Harris Poll Reveals a Lack of Confidence in Reliability & Safety of Cruise Industry

A Harris Poll released today reveals that the public has a lack of confidence in the reliability and safety of the cruise lines. Although the cruise industry was improving the public's perception of cruising, the numerous norovirus outbreaks aboard cruise line ships this year seem to have "effectively stolen the wind from the industry's collective sails." 

Just this week, the Princess Cruises' Crown Princess experienced a norovirus outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced six prior gastrointestinal outbreaks this year. That's 7 so far this year, compared to 9 all of last year. The public is questioning the cruise lines' usual excuse that it is always the passengers' fault for not washing their hands, as there is evidence Cruise Ship Norovirusthat many crew members work while ill in violation of the CDC protocols.

The Harris Poll reveals that the public's perceptions of "quality," "trust" and "purchase intent" are still below the scores before the Triumph debacle last year. 

"We've all heard the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats," says Deana Percassi, Vice President and Public Relations Research Consultant with Nielsen, "but the inverse also holds true. In a field as crowded as the cruise industry, bad press for a small handful of brands – or even a single one – can have negative repercussions for major players across the board."

Americans continue to have more favorable attitudes toward air travel than toward cruises. Roughly six in ten think that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises and a majority agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises.

A majority of Americans also agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago. 

The cruise industry has also been rocked this year with a scandal that MSC Cruises has been dumping garbage bags at sea and have been exploiting its crew to the point that the police in Brazil had to raid a MSC cruise ship. Just this week, NCL decided to pull its cruise ships from Roatan following armed robbery of cruise passengers and the murder of a NCL crew member.

Last year, the cruise industry attacked the Harris Poll, accusing it of being "unscientific," "unreliable" and "flawed." The cruise lines, especially the trade group Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), always say this when there are unfavorable reports criticizing the cruise industry. It tries to discount its annual failed environmental cruise ship scores by the Friends of the Earth in this way too. Last week, CLIA said that it was "disappointed" by a study criticizing it for abusing crew members and the environment. It said the report was "unscientific" and "flawed."

Expect a similar statement from the spin masters at CLIA about the latest critical Harris Poll.  

Royal PR #FAIL: Royal Caribbean Keeps Adventure & Navigator Passengers in the Dark

This weekend saw the epic failure of Royal Caribbean's corporate communications department after two of its cruise ships, the Adventure of the Seas and the Navigator of the Seas, encountered difficulties returning to their respective ports. 

The Adventure of the Seas encountered propulsion problems last week and, eventually, a total failure on Saturday night, after the cruise ship's "fixipod" leaked oil and the ship lost propulsion. The ship limped back to San Juan on Sunday with great uncertainty whether it could possibly be repaired in time for it to sail. The ship is scheduled for a drydock at the end of the month, but it appears that Royal Caribbean decided to try and do a quick-fix of the damaged "fixipod" and squeeze in one more cruise to avoid having to refund their several thousands of passengers millions of dollars in refunds. Families Port of Galveston - Navigator of the Seas - Oil Spillwho had flown to San Juan to board the Adventure were not told of the propulsion issues and found themselves standing in a long line in the hot sun while the cruise line's public relations department said nothing. As of this morning (Monday), the ship has still not sailed.

While the Adventure of the Seas saga was unfolding, the Navigator of the Seas was delayed returning to port by an oil spill caused by a collision between a ship and a barge. Families who had driven and flown into Houston to make the cruise where not advised of the oil spill or the delay embarking the ship while the Royal Caribbean department remained quite. Meanwhile the Carnival PR department was routinely posting updates on Twitter and Facebook about the problem which its ship, the Magic, faced with the oil spill. Carnival maintained a centralized "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)" on its website.  It timely notified its guests that the cruise aboard the Carnival Magic would be delayed until Monday and that they should locate a hotel and get a good night's sleep. 

By early Sunday afternoon, the Royal Caribbean passengers began openly complaining on Twitter and Facebook about the cruise line's refusal to keep them up to date. A public relations nightmare was unfolding.

Numerous passengers and family members began bitterly complaining that Royal Caribbean was not notifying them via email, test messaging or telephone, and the cruise line was not utilizing its Twitter or Facebook feeds. Royal Caribbean has a public relations account of Twitter, called @RoyalCaribPR, San Juan Long Lines Adventure of the Seasbut it had remained silent for the psst 48 hours. People calling the cruise line were placed on hold, or the service representatives didn't know what was going on. It was as if the entire customer relations department has outsourced to a distant village in India. 

The passengers in San Juan were congregating in long lines in the hot son without water or food (photo left, via @_DanielnPearson). There was reportedly a single restroom with long lines. People were suffering, particularly the elderly. One passenger sent me a photo of the long lines via Twitter. 

One passenger commented on Cruise Critic that Royal Caribbean "is refusing water and people are leaving in ambulances." Some passengers reportedly collapsed due to the heat and lack of water. And @It'sYourWorld tweeted a photo (photo below right) of a San Juan ambulance which arrived at the port to attend to one of the passenger trying to board the ship.  

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean's Facebook page said nothing about either the Adventure or the Navigator. While people began demanding an update on Twitter, Royal Caribbean posted a photograph of a beautiful tropical port of call (photo bottom left). At a time of crisis with customers begging for information, Royal Caribbean was clueless. It was trying to sell cruises with images of paradise when people in the sun needed water. 

As the afternoon dragged on into the evening and night, the passenger attempting to board these Royal Caribbean ships were kept in the dark. When Royal Caribbean finally began to tweet, its tweets were meaningless. One tweet it made over and over said: " We will provide more information . . . as information is available." 

Hundreds of passengers and the usual "Loyal-to-Royal" cruise fans began tweeting every few seconds. Of the hundreds of tweets, here are a few.

A cruise social media expert said: 'Hey @CCLSupport any way you can help out @RoyalCaribbean on their updates? They don't seem to be taking your lead :)"  He added another tweet: "@RoyalCaribbean's last tweet was promo for Ibiza & @RoyalCaribPR's last tweet was Friday. #FAIL"

A woman concerned for her elderly parents tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean when can incoming guests check luggage? Senior parents (one disabled) have been up since 4am. They are exhausted."

Another woman from Texas tweeted: "My mom received no email or call updates. Found all the update info on Twitter. Pathetic!"

A man from Ohio tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean why are your offices closed when you have 1000s of passengers waiting for information about boarding the Navigator of Seas?"

A cruise fan from Denver tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean I understand the oil spill is out of your control but do you know how to use technology to communicate with your passengers?"

He added: "@RoyalCaribbean = confusion."

A member of Cruise Critic left this comment:

" . . . I am appalled by the lack of communication. Problems happen, (like busted ships and oil spills) but this is a problem that they knew they would have today given that it started Wednesday. There absolutely should have been a corporate plan in place to communicate with extra staff at port (3 days to fly staff from MIA to SJ is plenty of time) even if the only thing they would be able to communicate was that they don't know anything yet. Despite what anyone thinks, in corporate America today if you are Ambulance Stressed and Exhausted Cruise Passengers - San Juannot ahead of the news cycle you are behind...tweets, FB etc are required, and certainly emails, phone calls, texts, to passengers sailing are required, not 'optional.'

If as reported, no water or accommodations for elderly and special needs passengers were made while waiting to board; that's another major failure given the huge amount of time the company had to prepare for what they knew would be a problem. A hotel ballroom and shuttle could have been arranged cheaply.

