New Cruise Terminals & Piers: A Risky Business?

A local news station in Houston is reporting that for the first time, a cruise ship has sailed from its home port at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Houston. Princess Cruises' Caribbean Princess set sail earlier this week for a four day cruise to Progresso, Mexico.

The remarkable part of the story is that the cruise terminal was built long ago and has sat largely unused. The cruise terminal was completed in 2009 at a cost of $108 million with bond money that the local taxpayers have been paying for the past 4 to 5 years. 

Empty and abandoned cruise terminals are a risk that struggling U.S. cities and powerless Carnival Cruise Line - 800 Pound Gorilla Caribbean islands run while dealing with the rich and powerful cruise lines.

A Houston port official excitedly talked about all of the employment benefits which finally are coming from the cruise terminal:

"You have the line handlers, you have our wonderful longshoreman association that's providing the handling of the baggage, stevedores that are handling our parking, so there are just a variety of jobs and economic impact that's created from this cruise operation." 

But such success is usually a long time coming and is often fleeting.

Just ask Mobile Alabama.

The city built an expensive cruise terminal as part of its "partnership" with Carnival Cruise Line.  When the cruise line pulled its cruise ship from the Alabama port, the city was left with a debt of $35,000,000.

Carnival thought that it could make more money by re-positioning its cruise ship in either New Orleans or Tampa, and left Mobile high and dry.  Ironically, the only cruise ship to return to Mobile in the last couple of years was the Carnival Triumph which had to be towed to port following the infamous "poop cruise' earlier this year.     

Carnival never enters into a contract with a port promising to commit ships to the port for a finite number of years. So cities like Mobile build their new terminals on a wish and a prayer.

One-sided deals in favor of the cruise lines are the business norm. Carnival is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla. Port cities can either sign the bad deal or the cruise line goes elsewhere. And Carnival can break the deal whenever it wants and for any reason, good or bad.

Just ask Norfolk, Virginia. Carnival abandoned it last month leaving the city with a $30,000,000 debt for a new cruise terminal that the local taxpayers are stuck with paying. Carnival cited the additional operating costs associated with new environmental emission regulations which prohibit the use of cheap, toxic bunker fuel which can still be burned on cruises out of Miami.

The here-today, gone-tomorrow exploitation of cities like Houston, Mobile and Norfolk is particularly bad in the Caribbean ports. Take, for example, Antigua.  Carnival dropped Antigua like a hot potato. Carnival broke up with its Caribbean "business partner" with a "Dear John" letter sent via e-mail. The sudden and unexpected pull-out costs the Caribbean island $40,000,000 annually.

Consider what's happening in Tortola too. Carnival cruise ships announced that it is pulling the Sunshine, Freedom, Liberty, Glory and the Valor from the island. Carnival may return if and when Tortola invests into improving its cruise facilities. 

The latest news from the Caribbean is that the Cayman Islands is trying to figure out how to pay $200,000,000 for two new cruise ship piers so that Carnival and Royal Caribbean passengers don't have to tender in from the cruise ships to the island. The Cayman Islands has a GNP of less than one billion dollars a year; however, Royal Caribbean alone will collect closer to 7 billions dollars a year. Carnival will collect far more than that.

The Caymans can't possibly pay for the news cruise piers by itself. But if it decides to "partner" with these giant, rich cruise lines, it may find itself paying for much of the cruise project and ongoing operating expenses with no legally enforceable assurances from the cruise lines.   

It's risky business for poor cities and tourist-dependent Caribbean islands with no sustainable businesses to trust the cruise lines.  Cruise lines like Carnival are cutthroats. They hold all of the cards and will up and leave in a split second if they can make a better deal elsewhere. 

Carnival Executives Switch Roles

Carnival Cruise LineSeveral news sources are reporting changes in the executive ranks at Carnival Corporation and its brands, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. 

