Bedfellows CLIA & NTSB Team Up for Cozy Meeting on Cruise Ship Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is beginning a two-day meeting today in Washington D.C. regarding the topic of passenger safety aboard cruise ships. The meeting was requested and largely organized by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the trade group for the cruise lines, to showcase the cruise industry.

Participating in the meeting will be NTSB members, CLIA representatives, cruise line employees, Coast Guard officials, and delegates from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is an United Nations entity which makes safety recommendations for cruise ships but is powerless to enforce the recommendations or discipline or punish cruise lines which ignore the recommendations.

The NTSB refused to invite the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization to Washington D.C. and NTSB Meeting Cruise Ship Safetyrefuses to permit the ICV to participate in the meeting.  The ICV is a grass-roots, non-profit organization consisting of thousands of members who are dedicated to making cruising safer. Our firm has many former clients who are members of the ICV, including Lynnette Hudson, the daughter of Princess Cruises passenger Richard Liffridge from Georgia who perished in a fire aboard the Star Princess cruise ship.

The NTSB hearing is opening now with remarks from the Coast Guard about cruise ship accident investigations and fire protection. It is a shame that the NTSB and CLIA refuse to permit the ICV's involvement in the meeting given the first hand experience of the ICV members in dealing with dangers aboard cruise ships.  Ms. Hudson previously inspected the cruise ship which killed her father to make certain that it finally had a fire detection and suppression system installed. She testified before the United States House of Representatives regarding the cruise ship fire which killed her father. You can read about that fire and Ms. Hudson's recommendations to prevent similar fatalities here: Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

Other ICV members were aboard the Costa Concordia when it crashed into the rocks and killed 32 souls. 

When I realized that the NTSB was excluding the ICV, I send emails to the NTSB spokesperson, Eric Weiss, requesting an explanation why only CLIA members and cruise line employees were welcome. Mr. Weiss ignored my emails. But he recently spoke to a Miami Herald reporter stating that: “Security and crime is not in our jurisdiction. This is about cruise ship safety, not security.” 

The ICV has many members personally affected by the absence of safety systems and protocols on cruise ships. The ICV has participated in five Congressional hearings addressing safety issues such as engine failures and fires. It appears that CLIA and the NTSB are systematically excluding any organization with victims who have personal experiences regarding cruise ship dangers while inviting only employees and friends of the cruise lines who wish to shield the industry from criticism. 

I realize that the cruise lines are desperate for favorable press after the debacle of the Carnival Splendor and the Carnival Triumph, with both cruise ships igniting shortly after Coast Guard inspections, as well as the deadly disaster involving the Carnival-owned Costa Concordia. But excluding cruise victims and orchestrating a rigged meeting with dog and pony shows by CLIA and cruise line representatives is shameful. 

NTSB's relationship with the cruise industry has always been a mixed bag.

Years ago, the NTSB's chairman was Jim Hall, a man of personal integrity who never wavered from who his commitment to the safety of the traveling public.

Mr. Hall earned a reputation for objectivity and credibility when he was the NTBS's top dog from 1994 - 2001. He was involved in investigating serious accidents in both the aviation and cruise industries. He NTSB Cruise Safety Meetingvoiced his concerns that there would be continued problems in the maritime industry because there was no real oversight over the cruise lines. Consider the comments which Mr. Hall made to Newsweek last year:

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

After Mr. Hall retired as chairman, the NTSB went in a different direction. From 2006 - 2008, Mark Rosenker served as the NTSB chairmen but he catered to the cruise industry. In 2007, CLIA's Board of Directors wined and dined Rosenker during the annual Sea Trade cruise convention (now called Cruise shipping Miami) here in Miami. He gave a nice speech to CLIA (you can read here) which he began by stating " I am very pleased that your safety record is excellent." This was a rather amazing and outrageous thing to say given the fact that just a year earlier, the Star Princess ignited off the coast of Jamaica and burned through 100 cabins and killed our client's father, Richard Liffridge, mentioned above. 

Rosenker even promised CLIA that he would help the cruise lines keep "sensitive" information about maritime accidents away from the public, telling CLIA "there are provisions in the law to keep certain voluntarily provided safety information confidential."

Rosenker and CLIA were a perfect match. Both were interested in suppressing damaging information about cruise mishaps from the public.