This is completely unacceptable and another huge black eye for the Royal and the cruise industry."

You can read the Cruise Critic comments here.

Throughout Sunday afternoon, we received emails and comments on our blog and Facebook page asking for basic information about these two Royal Caribbean cruises from passengers at the ports, travel agents and concerned family members at home. A cruise line has a major PR problem when guests and travel agents are ignored and have to seek information from a maritime lawyer rather than a cruise representative. We directed a number of people calling us to the Carnival updates about the Galveston situation and also sent the link to the webcam at the port of Galveston so that they could see when the Navigator finally arrived in port (photo top right).

It still remains uncertain whether the Adventure of the Seas will sail today. The Royal Caribbean PR Twitter feed @RoyalCaribPR remains silent. The Royal Caribbean main Twitter page @RoyalCaribbean has offered no updates for 14 hours. The page claims that it offers "inspiration and information from the official sponsor of WOW. Living the #cruiselife 24/7." Hardly.

The problem here is that cruise lines like Royal Caribbean try and squeeze their ships (and employees) to make every dime possible.  It could have decided to take its crippled Adventure of the Seas out of service a week early for dry-dock but instead loaded the new round of passengers aboard to avoid paying a hotel for the night or refunds for the missed cruise. 

This is not Royal Caribbean's first PR blunder in San Juan. In August 2011 as a hurricane headed to the island, Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas sailed 6 hours early. But Royal Caribbean did not contact its guests via the emergency contact information about the new itinerary.  It didn't provide the passengers, who arrived in San Juan to find that the ship had left, with hotel rooms. It abandoned its guests in the middle of a hurricane and didn't bother to tell them.

Super cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, expressed outrage in her blog Bad Royal Caribbean Fantasy VacationsWeather Blunder: A Lesson in Cruise Crisis Control? "This takes my breath away. And it’s not about the fact that it didn’t offer to pay for hotels and flights . . . . It’s about dropping the ball in a risky situation. Clearly, I’m not the only one who is shocked at Royal Caribbean’s lack of responsibility to its customers. On Cruise Critic’s forums, its blog, and its Facebook page, travelers are incredulous." 

One of the continuing criticisms of the cruise industry is that it may be skilled at marketing fantasy images of idyllic cruise vacations but it is not prepared when disaster strikes one of its increasingly gigantic cruise ships. It's clear that Royal Caribbean has not invested into the infrastructure of its crisis management department and developed policies and procedures to effectively communicate meaningful information in real time. If Royal Caribbean can't handle a weekend when two cruise ships are delayed, one for an oil slick and another for a known propulsion issue, do you think that it can communicate effectively when a fire strands either the Oasis or the Allure on the high seas in rough weather or, God forbid, a huge ship sinks at sea? 

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. 

Triumph Trash Talk: Carnival Mocks Its "Poop Cruise" Guests

Lawyers involved in a trial are not suppose to make comments during trial which are likely to affect the jury or trier of fact. The theory is that trials are suppose to be decided based on the testimony and exhibits introduced into evidence, and not by PR statements which are not subject to the rules of evidence and which may be designed to sway the jury.     

Yesterday Carnival send a written statement to NBC News, Carnival said: "The current litigation by a handful of individuals is an opportunistic attempt to benefit financially . . . principally based on claims of alleged emotional distress."

A nasty statement no doubt. There is no indication that Carnival's trial lawyers made the statement. But Poop Cruise Carnival Triumphpress releases like this from the Carnival PR team are obviously not released to the public until after they are vetted by Carnival's in-house lawyers.

It's a statement designed to try and send a signal to the trier of fact. Carnival is trying to sway the trier of fact to believe that the Triumph cruise passengers are just a greedy bunch of people who are not to be believed and are just looking for a pay out. 

What Carnival doesn't say, however, is that the cruise line made a business decision last year not to pay a dime to any passengers who elected to file suit. Carnival was clearly negligent. Any other cruise line would have resolved this type of case on a reasonable basis long ago. But not Carnival. It would rather pay its defense lawyers a few million dollars to try and squash the Triumph passengers who decided to seek compensation.

Remember that Carnival Cruise Line's parent company is Carnival Corporation. This is the same company which owns the Costa Concordia which capsized with over 4,000 passengers and crew on board, killing 32 souls.  The passengers on the Concordia lost not only their vacations but all of their clothing, cameras, iPhones, and computers which they brought on board. They lost any jewelry or cash in the cabin safes. They were terrorized as the cruise ship tilted over and the coward captain abandoned ship.

Carnival offered the passengers 11,000 euros on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.  If that seems like a pittance to you, you're right. But remember that Carnival didn't offer the crew member anything.

To add salt into the wound, at the end of the year, Carnival Chairman Micky Arison (already worth close to $6,000,000,000) paid himself a $90,000,000 bonus.

In the same year, the CEO of the Carnival owned Costa cruise line, Pier Luigi Foschi, received $3,970.000 and later received a bonus of $1,700,000 when he retired. He also reportedly has shares of cruise stock worth $4,700,000.   

This is the way it works with the Carnival brands. They have tens of millions in salary and bonuses to reward their CEO's even when their ships catch fire or sink.  They have millions and millions to spend on defending lawsuits. But for the nice people who boarded the dangerously neglected and unseaworthy Triumph cruise ship last year, Carnival doesn't have a penny. It has only disdain. 

Who's the Most Likely Sexual Predator on a Cruise Ship? A Male Cabin Attendant with a Master Key Card

Are sexual crimes committed by cabin attendants against women in their cruise ship cabins "shocking?"

If you define "shocking" as "disturbing" or "upsetting," of course.  

But if you define "shocking" as "unforeseeable" or "unpredictable," not at all. Who's the most likely sexual predator on a cruise ship?  A male cabin attendant. What's the most likely location of a sexual assault? A passenger's cabin. What's the most likely way that a cabin attendant gets into the passenger cabin?  By using the master key card. 

99% of cabin attendants are honest, law-abiding and hard-working men and women from around the world who are trying to support their families back home. But in our experience, the majority of sexual assaults on ships have been committed by male attendants who enter the passenger cabins and attack women and children.

Over four years ago, I wrote that "in our experience, the crew member most likely to harass or assault a passenger is a male cabin attendant in his late 20's or early 30's." I warned women to be on the Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise Ship outlook of a male cabin attendant who is "most likely to use his pass key and enter a woman's cabin at night."

After the vicious attack by HAL cabin attendant Ketut Pujayasa, age 28, against the passenger on the Nieuw Amsterdam, Holland America Line issued a PR statement stating that that it was shocked" by the crime.  But the choice of the word "shock" is intended by the HAL lawyers and risk management department to suggest that the crime was unforeseeable and, as such, it can't be liable for the rape.

The word is also intended to convey to the public that things like this just don't happen on HAL cruises. Saying the crime is "rare" is the favorite cruise line defense. Better yet, the cruise lines say that sexual assault is so rare and unpredictable that it's just "shocking."  

A couple of years ago, a young college student we represented was raped by a cabin attendant after the cruise ship sailed to Nassau. The cabin attendant who attacked her was in his late 20's. He entered the young girl's cabin when she was asleep by using his key card after hours.

