These type of statements are not random or insensitive rants from low level employees. The cruise lines' PR departments carefully craft the announcements and issue them only after being run through their legal departments. The Merrian Carver "suicide" theory was issued by the Royal Caribbean corporate communications director only after being reviewed by the cruise line’s outside legal counsel. When the cruise industry faced embarrassment over Royal Caribbean's mis-handling of George Smith’s death, out trotted Mr. Crye - the vice president of the cruise trade organization and himself a lawyer. Mr. Crye issued the he-did-it-to-himself statement on behalf of the entire cruise industry (CLIA's motto is "one industry - one voice"), without a shred of evidence justifying such a conclusion.

Amber Malkuch - Holland America Lines' Attack Is Business as Usual  

The recent disappearance of Washington resident Amber Malkuch shows that little has changed. Amber was 45 when she sailed on the Holland America Line ("HAL") cruise ship Zaandam. On August 3, 2009, Amber disappeared. The usual protocol when a passenger disappears should be for the FBI or the state law enforcement authorities to board the vessel at the next port and to conduct an investigation. The period of time leading up to the cruise ship's arrival at the next port is critical because the cruise line controls the scene of the disappearance, the witnesses and all of the evidence. Before the authorities can conclude whether the "disappearance" resulted from an accident (due to the ship's negligence, or the passenger's carelessness or intoxication, or a combination of factors), foul play or suicide, they must first review the evidence and interview passengers and crew members.

But on August 4, 2009, before the Alaskan State Troopers concluded their investigation, a member of HAL's PR department and CLIA's PR team, Sally Andrews, announced to the media that Amber probably took her own life. The "suicide" conclusion was picked up by all of the major news outlets and reported prominently on FOX News and other news stations.

This surprised not only Amber’s friends and family, but it dumbfounded the Alaskan State Troopers who had yet to review photographs and video, conduct interviews or analyze toxicology reports. The Anchorage Daily News reported "Troopers Miffed at Cruise Line’s Rush to Judgment." The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted a representative of the Alaskan State Troopers saying:

We’re the people actually looking into the exact cause of death . . . We’re the ones doing the interviews and looking at the evidence . . . And if we haven’t been able to make a determination, how can the cruise line who isn’t trained?"

Who Do You Trust?  The Alaskan State Troopers or the Cruise Line?

Does Holland America Line care about what the evidence reveals?  In the world of cruise line PR (perception vs. reality), what matters most to the cruise lines seems to be the public’s perception that cruise ships are safe rather than the reality that perhaps they are not.

Determining the cause of passenger overboards is the role of experts - the U.S. Coast Guard, the F.B.I., and other law enforcement authorities - not the cruise lines' PR departments.          

 

Photo credits:

Kendall Carver - photo of Merrian Carver

Kevin Wolf (AP) - photo of Maureen Smith, Michaeil Crye, Jennifer Hagel

Seattle Post Intelligencer - photo of Amber Malkuch

CruiseLaw Announces "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award

Over the course of 26 years practicing maritime law, I have seen some remarkably bad conduct by cruise lines. Covering up crimes, abandoning injured passengers in foreign ports, or quickly concluding that "missing passengers" committed "suicide" are just a few examples.  I have kept a list of what I consider the most outrageous moments in cruise line history.  The lying and scheming I have witnessed over the years is pretty impressive.

Much of the trouble lies with the foundation of the cruise industry.  All of the cruise lines incorporate their businesses in foreign countries, like Liberia - a lawless and unstable African country where a civil war rages every few years and the rebels take their AK-47's to the streets. They also register their vessels in places like the Bahamas or Panama where the "regulatory" authorities are more than willing to look the other way as long as the cruise lines fill their coffers with U.S. dollars. The cruise line mentality of avoiding U.S. taxes, U.S labor and wage laws, and U.S. safety regulations often leads to reckless and inexcusable behavior.

I have always thought that some cruise line shenanigans were so outrageous that they should earn a trophy.

One evening while watching MSNBC TV personality Keith Olbermann announce the "Worst Person in the World," an idea popped into my head. Why not recognize the cruise line demonstrating the worst in gross negligence and indifference towards passenger and crew member health and safety?

So with apologies to Mr. Olbermann and the MSNBC show "Countdown," CruiseLaw announces the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award. There are 24 cruise lines who are members of the Cruise Line International Association. Several companies in this group are consistently strong contenders for the award. I will include some of the smaller lines who have done some terrible things as well.

The award is not limited just to the cruise lines, but will include cruise trade groups, cruise executives, cruise communities, and other individuals in the cruise industry.  We will consider nominations from passengers, crew members and the general public.  If you suffered a bad experience on a cruise ship which deserves special mention, send us your cruise line nominee. We will announce the winner once a month. 

Hopefully, some months we won't have a reason to award anyone.