After Rosenker retired from the NTSB, CLIA paid him as a consultant for the cruise industry. His job largely appears to tell everyone who will listen that  "the industry has an outstanding safety record and the most dangerous part of the cruise is undoubtedly the drive to the port. It is very rare that people are injured on a cruise ship,” as he told the cruise industry publication World Cruise Industry Review in 2010.  

In 2012 and 2013 Rosenker continued his gushing praise of a cruise industry which puts money in his pocket, telling a travel agent publication that “it is important for consumers to understand that cruise vacations are extremely safe. This industry is highly regulated with tremendous oversight.” Rosenker told another cruise industry publication that “every aspect of the cruise industry is heavily monitored and regulated under US, EU and international law.”

Senator Rockefeller admonished Rosenker during his testimony last year when he repeated the cruise industry's talking points before a Senate hearing on cruise ship safety issues last year, because of his obvious bias for the cruise lines.

The cruise line routinely hires from the NTSB, FBI, Coast Guard, USPH and other federal agencies. NTSB Cruise Safety MeetingMany former federal officials seem to pander to the cruise lines while in public office. Former Coast Guard officials often quickly turn into paid cruise line consultants who are pleased to appear in cruise industry publications still wearing their Coast Guard uniform and medals standing in front of an official Coast Guard logo while attesting to their wonderful experiences cruising.

Of course, no current or past federal employee should engage in such hyperbolic cheer-leading like this. It is unprofessional and unseemly. It is a conflict of interest. But some federal officials seem motivated to angle for private sector jobs in the rich cruise industry which pays no federal income taxes and is overseen, if all all, by poor, flag of convenience nations like Panama and the Bahamas and the "paper tigers," mentioned by Mr. Hall, at the IMO.

So the NTSB-CLIA love-fest begins this morning. Where is the integrity of Jim Hall? Where are the victims of cruise ship fires and sinkings? Who is speaking for the dead and injured?  Have all of the federal agencies crawled in bed with the cruise lines? 

Why the Cruise Industry Will Always Struggle With its Reputation

This week I listened to the multi-millionaire cruise executives praise the cruise industry at the "state of the cruise industry" at the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM 2014) trade show.

As anticipated, Carnival's CEO and former Monsanto chemical executive Arnold Donald said cruise ship accidents are "so rare . . .  cruising is safe."  Royal Caribbean's long time executive Richard Fain claimed that cruise lines are "heavily regulated." The audience of travel agents and vendors tied to the cruise lines all politely clapped.  

The speeches contained little substance, no statistical support, and virtually all self-serving opinions. Carnival Cruise Ship FireI felt like I was at a motivational speaker convention sponsored by Amway.

The telling comments at the conference came from Norwegian Cruise Line's CEO Kevin Sheehan. He said: "we are ruled by public opinion; unless we can keep our business running right will always be on defensive." The NCL boss added: "a period of operational excellence and no media incidents are needed."

Of course, this was the real insight into the state of the cruise industry - the cruise lines are on the defensive. The cruise lines seem nervous as they claim that their troubles are behind them. They are in the business of selling fantasy dream-like vacations to ports in the Caribbean which are becoming more and more violent.  They are praying that the media doesn't bash them after a cruise ship catches on fire or a family is gunned down in the streets of Nassau. 

What's the industry's plan to pull itself out of the harsh media scrutiny? I didn't hear one at CSM. The cruise lines, it seems to me, are just hanging in the balance hoping for the best. 

But history tells us that more trouble lies ahead. 

There have been over 90 fires on cruise ships since 1990, according to testimony at one of the many Congressional hearing on cruise ships disasters. Some fires were big, some were small although there is nothing really insignificant about any type of fire on the high seas.

Last year, the big story involved the Carnival Triumph, of course, which CNN covered non-stop. But the more significant fire involved the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas which burned for two hours. Most people seem to have already forgotten the fire on the Grandeur. Yes there will be cruise ship fires this year; hopefully minor ones only with no injuries. The public knows that accidents happen. The most important issue is whether the cruise lines respond promptly and responsibly (like Royal Caribbean did after the Grandeur fire) or delays unreasonably (like Carnival after the Triumph fire) and / or acts outrageously (like Carnival after the Concordia disaster)  

The cruise industry's image problem is not just because of ship fires and Concordia-like disasters. The continuous stories about bad medical care, mistreatment of crew members, sexual assaults, children victimization, missing passengers, and so forth, coupled with a callous PR response, have more of an effect on the cruise industry's image. Its like reputation death by a thousand cuts.