The young woman's case was presented to our U.S. Congress. The Congressmen and Congresswomen were asked the rhetorical question why would a cruise line staff a woman's cabin with a male cabin attendant in his 20's? Why would a cruise line permit such a cabin attendant have a master key card that would permit him to enter a woman's cabin 24 hours a day?  Why didn't the cruise Key Card Cruise Ship Cabin Doorassign women cabin attendants to clean women's cabins? Why didn't the cruise line deactivate the cabin attendant's key card after hours?

Simple steps like these were suggested long ago as a way for the cruise lines to avoid an entirely predictable crime like this. But instead of learning a lesson, the cruise lines engaged in its usual PR statements: "crime is rare" or "our employees are carefully vetted" or "the safety of our passengers is our highest priority" or other PR poppycock.

So what did the woman staying in her cabin on Nieuw Amsterdam have to contend with on Valentine's Day? A male cabin attendant in his late 20's, responsible for a woman's cabin, who had access to a master key card.

It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Little did the victim know.

When will the cruise lines take the key cards away from the male cabin attendants?  When will the cruise lines warn their female guests that crimes like this have occurred over and over?

Do we really have to listen to cruise companies like HAL pretend that they are "shocked?" 

 

Photo Credit:  

Top: AP Photo/Marianne Armshaw via CTV

Bottom: CNN New Day

Princess Cruises' Defense Every Time Norovirus Strikes: "The Passengers Bring It With Them"

This morning I wrote an article about Princess Cruises immediately blaming the sick passengers for what appears to be the latest norovirus outbreak aboard the Caribbean PrincessBlame Game: Princess Accuses Passengers of Starting Norovirus Outbreak on Caribbean Princess. Princess's PR spokesperson Julie Benson accused the passengers of bringing the virus with them when they boarded the cruise ship.

She didn't mention that the virus was wreaking havoc during the prior cruise.

Blaming the passengers is part of the PR strategy of Princess and the cruise industry.  

This afternoon I remembered reading a book by cruise expert Professor Ross Klein about this public Cruise Ship Squeezerelations defense strategy by Princess. The book is called "Cruise Ship Squeeze."  Professor Klein has been recognized as an expert regarding cruise line issues by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before whom he has testified several times.

I suggest reading Chapter 8 of Dr. Klein's book. At pages 179 - 183, you can read about the cruise industry and Princess blaming the passengers. Eleven years ago during a 2003 cruise, passengers were stricken with a gastrointestinal illness. Princess accused their cruise passengers sick with norovirus of "bringing it with them." But the truth is that during the prior cruise, the cruise ship had experienced passengers sickened with the same sickness. 

No scientists arrived at this conclusion. And there was nothing remotely scientific about what Princess represented to the public. 

Ever since then Princess says the same thing over and over every time norovirus sickens the guests. 

Who needs epidemiologists when the cruise line PR team has already figured out what to say?

Blame Game: Princess Accuses Passengers of Starting Norovirus Outbreak on Caribbean Princess

Last night the Caribbean Princess cruise ship returned early to Houston, Texas with passengers and crew members suffering from a gastrointestinal illness (GI) outbreak. There are around 173 people officially reported to be ill on the ship, mostly passengers. A Houston news station says the outbreak was caused by norovirus.

Determining the type of GI outbreak and the origin of the outbreak is a deliberate, scientific process that is the work of trained and experienced expert epidemiologists.  

The experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not yet determined either the type or the origin of the virus.  The outbreak could be attributed to contaminated food, or contaminated water, or galley or food handlers working while ill, or the ship failing to clean up after the last cruise when passengers became ill, or new passengers with the virus who were not properly Caribbean Princessscreened. But whatever the potential cause and origin, it's important to determine what the CDC says about the outbreak.

Princess Cruises, however, has already blamed its guests.  Princess PR spokeswoman Julie Benson tells CBS News that "the pattern suggests the illness was brought on board by passengers." Ms. Benson is not an epidemiologist of course. She has no medical or scientific education or training. Princess Cruises didn't fly a team of epidemiologists into the Gulf of Mexico and lower them down from a helicopter to the cruise ship to conduct tests and make a analysis.

Ms. Benson's comments, in my assessment, are a PR stunt. This is right out of the cruise industry's playbook of how to manage a crisis when a cruise ship sickness epidemic breaks out. Rule number 1: Blame the Passengers!

Cruise lines like Princess don't want the public to think that their cruise ships or crew members are the problem. To divert attention from the possibility of bad food or contaminated water or sick crew members, the cruise lines point the finger at their customers and accuse them of bring the virus aboard or having poor hygiene.

But could it be bad hygiene of the crew? The CDC has found crew working while ill before. That's why the public has to rely on the education and experience of the experts and not PR cruise line people.

Yesterday we wrote that there were passengers sickened during the last cruise. Did the ship clean up the contaminated surfaces and test the food and water after the last puke fest? How many people were sick last week?  Perhaps Princess will tell us? Perhaps not. 

I have mentioned before that cruise lines often don't want the CDC to make any conclusions about the cause or origin of widespread viral outbreaks. Why? So the PR people can spin the story for marketing purposes.

Princess would rather protect their own reputation and blame the sick passengers than wait for the CDC to finish its investigation. 

 

Photo BCredit: Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle

When Norovirus Strikes, Cruise Line Cheerleaders Run & Hide

The news of 600 passengers and crew members stricken with what appears to be norovirus is dominating the cruise news today. The story broke on Friday with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announcing that a little over 300 passenger and crew aboard the Explorer of the Seas were suffering from nausea and diarrhea. 

The number rose to over 450 by the weekend. This morning the CDC raised the number of sick people to over 600.

This story came on the heels of another Royal Caribbean norovirus case last week. The Majesty of the Seas returned to Miami the other week with passengers and crew sickened by norovirus. The story Explorer of the Seas Noroviruswas heavily reported as well.

The cruise norovirus stories seem to bring the disgusting Triumph "poop cruise" stories back to life. Hundreds of people floating around on a nasty ship jammed with people who wanted off the cruise and away from all of the vomit and diarrhea.

This morning around 4:00 AM I published my second article ("A Royal Mess") on the outbreak. I then went to the airport in Miami at 5:30 AM to meet a client. A CNN special about the Explorer's gastrointestinal illness (GI) outbreak was on a flat screen television positioned above one of the baggage carousels. Hundreds of people who had just flown into Miami watched the television as they waited for their bags. I watched them either shake their heads in disgust or laugh, perhaps nervously, as the CNN anchor interviewed a Royal Caribbean passenger who described the widespread illnesses on the sick ship.

I was familiar with this particular passenger's plight because we had exchanged tweets on Twitter about the cruise ship GI outbreak. Passengers tweeted over the weekend to anyone and everyone who would listen to stories about the ordeal. I could see that reporters from ABC, CBS and other major networks were sending messages to anyone they could find on Twitter looking for a live voice to tell the story. Reuters reported that one passenger wrote on Twitter: "I've been sick and quarantined... Everything I touch goes in a biohazard bag." A newspaper in the U.K., the Daily Mail, embedded tweets from some of the sick passengers, including a couple of tweets that I shared with one ill passenger.

The puke-fest-on-the-cruise-from-hell-story was growing and growing. It became clear that far more than 300 people were sick. The story would shortly become viral.

As usual, CNN beat their competitors in covering the story with a couple of video interviews of passengers on the stricken ship. One passenger was angry about the cruise line's disorganization. He said his last cruise with Royal Caribbean also involved widespread gastrointestinal illnesses. Another passenger complained that no one in the ship's room service would answer his calls for water, and no one told him when the quarantine was lifted.     