Carnival Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Howard Frank will step down. He is slated to be an adviser to CEO Arnold Donald and Chairman Micky Arison. Jan Swartz becomes the new president of Princess Cruises, replacing President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alan Buckelew who moves into the COO role at Carnival. Holland America Line CEO Stein Kruse will begin overseeing Princess Princess under the newly formed entity "Holland America Group." 

It seems like a family affair to me.  Everyone is just changing hats.

The changes become effective December 1, 2013.

I'm pleased to see Ms. Swartz promoted from vice president of sales, marketing and customer service at Princess to the position of president. It's nice to see women advance in the men's club.  

Happy Birthday: Cruise Law Celebrates 4 Years on Twitter!

Today marks the 4th year Cruise Law has been on Twitter.  Check out our page here. Over 10,000 tweets and over 10,000 followers later, it has been a fun four years.  Tweeting is just micro-blogging in 140 characters and led me to create this blog Cruise Law News.

If you are not on Twitter you should be. It has led me to meet literally thousands of lawyers, travel agents, cruise industry people, journalists, travelers and crew members around the world.  Lots of news about the cruise industry breaks on Twitter before the mainstream media knows what's going on.

Speaking of social media, we have been busy in the world of cruise law news this year. The Carnival Triumph fire and the "ensuing cruise from hell" were the latest cruise fiascos which focused the world on the unregulated foreign-flagged cruise industry.

Jim Walker Cruise Law News BlogOur firm and this blog were featured in over fifty television, cable news, & radio shows and internet, magazine and newspaper articles. Take a look here at a listing of some here of the programs and articles.

Cruise Law News (CLN), now over 3 years old, remains a top 10 law blog in terms of popularity. It is currently ranked #9 per the Alexa popularity rankings. The 8 law blogs ahead of us consist of 6 blogs which are commercial sites or are run by law professors. There's only one other law blog operated by a full time lawyer (China Law Blog) ahead of us. So we are the #2 law blog in the U.S. and Canada written by a full time lawyer.

Last month in the 28 days of February, readers visited some 415,960 pages of this blog.  If we keep this pace up, we are approaching 5,000,000 page views a year!   

Our Facebook page is booming, with over 45,000 likes. It is by far the most popular page by a law firm on Facebook.   

Thanks for following us.  If you have a question or want us to cover a particular issue or story, contact me: jim@cruiselaw.com

Mystery of the Seas?

Royal Caribbean - New Name for Cruise ShipIt seems that Royal Caribbean has plans for a half-dozen new names for its cruise ships of the future.

Cruise Critic and a Royal Caribbean fan web site report that Royal Caribbean trademarked the names Anthem of the Seas, Passion of the Seas, Vantage of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Pulse of the Seas in trademark applications filed on November 2, 2012.

Royal Caribbean previously announced that it is building a new Oasis-class cruise ship. Perhaps Quantum of the Seas will be an appropriately ironic name for Royal Caribbean's next gigantic ship.

Royal Caribbean obviously has some long term plans in mind to have trademarked six new names. Previously Royal Caribbean announced that it will be building new cruise ships as part of its "Project Sunshine" with a new cruise ship coming on line in late 2014.

Right now the cruise line is keeping the name of its next ship a mystery.

What do you think of the new names?  What's your best guess for the name of the next Oasis-class ship?

Join the discussion on our Facebook page. There are some hilarious alternative names being suggested.

Captain Schettino to Tell "Shocking Truth" in New Book

Just when you'd think that the Costa Concordia story could not get any weirder, this week the infamous Captain Francesco Schettino announced that he is writing a book about the events surrounding the disaster. He promises to tell a "completely different story" than what has been reported to date.

So what is the "shocking truth" he teases the public about?

That "I am not captain coward."