Last December, I published Top 10 Most Outrageous Cruise Ship Stories of 2013 & the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award.

In my assessment, the factors which most harmed the cruise lines' reputation last year didn't involve accidents at all. Rather, the most damage came from incidents showing the cruise lines' egregious disregard of the law and a lack of care and compassion of their passengers and crew. The real damage comes from events like mishandling cases involving persons disappearing at sea, ignoring the man overboard laws, crew members arrested and sentenced to jail for child porn, fleecing crew members of their tips and retirement benefits, and a family cruise line aiding and abetting a child predator escape justice. 

One of the most embarrassing stories last year involved Silversea Cruises which was caught by the USPH hiding perishable food down in the crew quarters. We were contacted by crew members who complained about this, but Silversea ignored us when we contacted them. We sent the story to CNN. The special that CNN produced tarnished not only this luxury line but cast the entire industry in a bad light. The entire chain of events could have been avoided by Silversea just being honest and transparent.

The cruise lines suffer, in my opinion, from a combination of being arrogant and rattlebrained. The cruise industry engages in some really bad conduct on a continuous basis. It often makes things substantially worse when confronted by the media and bloggers like myself.

Last week, former crew members sent us video and photographs which seem to suggest that MSC MSC Cruises Cruise DumpingCruises has been dumping garbage, plastics and debris into the water in violation of international pollution law.

We asked MSC for an explanation. MSC ignored us just like Silversea Cruises did last year. MSC claims that un-named authorities in Brazil are investigating the allegations, but it refuses to identify the authorities or provide contact information. MSC is digging itself and the cruise industry into a deeper hole.

Cruise lines like MSC tout that they treat the maritime environment like this when in truth they may be treating the waters like this.  When the major media networks latch onto a story, the cruise industry is forced to make a statement, but the cruise lines often sound and appear evasive and unbelievable.

Until cruise lines act responsibly and treat all of their crew members, guests and the earth with respect and act with transparency toward the media, the cruise industry's reputation will continue to suffer. 

Supersize Cruise Craze: "Too Big to Sail? Cruise Ships Face Scrutiny"

This weekend, the New York Times published an article about the "supersize craze" - the increasingly large cruise ships being built by the major cruise lines which are "worrying safety experts, lawmakers and regulators." 

The article quotes my hero- Jim Hall, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTBS): “Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement. The industry has been very fortunate until now." 

Oasis Class Evacuation ChuteThe article discusses the capsizing of the Costa Concordia and the fires aboard the Carnival Triumph & Splendor and the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas, and concludes that larger cruise ships pose larger problems when things go wrong.

The article also quotes Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, who testified at a Senate hearing in July which I attended. He said that the recent cruise ship fires “highlight serious questions about the design, maintenance and operation of fire safety equipment on board these vessels, as well as their companies’ safety management cultures.”

The New York Times addressed the potential problems of evacuating Royal Caribbean two mega-ships, the Allure and the Oasis. There are not enough life boats for the crew. The 2,300 crew members on each of these cruise ships will have to jump down 60 foot evacuation chutes into life rafts.

You can see our article about this problem here - Titanic Redux? Can Royal Caribbean Safely Evacuate 8,500 Passengers & Crew from the Oasis of the Seas? Be sure to watch the video at the end of the article.

Captain William H. Doherty, a former captain at Norwegian Cruise Lines, explained the problem in simple terms to the New York Times: “The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too many people aboard.”

 

Image Credit: Viking / Royal Catibbean 

Wall Street Journal: "Reputation, Regulatory Issues Dog Cruise Industry"

Today the Wall Street Journal published an article about the cruise industry's efforts to overcome damage to its reputation while battling off criticism by a consumer group and efforts by Congress to regulate the industry.

The WSJ points out that the cruise lines have a lot to be concerned with, including "stranded vessels, fires, people falling overboard and being victims of crime." 

The cruise industry claims that no regulation is necessary because it adequately polices itself. The Allure of the Seas - Cruise Ship Regulationcruise lines cite a number of self-imposed (although largely unenforceable) recommendations to provide a safe and secure cruising experience for almost 21 million cruise passengers a year.

I was quoted in the article saying that cruise passengers should not take comfort in the so-called "bill of rights:"

“It’s not a bill of rights, it’s a bill of the industry’s rights, a voluntary scheme to limit their own liability.”