Where were the public relation representatives of Royal Caribbean protecting the crew's and cruise line's reputations? Where were the PR experts for the cruise industry? Royal Caribbean finally sent out a formal statement to the press but there was no one on the cruise line's twitter feed interacting contemporaneously with the sick and suffering on the cruise ship. 

The trade organization for the cruise line, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), was asleep. Indeed, a check of the CLIA Twitter feed (@CruiseFacts) shows no tweets since December 18, 2013 - over a month! That's an eternity in the fast paced world of social media.

The CEO of CLIA, Christine Duffy, was no where to be seen. She needed to present the cruise industry's side of the story. She last tweeted on Thursday, the day before the outbreak from her handle @CLIACEO. Ironically, she last tweeted about a "great column" in Travel Weekly about the "new wave of attacks on the cruise industry" which featured a travel agent's criticism of me. (You can read my response here).

This shows a problem with the cruise lines' PR. The cruise industry PR is always late and in reaction to bad press. The cruise industry seems to be always complaining about CNN and the bad press, but it doesn't bother to interact with its aggrieved customers in real time. By the time it finally responds to bad news, there are other stories bringing even worse news. The travel writers will be pleased to write a puff piece whenever CLIA wants one, but the coverage is strictly after-the-fact. It lacks spontaneity and genuineness. There are no travel writers fast and nimble enough to react immediately when trouble comes.  

When disaster strikes, whether it's a fire, a capsizing, or just the latest norovirus outbreak, the cruise lines don't know what to do. Their twitter and Facebook pages are silent. Their executives go to the Miami Heat games. The travel agents and travel publications run and hide.

A crisis management expert, Rich Klein, just wrote a blog about the predicament facing Royal Caribbean. With the headline "Honesty Remains Lonely Word," he writes that the cruise line has active Twitter and Facebook pages "but 24+ hours into their respective crises, only customers are reporting the obvious news while the companies offer little insight into what happened."

As sick passengers lamented their cruise-from-hell on Twitter and aggressive news reporters brought their stories to an international audience, Royal Caribbean and CLIA were enjoying their weekend. No one had their hands on the wheels of the PR machine. When genuine sympathy and a quick refund were in order, the cruise industry engaged in slow motion corporate talk. Royal Caribbean has still not even mentioned whether or how it intends to compensate its sick guests for the unpleasant, aborted cruise. 

 

Photo Credit: Thomas Layer / AP Photo

Are the Last 2 to 3 Years of Cruise Ship Mishaps An Anomaly or a Trend?

Adam Goldstein Royal CaribbeanThis weekend, the Royal Caribbean Blog (an unofficial Royal Caribbean fan website) quoted Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein saying that the "last two or three years" of cruise ship mishaps are just  an "anomaly."

Goldstein made his comments to CNBC's Simon Hobbs who excitedly told the television audience that there was a disconnect between what the non-cruising public thought about cruising and what cruise president Goldstein told him in an exclusive interview:

"I having been in this cruise business for over 25 years now," Goldstein says. "My frame of reference is two and a half decades of an extraordinarily safe of track record of great duration. Tremendous attention to detail and training that prepares the crew and the officers to do everything that they need to do from to delivering satisfaction to the guests to being extremely safe and environmentally responsible." 

'Extraordinary . . . tremendous . . . extremely . . . everything they need." This is classic cruise CEO gobbledygook by CEO Goldstein. Over-the-top hyperbole in response to softball questions by a cruise friendly interviewer.  

But does CEO Goldstein really want to go back to the "good old days" of cruising 20 to 25 years ago? 

I don't think so.

Was Royal Caribbean and the cruise industry "environmentally responsible" 20 years ago as Goldstein claims?

I don't think so either.

The 1990's were the decade when Royal Caribbean was the environment's absolute worst enemy. Thousands of garbage bags washed ashore on Miami Beach and tar fouled the sandy beaches of South Florida and the Bahamas, while Royal Caribbean dumped waste and emptied its oily bilges from cruise ships sailing the pristine waters here in Key Biscayne to Glacier Bay in Alaska and back.

The Coast Guard caught Royal Caribbean with its bilges open. Environmentalist-from-Miami U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno slammed the dirty cruise line. Royal Caribbean pled guilty to multiple felonies, including lying to the Coast Guard and the U.S. government. Before it was over, the U.S. Department of Justice fined the cruise line a record $27,000,000 and forced Royal Caribbean to admit that it was a corporate felon. 

Has the cruise industry make progress regarding environmental issues as Goldstein tells CNBC?

That's debatable. Just last week we reported on MSC Cruises caught throwing bags of garbage overboard into Brazilian waters. Just today MSC called itself the "Guardians of the Seas" but it won't Carnival Ecstasy Cruise Ship Firetalk about dumping garbage bags overboard.

But lets go back to 20 to 25 years ago, were there Carnival poop cruises back then?

Yes, and worse.

In 1995, the Carnival Tropicale, lost all power and families who brought their children aboard, couples honeymooning, and elderly citizens  bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico, nauseated. The Carnival passengers endured the same disgusting circumstances as the Triumph.  Then a tropical storm, Roxanne, struck the ship. The cruise from hell turned into a ship of terror when the passenger thought that they were going to die. Carnival offered the traumatized passengers a $40 credit because the ship missed ports in Grand Caymans and Mexico.

Were there other fires and disasters back in the late 1980's and 1990's too? You bet.

Some of the most publicized incidents in the 1990's involved Carnival's Ecstasy (above right). It caught fire in 1996 and again in 1998 shortly after leaving the port of Miami. If the fire had occurred thirty minutes later there would have been no fire boats to extinguish the flames. Local news helicopters from Miami flew to the scene and filmed the burning ship.

The next year, the Carnival Tropicale, caught fire again and the ship was adrift again in the Gulf of Mexico with 1,700 passengers and crew members for two days after the fire disabled the engines. This Oceanos Sinkingincident received national attention, particularly after passengers complained that some crew members did not speak English well enough to provide safety instructions. The New York Times reported on the debacle in an article "Language Barrier Cited In Inquiry Into Ship Fire."

During the ensuing investigation, the captain of the Tropicale testified that he was concerned that the engine room would explode. He kept information about the raging fire from passengers because he worried they might panic and jump overboard, according to the St. Pete Times article "Cruise Captain Feared Panic."

The 1990's began with the captain's abandonment of the sinking Oceanos (right), which made my list as the number 1 worst cruise ship video of all time.  

The 1990's also saw the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jim Hall, calling the cruise lines an "outlaw industry" which suffered from "bad actors." 

The difference between then and now is that the "good old days" of the 1990's did not have Twitter breaking embarrassing cruise news every day, or Facebook and YouTube hosting iPhone images and video of cruise ship disasters, or social media blogs, like this one, providing insight when cruise executives take you back to the past and try and pull the wool over your eyes.  

Cruise Censorship: Does Cruise Critic Delete Discussions Embarrassing to Cruise Lines?

Yesterday several passengers from the Holland America Line Veendam contacted us because they were upset that a passenger went overboard during a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. They returned from the cruise knowing that someone had died at the end of the cruise as the ship sailed back to SanDiego, but they did not know why the passenger went overboard, or whether it was a murder or a suicide. Some passengers thought that a child went overboard. They were very concerned.