Oh Lord save us all.  First we have him cavorting about the cruise ship with his blonde girlfriend. Then Captain Coward - Schettino - Chicken of the Seashe goes into a funk for an hour or two after he crashes the cruise ship into the rocks. When he returns to reality and tries to save his own hide from the sinking ship, he "slips and falls" into a lifeboat. When the Italian Coast Guard commander catches up with the fleeing captain, Schettino ignores the Coast Guard's order to return to the ship. He hires a lawyer and sues the cruise line for wrongful termination. He later says that he's really the hero for saving lives and, to top it off, says that the "Hand of God" touched him to navigate the ship to safety.

Oh Captain, may the hand of God be placed squarely over your babbling mouth!

Now we have a tell-all book from the Costa captain to look forward to.  Maybe a great Christmas present for your friends?

Let's hope that someone sues Schettino and obtains a judicial decree ordering all of the proceeds of the captain coward's book sales to go to the families of the people he killed. 

 

Thought for the day:  Will you buy the captain's new book? Vote on our facebook page

Latest CLIA Safety Policies: Too Little & Too Late

Pacific Sun Storm - Cruise Ship MayhamTravel Weekly reports that the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) announced three new policies designed to supposedly improve cruise ship safety after the Costa Concordia disaster earlier this year. 

It's great PR for the cruise industry. But like the other post-Concordia CLIA policies, there's not much substance to the new procedures.

One policy talks about storing more life vests at the muster stations, but some cruise ships (like the Oasis of the Seas) store the life vests in the cabins.

A second policy is something about "standardizing bridge procedures across a brand's fleet, and across different brands under the same ownership."  Huh?  Not sure what procedures CLIA is thinking about. It seems like this means that all Costa ships, for example, or all brands owned by Carnival could have one procedure but there will be different procedures for other ships and other companies like Royal Caribbean or NCL.  Why not one uniform procedure for all cruise ships?

The third "new" policy mentions using "tie-downs or other means of locking down heavy objects such as pianos, televisions, treadmills and laundry equipment that could cause injuries if they shift unexpectedly."

Does this mean that cruise ships currently don't have such a policy?  That's remarkable.

Consider the CCTV images of the Pacific Sun cruise ship hit by rough seas where literally everything in sight was sliding violently across the cruise ship's decks.  The video was filmed in 2008.  It has been over 4 years since the video was filmed. The cruise industry is only now finally thinking of a tie-down policy? 

 

Cruise Industry's New Safety Initiatives - Too Little, Too Late?

The cruise industry's trade group, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), announced two new safety initiatives last week. I was rather amazed when I read what the new proposals involved.

The first policy is what is being called the "Nationality of Passengers" policy. This policy states that each passenger's nationality should be documented for use by search and rescue personnel in case of an emergency evacuation. 

It surprises me that cruise lines don't already do this.  Airlines have kept such international manifests with passenger nationalities listed for decades.

CLIA claims that this is an effort to enhance passenger safety on board cruise liners. I'm not sure how listing passenger's nationalities leads to safety at all. Perhaps the information helps to Cota Concordia Cruise Ship - Muster Drillidentify the dead after disaster strikes.

A second safety procedure touted by CLIA is a list set of 12 "universal" instructions that should be given to passengers at muster drills.  These include the most basis instructions to passengers to prepare them for an abandon ship situation after a cruise ship fire or collision.

Cruise Critic summarized these instructions in a recent article as follows:

  • When and how to don a lifejacket;
  • Description of emergency signals and appropriate responses in the event of an emergency;
  • Location of lifejackets;
  • Where to muster when the emergency signal is sounded;
  • Method of accounting for passenger attendance at musters both for training and in the event of an actual emergency;
  • How information will be provided in an emergency;
  • What to expect if the Captain orders an evacuation of the ship;
  • What additional safety information is available;
  • Instructions on whether passengers should return to cabins prior to mustering, including specifics regarding medication, clothing and lifejackets;
  • Description of key safety systems and features;
  • Emergency routing systems and recognizing emergency exits; and
  • Who to seek out for additional information.