One of the problems I pointed out is that cruise lines register their ships and incorporate their companies in countries outside the U.S.  In the process, the cruise industry avoids U.S. taxes, U.S. minimum wage laws and safety inspections.

Most cruise lines are also not employing automatic man-overboard system, as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. 

You can access the WSJ here, but you need a subscription to read the whole article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cruise Lines Depend on U.S. Coast Guard for Safety & Security But Pay Nothing

Coast Guard - Cruise Line - TaxesToday I read a press release by the U.S. Coast Guard about a maritime safety exercise conducted in the waters of Freeport Grand Bahamas.

U.S. Coast Guard crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Diamondback conducted a safety exercise with Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas on April 2, 2013. The exercise was called "Black Swan" and was described as "a joint offshore emergency exercise" coordinated by the Coast Guard, the cruise line industry and the Bahamian government.

You can see from the photos, taken Chris Todd, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, that multiple Coast Guard vessels were involved.

The cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International association (CLIA) touted the exercise as part of the cruise industry's commitment to safety.  CLIA CEO Chritine Duffy said the exercise:

" . . . further strengthens the cruise industry's unwavering commitment to emergency preparedness in coordination with the Coast Guard and other government authorities . . . (and) underscores the focus we maintain on our No. 1 priority: the safety and comfort of our guests.” 

What CLIA does not mention is that the cruise industry does not pay for the Coast Guard services even though the cruise lines collect over $35,000,000,000 (billion) a year but pay less than 1% a year in local, state, federal and international taxes a year. 

The Coast Guard is severely under-funded but receives absolutely no reimbursement from the cruise lines. The cruise industry then uses the exercises (paid for by U.S. taxpayers) as part of its marketing to sell cruise tickets to the tax-paying public.  

The cruise lines have rightfully been criticized for not reimbursing the Coast Guard for rescuing vessel at sea.  But there are many, many other expenses which the Coast Guard incurs which the cruise lines do not reimburse, such as daily Coast Guard escorts into and out of U.S. ports, safety exercises, and medevac airlifts of ill crew members and passengers.

At a time of financial crisis in the U.S., it is obscene that the cruise industry gets a free ride from our federal government for services like this.  A friend just emailed me about this PR exercise by the cruise lines: "what a gross waste of money by US taxpayers in support of an industry that is so arrogant and exploitative of US resources." 

Coast Guard - Cruise Ship - Payment of Expenses

The Left Wing Conspiracy Against the Evil Cruise Industry & George Bush

Are there any Rush Limbaugh fans out there?

Today's blog may be of particular interest to you if you are.

It seems that Rush doesn't like the criticism voiced against the cruise industry as the Carnival Triumph was towed back to Mobile last week. He does not like the references to the fact that cruise lines are incorporated in foreign countries to avoid taxes, labor laws and safety regulations.

As you can read in the transcript here of his show, he quoted everyone who made a critical comment of Rush Limbaugh Cruise Ship DiatribeCarnival on the CNN broadcasts.  He mocked Erin Burnett, Howard Clark, Donny Deutsch, Martin Savidge. He even quoted me, for goodness sake, when I was on a CNN show as a set-up to his talking points:

JIM WALKER:  "Foreign-incorporated companies that are essentially registering their operations overseas to avoid US taxes."

Rush then launched into a classic diatribe, mocking the criticism of the cruise industry::

RUSH: "Yeah, but look at what they do. "They register these ships outside the US. They don't pay any US taxes. The cruise ship passengers have no rights. They're basically slaves -- and if there's sewage on the walls? Big whoop. We'll tow you in when we get a chance -- and after we get you, the bus that we transport you in will break down, and then for all your trouble we'll give you a refund and a 15% discount on the next cruise of your choice. What a bunch of rotten SOBs!" 

He eventually explained his argument that:  

"Make no mistake. Make no mistake. The whole point of this was to impugn the entire cruise industry and this particular cruise line as having some linkage to Bush." 

Rush then rambled on with his radio broadcast trying to tie in his diatribe about the alleged left-wing conspiracy against cruise lines and George Bush to his rant against women and Hispanics and farm workers and President Obama and Reverend Wright. After a few minutes I had no idea what he was talking about except that he somehow implicated me in some type of conspiracy against George Bush.

I suppose that it's funny to be accused of being part of such a clandestine plot. I must be a secret agent or master spy or spooky sleuth or member of an illegal coalition against America, according to Rush. I suppose that criticizing a major corporation or participating in anything not officially sanctioned by a corporation is an act of conspiracy, rebellion or Rush Limbaugh Taxestreason.