Without exception, these passengers told us that there was no information available from the cruise line or anywhere on the internet about the overboard.  Its was like there was a blackout imposed.

These individuals  seemed genuinely concerned about the passenger who died. These were not "rubberneckers" wanting to take part in some type of morbid gossip. They had seen bits and pieces of Cruise Critic Monkeysa sad spectacle during what was otherwise a pleasurable cruise.  They were worried when they went home. They wanted basic information about what happened around them and, in many ways, what happened to them to the extent that they and their children had witnessed an unsettling tragedy   

Some of the people who contacted us said that there were initially some comments posted on the message boards at Cruise Critic.  But, according to the people contacting us, these comments were quickly deleted by Cruise Critic.

I have heard of these type of criticisms of Cruise Critic before. Message boards which contain information of potential embarrassment to the cruise lines are often pulled from the cruise-friendly Cruise Critic.    

So I went online to see if anyone was reporting on the HAL overboard other than this blog. 

What I found was interesting, 

There were several links indicating that there were a number of people who left comments on the Cruise Critic message boards. But when I clicked on the links, all of the links were disabled. First, there was the link on Google "Veendam-New Years cruise sad ending reported by a passenger ..." There was the link "We had a strange last sea day, with a report of somebody falling past a window, a man-overboard signal, dropping a smoke flare and life ring, ..." And there was the link "Person overboard on the Veendam New Years cruise??"

But clicking on all of these links led to an error message: "Invalid thread specified. If you followed a valid link, please notify the administrator."

The index to the threads under Holland America Line also contained no messages about the overboard. It had also apparently been scrubbed clean.

In my view, the Expedia-owned Cruise Critic is still the same online community of cruise fans who were exposed several years ago for being paid cruise line cheerleaders and shilling for Royal Caribbean on cruise reviews and message boards.

The cruise industry has suffered through lots of bad press in the past couple of years. Travel writers, most cruise bloggers, and other friends of the industry have leaned over backwards to give the cruise lines a break. But censoring cruise passengers who make legitimate inquiries on a message board relating to the cruise lines is a disservice to the cruising public. It perpetuates the lack of transparency which is part of the the cruise lines' problem in the first place.

One of the passengers on the Veendam left us the following comment to our article:

"Thank you for the post, Jim. As a passenger that witnessed part of the discovery I do feel entitled to an explanation. While the crew seemed to handle this professionally, this was indeed a disturbing event. An explanation did not have to include the details, but may have at least provided some closure for at least those humans who were traumatized by "the incident" (to which it was referred by the captain). To carry on like nothing happened--on ship and in the media--was and continues to be even more disturbing."

Death & Lawlessness? or the Best Vacation Possible? Australian Newspaper Explores Conflicting Views of Cruising

Cruise Line StoriesA newspaper in Australia presents two sides of the cruise industry today. 

The main article is entitled: Death, Assaults, lawlessness ... the Dark Side of the Cruise Industry. It's a must read article for everyone interested in the historical view of the problems which continue to plague the cruise industry: missing passengers, excessive alcohol, drugs and sexual assault of minors.

At the other end of the spectrum is the cruise friendly piece: 11 Reasons Why a Cruise is a Safe Holiday. If you love cruising and think its the best thing since sliced bread, this article is for you. 

Have a thought? Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Most Popular Article from Cruise Law News in 2013 - "What Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know"

With 2013 ending, I've gone back over the 400 articles I have written this year to determine which one was the most popular.

The winner, by a landslide, was What Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know.

I wrote this article in February, ten days after the Carnival Triumph became forever known as the Carnival "Poop Cruise."

A senior editor at CNN called my office and asked me to write an opinion piece for CNN. I had never written an "opinion piece" for a newspaper or major network before. I asked her exactly what she CNN Cruise Firewanted. "Easy," she said, "CNN wants your opinion about the cruise industry. Please send me your draft by noon."  

Yikes!  It was already 10:00 AM. So I closed my office door and thought for a few moments.

My thoughts came quickly: "the engines of the increasingly larger cruise ships are poorly maintained. The ships are haphazardly inspected and largely unregulated. The cruise lines pay their employees a pittance and push them as hard as they push their over-worked ships. Flag states like the Bahamas will look the other way when things go wrong. Triumph disasters will continue," I thought. So I started typing as quickly as I could. 

That afternoon, CNN posted my thoughts in an article entitled  "What Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know." The title was CNN's idea. But It is a variation of my blog's motto: "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."  

The article quickly went viral with over 13,000 Facebook likes and 2,000 comments. The cruise industry complained bitterly to CNN and demanded an opportunity to write an article in response. A CLIA hack wrote an article entitled "A Cruise is a Safe and Healthy VacationIt was a laugher. Only 27 people left comments, mostly mocking the cruise industry's out-of-touch message.  

As we all know now, the next 10 months brought a steady stream of ship fires, disabled cruise ships, over-worked and under-paid crew members, and flag states like the Bahamas assisting the cruise lines rather than the victim when crew members sexually abuse children.

The cruise industry's promises of a "safe, secure and healthy" cruise were belied by a disastrous safety record for 2013. CLIA's assertion that fires and disabled ships are "rare" were contradicted by the empirical evidence that they are quite common.

Read about the top 10 most outrageous cruise ship stories for 2013 here.

There's a reason why the cruise lines have drafted one-sided, onerous cruise tickets to exonerate themselves in the most egregious circumstances of medical malpractice by cruise ship doctors, engine failures, fires, missed ports and repeated gastrointestinal viruses.   

What should the cruising public expect realistically in 2014?

Will cruising become reasonably safe? Or will there be continued ship fires, disabled ships, and a disaster requiring a mass evacuation into the water?

I have my own thoughts about these issues. But most hard core cruise fans, travel agents, and cruise bloggers (I'll-write-a-nice-article-in-exchange-for-a-free-cruise) aren't interested in reading another "what cruise lines don't want you to know" article from me again. They are probably busy writing another "a cruise is a safe and healthy vacation" article for 2014.

 

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment on our Facebook page.

Carnival Fights Losing PR Battle After Incriminating Poop Cruise Documents Surface

The coverage of the fire-stricken Triumph was brutal earlier this year. CNN aired the disgusting story of the powerless poop cruise ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico literally 24 hours a day. Never before in the history of the televised world have the words "feces" and "urine" been broadcast so many times in such a short time period.

Carnival tried to make things right.  It reimbursed everyone completely, paid for all transportation expenses, and gave everyone a free cruise. Carnival President Cahill apologized to everyone he could find. He looked as distraught as a cruise executive could be.    

I quickly went on record saying that we would not represent anyone for the debacle because claims for Carnival Triumph Poop Cruiseinconvenience and annoyance without a physical injury are excluded by the terms of the passenger ticket and are not compensable. 

Carnival made some major changes to try and avoid this from happening again. It tried to cast its beleaguered brand in a more positive light.  

It invested some $300 million in the much needed deferred maintenance of its neglected ship.  Carnival and its brands brought in some new marketing companies and embarked on new advertising campaigns. It took the seemingly indifferent (and Miami Heat obsessed) CEO Micky Arison out of public scrutiny by hiring a new CEO. Carnival brands Princess and Holland America also reshuffled their decks to bring in new leadership.     

But then the CNN special aired Monday night. The images of the damning inspection reports and maintenance deficiencies juxtaposed with the feces and urine bio-hazard bags were devastating. Then the AP article, which further revealed the outrageous decision to risk human life by selling tickets on this fire-trap-of-a-ship, dropped on the cruise line liked an atomic bomb.