When I first read this proposal, I couldn't believe that the cruise industry didn't already have an established set of muster station / life vest / life boat instructions.  It's 2012, over 100 years since the Titanic sank!  No wonder there was such deadly confusion on the Concordia.

You may recall that back in April, CLIA announced some other new proposals including limiting visits to the bridge during cruises. I called this the "no bimbos in the bridge" policy because Captain Schettino's girlfriend was reportedly in the bridge after the Concordia hit the rocks.

Is this an industry so far behind the times that it is only now recommending standard muster drill instructions, listing passenger nationalities, and keeping the captain's girlfriends out of the bridge during disasters? 

 

Photo: Carlos Carballa / EFE 

"New" Evidence in George Smith Case: "We Gave That Guy A Paragliding Lesson Without A Parachute"

CBS News aired an interesting program today where additional details of the incriminating statements by the "three Russians" about "missing honeymooner" George Smith were revealed.

CBS interviewed former Assistant FBI Director John Miller who explained that the day after Mr. Smith's disappearance, the two Rozenberg men and "Rusty" Kofman were eating breakfast in the cruise ship's George Smith Missing - Cruise Ship Murderdining room when they began filming each other. Miller explains that the men were recorded laughing about the situation and mocking Mr. Smith. 

The camera then stops on one of the three men (who was not identified) who said: "We gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."

To my knowledge, these precise words have never been revealed to the public before.  Although the release of the actual statement is new, the existence of the tape is not.  The FBI has been in possession of the tape since 2005.

Obviously this statement is incriminating, considering Mr. Smith went over the railing of his balcony and the Royal Caribbean security report on the morning of the disappearance states that young men were seen leaving the area near the Smith's cabin at around 4:30 AM.

With this statement as well as other evidence we are familiar with in the case (we represented Jennifer Hagel and hired forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee to investigate whether George was thrown overboard), it is disturbing that the FBI has not made an arrest.  

It's long overdue.

 

 

Video credit:  CBS News

Last summer we wrote a series of articles about Mr. Smith's disappearance: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later.

New Clues Emerge in Case of "Missing Honeymooner" George Smith?

In the video below, MSNBC interviews the editor of the Greenwich Magazine which published an article this weekend about the death of George Smith.  We mentioned the new article, written by Timothy Dumas, last week in our blog: "New Information in the Unsolved Murder of Cruise Honeymooner George Smith."

You will recall that Mr. Smith disappeared off of the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in July 2005. Although the cruise line tried to shrug the event off as a drunken accident, suspicions pointed to four men last seen in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005.

The "new" clues include a video of the men on the cruise ship.  The men recorded themselves at some point on the cruise ship after George Smith's disappearance and may have said something incriminating.

There is also mention that the criminal investigation may be transferred from the Connecticut FBI to the New York FBI where some of the men live.

The video below shows  a number of old photographs associated with the case including a press conference I held in Miami in January 2006 (second photo, below right).   Last summer I published a series of articles about the case: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later

Update George Smith Cruise Ship Disappearance Here is the transcript of the interview:

New details have surfaced in the disappearance of George Smith who vanished from his honeymoon cruise in 2005. Greenwich magazine's Cristin Marandino discusses the case with MSNBC's Thomas Roberts.

"There is some new information about to talk about in the case of a Connecticut man lost at sea on his honeymoon. it happened seven years ago. you'll probably remember that George Smith went overboard while on his honeymoon in 2005. The FBI investigation into his death is still open.

Greenwich Magazine has exclusive details about new evidence that may lead to an arrest.  Explain to all of us -- you said yourself this is a story with a lot of twists and turns.  What's the new evidence that may lead to an arrest?

Well, good morning.  There is a bunch of new evidence going on here.  One of the probably biggest and most exciting pieces that really is going to hopefully help push this case forward is the existence of a videotape that is in the possession of the FBI. On that videotape there are certain individuals that make very self incriminating statements following the death of George Smith.