Why is it that ultra-conservative Republicans love cruise lines which pay no taxes?  Last summer, Newt Gingrich disappeared from his Republican Presidential campaign because he could not resist a luxury cruise aboard a foreign flagged cruise ship in the Mediterranean.

I have never reconciled the maniacal bashing of President Obama for somehow not being "American" enough with the hard core Republican love of the tax-avoiding-foreign-incorporated cruise industry.

At the bottom of Rush's web page I could not help but notice a banner ad featuring Rush posing for a company that fights paying taxes to the federal government.

Eleven Months after Costa Concordia, Cruise Lines Still Struggling to Sell Cruises

The major cruise lines have reduced prices for this winter and early 2013 sailings by around 3.5 percent since late September, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.  

Cruise line operators started this year hoping that they could start charging passengers higher prices after offering discounts following the 2007-2009 recession. But then two weeks into the year, disaster struck when the  Costa Concordia capsized and images of panicked cruise passengers dominated the news. 32 people died. The Concordia still lies in the little Italian port of Giglio like a dead whale.

Costa Concordia - Cruise ShipNot surprisingly, cruise bookings slumped even as the cruise lines lowered prices.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean said that they were optimistic about increased demand and higher prices when they reported third-quarter results in the fall. But some analysts consider the price reductions as a sign that the cruise industry is still struggling and will have to wait until the second half of next year to see real improvements. 

Peak cruise season starts next February and that will be key to see whether the cruise lines can get back on the financial track. But before that, the cruise industry has to endure the one-year anniversary of Costa Concordia in mid January. That will be a difficult time for the cruise lines. As the giant beached whale Concordia remains half submerged on her side in Giglio, the cruise line will have to convince you that cruising is a safe vacation for your family. 

 

Image credit: Giglio News Web Cam

Finally, Good News for Cruise Industry?

This morning two news articles caught my eye.  The first one from an Australian newspaper - "Cruising Boom: 20 Million Take to the Sea" - and the second one from one of my favorite newspapers, the LA Times - "Cruise Industry Rebounding from Ship Accident, Woes in Europe."

These headlines seem incongruous given the fact that the Costa Concordia remains capsized on its side as a continuing reminder of the deadly cruise disaster (image today).    

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) does a very good job promoting statistics showing the growth of the cruise industry via press releases. Today we are learning that some 20,000,000 people took a cruise last year - a record year for cruising.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Costa Concordia - Giglio"A record 20 million people took a cruise last year, an increase of almost 2 million, according to the latest industry figures. While North America (11.5 million) and Europe (6.2 million) are the main markets, the Australian cruising market grew by 30 per cent, to more than 500,000 passengers." 

That's good news for the cruise industry and travel agents who make a living selling cruises. But last year, of course, was pre Costa Concordia disaster.  What are the prospects for the cruise industry post Costa Concordia?

According to the LA Times, the future of the $37 billion industry looks bright.

A survey of 300 travel agents in North America in July found that 64% expected bookings in 2012 to surpass last year's numbers.  And plenty of new cruise ships are coming on line with 19 ships being added or slated to come on line in 2012 and 2013 (a rather surprising number to me - is this right?) 

The newspaper interviewed Stewart Chiron, owner of CruiseGuy.com, who I bump heads with regularly on Twitter, saying "the impact of the Concordia on North America was almost nonexistent."  That is a hard concept to wrap my head around - 32 dead including Americans with no effect on U.S. cruise sales? In my view, if this is true it reflects that Carnival (which has over 100 cruise ships) and the cruise industry can weather almost any storm provided that they remain immune from paying U.S. corporate taxes. 

The newspaper concludes that cruise reservations are rising, and the drop in European bookings are offset by strong U.S. cruise ticket sales. The bottom line according to Times? The Costa Concordia disaster had only a short-term effect.

It seems to me that the LA Times article may be a tad optimistic, but who am I to rain on the cruise industry's good news? I was disappointed to see that the Times interviewed mostly just a cruise CEO, a travel agent and a cruise specialist without including an in depth analysis of the cruise lines' financial status.      

It's kind of like writing an article about the prospects of a professional football team and then interviewing only the team's owner, players and cheerleaders.   

 

Photo credit: Giglio News

The Bermuda Press and the Cruise Industry - See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Yesterday, the Bermuda Gazette reported on the sentencing of an American tourist who was arrested for possessing pot on a cruise ship which ported in Bermuda.