These explosive articles and videos were followed by a series of shock waves from the likes of TIME magazine, the Miami Herald, and hundreds of AP associated newspapers across the country.

Carnival tried to fight back. But it could find only a couple of cruise line fan publications, like their friends at Cruise Critic, to present a contrary view in fluff articles. But this only made matters worse. Cruise Critic quoted a PR crisis manager saying: "Exceeding the manufacturer's suggested time between overhaul does not implicate safety concerns with the engines." (Every lawyer who sues Carnival saved that quote for future use.)

Today a cruise travel agency publication quoted Carnival saying that the allegations in the CNN and AP stories were "frivolous." But no one was listening. The damage had already been done. The CNN images told the story. Carnival's excuses seemed flimsy and contrived. The cruise line sounded bitter, desperate and ultimately unbelievable.   

Where did all of the goodwill generated by the $300 million improvements, the new advertising and the new leadership go?

Behind the scenes, Carnival decided not to try and settle the many hundreds of lawsuits and claims filed (notwithstanding my opinion) by the aggrieved passengers who were not satisfied by reimbursements and free cruises. They are pissed off, and rightfully so, because they believe that Carnival played Russian roulette with their lives, as the CNN special seems to reveal.

Why is Carnival in this spot? It decided not to pay a penny to their guests in compensation and instructed their defense firms to vigorously defend the claims. Millions to the wealthy defense lawyers but not a penny more to the cruise guests.

So the lawyers for the passengers press forward. In the process, the documents revealing the truth are handed off by the lawyers for the passengers to the producers at CNN and the AP reporters.

More damaging documents will follow. These documents will show a pattern of neglect of the cruise ship and pressure to keep the cruise operating 24 hour hours a day, risking passenger and crew member lives.

Whatever eventually happens with the lawsuits seems irrelevant to me. The "Poop Cruise" PR debacle continues. And notwithstanding free cruises, new marketing, and fresh faces in management, Carnival's reputation remains in the pooper. 

Cruise Industry Retains Retired Coast Guard Rear Admirals to Repair Battered Image

Travel Weekly recently published an article titled "Lax Regulations of Cruise Lines is a Myth."

I'm used to reading articles from Travel Weekly which lean over backwards to be nice to the cruise lines. After all, Travel Weekly is a travel magazine which caters to people who love to cruise and travel around the world.

But I was disturbed to read that the article was written by former officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Jim Hull and Rear Admiral Tim Sullivan (both now retired from service). 

Their opinion piece claims that cruise lines are strictly regulated by the International Maritime Tim Sullivan - Coast Guard Retired Organization (IMO) and the Coast Guard.

They talk about the IMO's "rules & regulations" and the Coast Guard's allegedly "rigorous" annual inspections of cruise ships. They even go so far in their gushing praise of the cruise industry to state that they both take their families on cruises.

Although both of them are long since retired from the Coast Guard, the article includes images of them wearing Coast Guard uniforms.  A gigantic Coast Guard seal bearing the "Semper Paratus" ("Always Ready") logo is prominently displayed at the top of the article.    

Did the U.S. Coast Guard authorize these former employees to pose in uniforms and display the official seal of the Coast Guard seemingly approving an article by the for-profit travel magazine promoting the highly profitable cruise industry? Obviously not. 

So who are these former Coast Guard officials and why are they cheering for the cruise industry?

The answer, in an nutshell, is because they are consultants for the cruise lines.  

Take former Admiral Sullivan for example. He refers to himself on the professional business networking site, LinkedIn, as an "External Media Consultant for International Cruise Ship Association." His profile mentions that he is currently active in cruise vessels and shipyard external maritime public relations and consulting, among other activities. One of the consulting firms he worked for in the last few years lists BP and Transocean (remember the explosion and multiple deaths in the Gulf of Mexico) as well as numerous Fortune 200 oil & gas companies and drilling contractors like Chevron, Shell, Hess, Ensco and Diamond Offshore as clients. 

These are consultants for big business who are well paid to get large billion dollar corporations out of tight spots. They are certainly not consultants for the little guy or a family wanting a little fun on a holiday cruise. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I have great respect, as we all do, for the brave men and women in the Coast Guard who hoist ill passengers from the decks of cruise ships during dangerous medevacs far out at sea. 

But I have no respect when retired-Coast Guard officials turned cruise-ship-media consultants promote the cruise industry by wearing their Coast Guard medals & uniforms of their former-employer and mis-use the official Coast Guard seal for a travel publication.

In the Travel Weekly article, these former Coast Guard officials characterize everyone who disagrees with them as "uninformed." They also mock the "critics of the industry" who characterize the IMO as a "paper tiger."   

I have been to the past eight Congressional hearings where highly educated and informed Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen have debated the problems associated with the unregulated cruise industry. Cruise lines incorporate in places like Panama (Carnival) or Liberia (Royal Caribbean) and register their ships in places like Bermuda and the Bahamas is to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. labor and wages laws, and U.S. safety laws and regulations. To summarily dismiss the very real and sometimes deadly problems discussed and debated in good faith in the Senate and Congress as a "myth" is disrespectful to the American people and their elected officials.    

Let 's talk about the IMO.  The reference to it being a "paper tiger" was made by a highly distinguished Chairmen of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Jim Hall. The problem with the IMO, a United Nation's feel-good entity, is that it has no "rules" or "regulations" at all. All it can do is issue "recommendations" which it hopes the cruise lines will follow. If they don't, there is absolutely nothing the IMO can do.   NTSB Chairman Hall says the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors.” He referred to the cruise industry saying: “It is, and has been, an outlaw industry. People who book cruises should be aware of that.”

And let's talk about the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, it is underfunded and has fewer vessels than the rich, powerful, enormous and ever-growing cruise industry.  Does the Coast Guard rigorously inspect cruise ships? Hardly.  

Remember the Carnival Splendor which suffered an engine room fire three years ago? The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard spent millions of tax payer's dollars responding to the derelict cruise ship which had to be towed back to the U.S. 

What is not well known is that the Coast Guard conducted an annual examination the day before the fire and passed the vessel. This was one of the exams which retired Admiral Sullivan calls "rigorous." What an embarrassment for the Coast Guard to have inspected the cruise ship and permitted it to sail with passengers immediately before the fire broke out. Read Better Late Than Never? U.S. Coast Guard Releases Report Over 2 & 1/2 Years After Catastrophic Carnival Splendor Fire.

This is not the first public display of praise for cruise lines by Tim Sullivan. Last year, the cruise trade organization (CLIA) was under scrutiny for the widespread sexual crimes against women during cruises. CLIA wrote an article claiming that crime on cruise ships is rare: The Truth About Crime and Crime Reporting.

Who was the first person to leave a comment on the CLIA website?  No one other than former Admiral Sullivan! It's hardly a coincidence. He gushed praise for CLIA but never admitted that he is a consultant for them. He even added in his favorite phrase that he loves to cruise with his family:

"Ms. Duffy, I applaud you and CLIA for continuing to tell the cruise lines’ safety and security story. From my experience as a 36-year Coast Guard officer who has both overseen and enforced Federal regulations on our nation’s waters, I can attest that in my opinion, the cruise ships that ply US waters are in full compliance with all US regulations and still provide one of the best, safest and most secure vacation experiences available. I have taken multiple cruises in the last few years with my family and always felt relaxed, safe and secure! If I didn't, I and many others simply would not go! Cruise vessels are a "well regulated" industry. From my experience, your organization and the lines it represents, have always voluntarily and fully partnered with local, state and federal organizations on behalf of your passengers. It's the right thing to do and certainly in your best interests. I remain confident that the cruise industry, along with state and federal partners, will continue to do their best for their guests. Keep at it!"