Cristin, when you talk about videotape, this is not surveillance video from the actual ship. This is something shot after the event itself?

No, that is correct.  This is a videotape that the gentlemen made of themselves. And in their room, sort of passing around a flip phone.

So lots of people remember this. This was a beautiful young couple on their honeymoon. This was such a horrific incident. there was, you know, correlations, though, or kind of scandalous questions brought up about what this couple was doing that night, how much both parties had been drinking, and things trying to make them look somehow as if he deserved this in some way, shape, or form.  The family has disputed that.  The wife has moved on. even gotten a settlement.  How is the family responding to this new information that you're working on?

The family is obviously thrilled about this new information, and they have been working very carefully with a Greenwich based attorney, Mike Jones, who in large part has been responsible for helping to push this forward and making sure that this evidence does get into the right hands, which now it has. and, yeah, there's been a lot of misconceptions, a lot of in inconsistency with this case.  And i think Maritime Lawyer Jim Walker - Cruise Ship Crimethat's what we tried to do and why we tried to get in the game at this point, put all of that stuff to rest, and really start talking about what did happen and helping to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And, you know, exonerate the people that should be exonerated and put a little bit of a light on people who maybe should be looked at more closely.

When you talk about the family, explain the relationship between George Smith 's parents and his wife.

At this point, I think everybody's sort of moved on. I think it's, you know, as you said, Jennifer has moved on.  She is also living in Connecticut. I don't -- you know, i think they are just living their own lives.

if you were to guess, hazard a guess as to when we may hear of an arrest or arrests are made, what timetable would you suggest?

I really at this point don't know.  And the people that i have spoken with, the hope is that because of this tape, and because of the fact that they are trying to get the case transferred from the Connecticut FBI to the New York FBI, which is a good sign on a lot of levels.  One, it shows that two of the targets that they are looking at do indeed live in New York. So it shows they are trying to push it forward in that way.  And that this tape is out there, and the information is out there that this tape exists. so hopefully, you know, i would say hopefully soon.

It's certainly a case that gripped the attention of the American people. And i can imagine for the Smith family, it will be nice if they can find some forward motion and see justice in all of this. But we'll continue to watch. Cristin, thank you for your coverage this morning." 

Watch the video below. If you don't subscribe to Greenwich Magazine, read the first part of the article "Mystery at Sea" here.

  

 

Cruise Industry's New Safety Drill Policy - Too Little, Too Late

Swamped from a tide of bad publicity following the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise industry today announced a change to its safety drill policy.  The new policy?  Hold your breath:

All cruise lines will begin to provide a safety briefing to the passengers before the vessel sets sail. 

That's it?  Why wasn't this the law a hundred years ago, after the Titanic sank?

This should convince even the most hard core cruise fan that there is something seriously amiss Costa Concordia Cruise Chaosin the world of cruising when almost a month after the Concordia disaster, the cruise lines have finally proposed such a basic safety policy.

This should also reveal how lax the policies are under the International Maritime Organization ("IMO").  The IMO rules (suggestions I say) suggest that cruise ships can wait up to 24 hours after passengers embark to hold a safety briefing.  It's difficult to justify such an unsafe policy which undoubtedly caused or contributed to deaths of some of the Concordia passengers.  But what can you expect from an United Nations organization?  

The cruise industry has announced this simple common-sense policy with great fanfare.  USA Today's pro-cruise blog CruiseBlog quotes a cruise agent praising the new policy which was revealed in a joint statement by the Cruise Lines International Association, the European Cruise Council and the UK"s  Passenger Shipping Association. 

Notwithstanding the new cruise line voluntary policy, the IMO "rules" still permit waiting until 24 hours to have a muster drill.  And if the cruise lines don't follow their own voluntary agreement?  There is no consequence. 

Just what the public needs, a trust-us promise from an unregulated cruise industry which should not be trusted.