The Gazette identified the passenger as 43-year-old Edward John Molinari, from New York.  The newspaper reported that after the cruise ship arrived in Bermuda, customs officers and police searched Molinari’s cabin with a drug sniffing dog and "found seven homemade cigarettes in the room’s safe, plus a partially-smoked eighth, containing cannabis of an estimated street value of $178."

John Molinari - Bermuda - Pot The other major newspaper in Bermuda, the Bermuda Sun, also reported on the petty drug offense and mentioned that Mr. Molinari was married with three children.  The Sun included a photograph of Mr. Molinari taken by a photographer camped outside of the courthouse.    

Neither the Gazette nor the Sun mentioned the name of the cruise line, and the Gazette did not mention the name of the cruise ship either.  Why not?  Was it because Mr. Molinari informed the Bermuda judge that that cannabis had been in use “all over the boat?” 

I have been critical of the press in Bermuda in general, and the Royal Gazette in particular, for not mentioning the names of cruise lines when the stories include embarrassing facts like drugs and crimes on the cruise ships.

For example, the Bermuda Gazette recently covered a trial in Bermuda involving allegations that a crew member raped another cruise line employee.   We covered the incident and of course mentioned the names of the cruise line and cruise ship.  We tried to place the incident into context by mentioning this cruise line's history of similar alleged crimes on its fleet of cruise ships.

The Gazette, however, choose not to mention the name of the cruise line (Princess Cruises) or the name of the cruise ship (Caribbean Princess).  Was this because Princess Cruises incorporated itself in Bermuda and registered its cruise ship there in order to enjoy that country's lax safety regulations and minimal taxes?  Is the Bermuda press extending the same courtesy of "looking the other way" routinely extended by the Bermuda vessel registry and incorporation officials?  The Gazette claims that it decided not to mention the cruise line or cruise ship in order to protect the identity of the alleged rape victim and defendant.  That seems like quite a stretch.  But assuming that to be true, why did the Gazette decide not to mention the name of the cruise line or cruise ship which allegedly had drug use "all over the boat?"

When you search the Bermuda Gazette's archives, you will find that while it is quick to identify U.S. passengers caught with small amounts of pot on cruise ships, it will not publish anything potentially embarrassing about the cruise lines.     

The island is very strict when it comes to prosecuting U.S. passengers.  Bermuda will bust U.S. passengers for minor drug possession on cruise ships porting in Bermuda even if its clear that Angelo Faliva - Disappearance - Bermuda Flag of Conveniencethe pot is for the passenger's personal use and the pot never leaves the cruise ship.  And the newspapers in Bermuda love reporting about such minor offenses. 

But Bermuda does a deplorable job investigating violent crimes or mysterious disappearances which may implicate cruise ships which fly the flag of Bermuda.  You will see no real journalism by the Bermuda newspapers into the issues of cruise ship crime, pollution, exploitation of crew members and tax avoidance.  Take a moment and read about Bermuda's indifference to crimes on Bermuda flagged cruise ships.

For example when Italian crew member Angelo Faliva disappeared from the Bermuda flagged Princess cruise ship the Coral Princess, Bermuda eventually conducted a dilatory and unmotivated "investigation" which quickly ended without any answers and no criticism of the cruise line.  The Royal Gazette and other newspapers in Bermuda completely ignored the Faliva family's plight.

The Angelo Faliva disappearance demonstrates the fundamental corruptness of incorporating cruise lines in remote islands and flying flags of convenience of countries with a non-existent regulatory scheme and a press which acts like a cruise line PR department.  Disappearances often go un-reported, un-investigated, and un-prosecuted because of the indifference of the flag countries and the desire of the image-obsessed cruise lines to sweep the problem under the rug.

Independent newspapers with integrity keep large corporations like the cruise lines honest. 

But newspapers like the Bermuda Gazette are a different story.  If you are a passenger caught with some reefer in a safe in your cabin on a cruise ship docked in Bermuda, be prepared to have your name and photograph appear on the front page of the Bermuda newspapers.  But if you are a cruise line with a history of pollution and shipboard crimes, don't worry - the newspapers in Bermuda will be certain never to mention you.  

 

Photo credits:

Top:  Edward Molinari leaving courthouse, photo by Kageaki Smith via Bermuda Sun

Bottom:  Angelo Faliva, courtesy of the Faliva family

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

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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")