What's particularly disturbing about former Admiral Sullivan's fawning praise is that the CLIA article was written in response to a story on CNN's Anderson Cooper (Predators at Seas: Are Your Kids Safe on Cruise Ships?) about a young girl who was sexually molested on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. The CNN story clearly demonstrated that public safety required far greater oversight of the cruise industry. Rather than supporting the little girl who was raped, CLIA enlisted former Admiral Sullivan to opine that cruising is the "best, safest and most secure" vacation imaginable.  

In fact, investigating and prosecuting rapes on the high seas is not even the responsibility of the Coast Guard in the first place. If any federal agency is involved it's the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

CLIA knows that articles it plants in travel newspapers are picked up and posted on Facebook or re-tweeted on Twitter and reach a larger audience. Shortly after the retired Rear-Admirals' article was published in Travel Weekly, a well know travel blogger endorsed it lock-stock-& barrel in his article entitled Must-Read Article In Travel Weekly For All Cruise Travelers.   

Not everyone in the Coast Guard shares ex-Coast Guard Sullivan's endless praise for the cruise lines. A recent New York Times articles quotes current Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, who testified at a Senate hearing in July about cruise ship dangers, saying 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."

My view: The cruise industry has endured years of harsh media coverage. From that perspective, you can understand why cruise lines are starving for some good news for a change. But having retired Coast Guard officials on the cruise line's dole publish self-serving and misleading opinions and use Coast Guard logos without authorization and without disclosing that they are media consultants is disingenuous.  It's an affront to the working men and women of the Coast Guard.

The article reflects a desperate cruise industry which will continue to try and manipulate the public's opinion. In the process, the cruise lines will simply reinforce their image as not only being unregulated but lacking honesty.      

  

Photo Credit: Darley Consulting

Carnival's "Moments that Matter" Marketing Campaign is Offensive and the Timing Couldn't Be Worse

Last week the public was transfixed on the incredible spectacle of the "parbuckling" project which, at a cost of $800,000,000 and rising, finally but successfully righted the capsized Costa Concordia in the port of Giglio.  

The major news networks offered live streaming video of the event. Social media, especially Twitter, provided non-stop, second-by-second updates of the stricken Carnival-owned Concordia emerging from its watery grave.   

Although there was some excitement that the Concordia didn't break-apart and topple into the sea, the expressions of success were muted by the fact that the Carnival ship was still a crime scene relevant to Concordia Cruise Missingthe criminal proceeding against disgraced Captain Schettino, as well being the tomb of passenger Maria Trecarichi, and Costa crew member, Russel Rebello (photo left), whose bodies have not yet been recovered. The images of the salvaged cruise ship showed what appeared to be a stained, stinking, and grotesquely warped ship still partially submerged in the water.

A sad sight.  

The following day, incredibly, Carnival launched a new marketing campaign, called "Moments that Matter." The television advertising depicts U.S. families walking by picture frames showing wonderful moments on a Carnival cruise ship. (You can watch the video below.)  A voice says:

“We never forget the moments that matter. We hang them on our walls. We share them with everyone. And hold onto them forever.”  

For a second, I thought that perhaps this was going to be a tribute to the 32 dead passengers and crew from the Concordia. But it had nothing to do with the Concordia disaster. In fact, the advertising was intentionally designed to try and take the public's mind away from the Concordia and everything which has gone wrong with Carnival, and that's saying a lot, over the last several years.      

I thought to myself how inappropriate the ad was. Certainly the timing was terrible. The Concordia with dead people aboard is being raised and Carnival is hawking cruises with a sentimental ad like this? The smiling U.S. citizens in the video certainly don't look like the dead people and missing people from the cruise ship. If you think of cruise ships sinking, capsizing, and catching on fire, aren't the "moments that matter" getting off of Carnival Moments that Matter - Cruise Disasterthe ship alive?

The image which comes to me instantly is a photo (right) of two young women surviving the Triumph debacle and cheering in their robes when they were finally ashore in Mobile.  

And what exactly is a "moment that matters?" I think I know. But it's certainly not frolicking around foolishly on a bargain-basement-fare Carnival cruise ship which flies a flag of convenience, underpays it's non-U.S. crew, and avoids virtually all U.S. taxes.  

The timing of the newly trotted-out ad was terrible, at a minimal. And at the worst, the ad was insensitive, manipulative and offensive.

I'm not the only one disturbed by Carnival's efforts to sell cheap cruises by trying to take us away from the images of the deadly Corcordia, and the Carnival Triumph poop cruise, and the disabled Carnival Splendor with a U.S. aircraft carrier dropping provisions from navy helicopters to the rattled guests on the ship below. 

The New York Times published an article about the new Carnival marketing scheme. The newspaper interviewed travel and marketing experts who were highly critical of the ad campaign. The Times published:

John Greening, a professor of branding and marketing communications at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, said the campaign was premature. Carnival “needs to let more time go by. It’s too soon to be promoting itself. They might do more P.R. efforts than advertising,” he said.

Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who does research in trust recovery, said the campaign was lacking “evidence of any new procedures and processes that make Carnival a more effective, safe and competent operator.”

Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Hudson Crossing, called the TV spot “trite and lacking in authenticity and credibility.”

"It’s almost as if Carnival is hoping that by watching its commercial filled with” smiling people, 'consumers’ memories will be magically erased of any memories regarding the series of unfortunate events that the line recently experienced,' he said. 

Reputation Ravaged Carnival Hires New Marketing Firm

Beleaguered Carnival Cruise Line, which in just a few months turned itself into the "poop cruise line," has hired a new marketing firm to turn its image around.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reports that Carnival Cruise Lines has named the Lacek Group (TLG) as its new customer marketing agency. 

The Journal explains that the Lacek Group (TLG) is a Minneapolis-based agency known for its expertise in "loyalty marketing" and "customer retention." It will provide Carnival with "strategic services and the development and management of customer communications and engagement initiatives."

Carnival Cruise Line MarketingRob Borden, Carnival Cruise Lines' vice president of customer marketing, said in a statement. “TLG brings significant expertise utilizing state-of-the-art tools to identify insights from customer data and to find creative and compelling ways to engage guests through print and digital media. They are the ideal partner to help us take our customer communications and engagement to the next level."

That sounds like a lot of marketing mumbo gumbo to me.  Carnival has a major image problem. It seems that cruise lines today are seeking new outside experts to help them with their tattered images.

Engine room fires, disabled cruises, no air conditioning, and toilets that don't work require some seriously talented public relations and advertising professionals.

Carnival Corporation subsidiary Princess Cruises just hired a new advertising agency to help rehabilitate ts image.

Will the Lacek Group turn Carnival back into "The World's Most Popular Cruise Line?"

I wonder why Carnival Cruise Line, based here in Miami, could not locate local talent from Miami to help with improving its marketing efforts?  

 

Photo Credit:  CollegeHumor.com

Carnival Scores PR Coup During Interview with CBS's Peter Greenberg

Arnold Donald Carnival CruiseCarnival scored some much needed public relations points during an interview with CBS News' travel expert Peter Greenberg. Following several high-profile mishaps (the Costa Concordia disaster and the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise"), the cruise giant is reportedly spending more than half-a-billion dollars for improvements on its fleet of cruise ships. 

Of particular interest during the interview was that new CEO Arnold Donald (who replaced Micky Arison, photo left, as CEO) was featured. He appeared relaxed during the interview with Greenberg while discussing some serious issues. Some points made by CEO Donald during the CBS interview:

"Not only did no one die, no one was hurt, no one was sick, so there was no safety health issue involved with the Triumph at all."

"In the highly unlikely event we should ever lose power again we'd be able to have a system to back that up and we'd have a process to keep from losing power in the first place." 

Carnival rerouted 63 miles of cable, so that a fire would be less likely to take out both engine rooms, as it did on the Triumph. "If one room is lost, we don't lose the other."

Fire suppression was increased: water mist nozzles were increased from 30 to about 500, and a 24 / 7 manned patrol was added to look for oil or fuel leaks. And finally, a second backup generator (nowhere near the engine room) was installed just in case.

Photo Credit: local10.com / Video Credit: CBS News

September 4 2013 Update:  The CBS Morning Show Segment That Looks Like a Carnival Cruise Commercial via Skift - Does CBS stand for Carnival Broadcasting Station?

 

 

What the Cruise Lines Need Now - A Little Good News

The cruise industry is being pummeled in the world of social media. The endless stories of cruise ship fires, propulsion issues, engine failures, and, most recently, elderly passengers abandoned ashore after suffering serious injuries seem to come at a non-stop pace. The bad news affects the public's perception of cruising. A Harris Poll conducted this spring revealed positive cruise brand perception plummeted by double digits.

Even when cruise lines try and act transparently, they look suspect. Sometimes they get caught lying. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean boast that they are voluntarily disclosing all crimes and overboard passengers. But when the cruise line published its disclosures last month, Royal Caribbean revealed only one out of eleven people who have disappeared from its cruise ships over the last couple of years. Dishonesty like this does no one any good.

But today, the Consumerist published a feel-good article about Disney Cruise Line. It seems like the officers and staff aboard the Disney Wonder helped a six year-old child, who became sick on the cruise Port of Miami Cruise Shipship, receive prompt and potentially life-saving medical treatment. The article bears the heart warming title Disney Cruise Line Went Above & Beyond To Help Save Our Child’s Life.

People ask me "why don't you write about happy cruise news?"

Occasionally I do.  Like when I wrote an article entitled Three Happy Cruise Stories - Salvation, Generosity & Rebirth. But that article was over three years and a thousand articles ago.

The motto of this blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." So our focus (and some say bias) should be apparent. We are not the most popular maritime law blog in the world because we write pleasant articles which make the cruise executives and travel agents feel comfortable.

Quite frankly I'd like to write more about truly remarkable things the cruise lines are doing, like Disney saving a child's life rather than assisting a child molester escape back to India or withholding information from family members about the disappearance of their daughter.  But positive stories like the Consumerist article seem few and far between. Most stories about proactive steps taken by the cruise industry are PR stunts planned after a cruise ship sinks or catches on fire or the day before a Congressional hearing about cruise ship problems.

If you have a happy cruise story about a cruise line going above & beyond to help a passenger or crew member in distress, send us a link and we will be pleased to mention it.

At this point, the cruise industry needs all the help it can get. 

Royal Caribbean Takes the Heat Over Azamara's Abandonment of Elderly Cruise Couple

Azamara Journey"Royal Caribbean In Hot Water Over Couple's Cruise Medical Ordeal" reads the internet headline on CBS News. This morning CBS Morning News covered the story of a 89 year-old cruise passenger, on the Azamara Journey luxury cruise ship, who broke his hip on the ship. 

Although the couple was initially satisfied with their treatment on the cruise ship, their feelings changed when they were dumped in a hospital in a small town in Turkey, where no one spoke English and which was ill-equipped to handle the emergency. Their hearts sank when the Azamara ship sailed away, leaving them alone. 

The elderly couple's plight was first covered by a ABC News' affiliate in Tampa, WFTS, and later by ABC national news, and most recently by CNN.

This morning CBS joined the crowd with an interview of the couple in the hospital in Turkey after the Stranded Azamara Journey Passengerscouple's travel agent and a good Samaritan in Turkey intervened. 

Royal Caribbean meanwhile made only the most cursory and cold hearted PR statement. It has taken a hit in the media. The timing could not be worse for Royal Caribbean following recent fires on its Grandeur of the Seas and subsidiary brand Pullmantur's Zenith, not to mention a loss of one month's revenue when its lemon Millennium stranded passengers in Alaska and needed extensive repairs.

Azamara, which actually operates the top brand cruise ship, has not said a peep. It is active on Twitter, as @AzamaraVoyages, but it has ignored the controversy of the abandoned 89 year-old with the broken hip.

Azamara's President, Larry Pimentel is also very active on Twitter as @LarryPimentel. A cruise blogger recently praised CEO Pimentel's social media skills, but his one tweet about the controversy reveals he doesn't Azamara Larry Pimentelunderstand social media or how to handle a crisis in the media. 

Gene Sloan of USA TODAY's popular travel blog called "Cruise Log" posted an article about the 89 year old's ordeal and made an inquiry on Twitter: "Elderly couple says upscale line @AzamaraVoyages abandoned them in Turkey this week after husband broke hip."  Sloan asked cruise CEO Pimentel about the Azamara guests' problems. Sounding like a lawyer, the cruise executive tweeted in response:

"Where did the guest purchase insurance? What did they insure against? Communicate with the agent or the insurance company!" 

Considering that the couple purchased the insurance though the cruise line, the travel agent has appeared on CBS and CNN pointing the finger at the cruise line, and Florida Senator Bill Nelson publicly questioned the cruise line's commitment to its guests, Pimentel appears clueless.

There's a reason why few cruise CEO's are on Twitter. One of the few cruise executives on Twitter, Carnival's former CEO Micky Arison, tweeted about his Miami Heat basketball team immediately after the Costa Concordia disaster. He hasn't stopped tweeting, but Arison was relieved of his duties as CEO due to his insensitivity on Twitter among other reasons.

If Pimentel is going to maintain any credibility in the world of social media, he can't just tweet happy-luxury-cruise news. He needs to accept responsibility when things go wrong on his cruise ships. He needs to learn to become personally involved in finding a solution when his guests are in peril.  In the world of PR, a cruise line president telling a 89 year-old cruise guest stranded in a hospital in Turkey to read his insurance policy and contact his travel agent is a recipe for disaster.  

August 28 2013 Update: After an avalanche of bad press, Royal Caribbean finally agrees to pay Mr. Melkonian's out-of-pocket medical expenses. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, a doctor in the cruise line's medical and risk management departments says in an email to the couple: "Our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve. Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren't more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian."  

Meanwhile CEO Pimentel's Twitter page has ignored the predicament.  

 

 

Credits:

Azamara Journey: Wikipedia / Andy03992

Jill and Dodge Melkonian: CBS NEWS

Larry Pimentel: Cruise Chat

Video: CBS NEWS 

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.

Royal Caribbean CEO on Fox News: Fires & Cruise Mishaps are "Extremely Rare"

The cruise industry's reputation is under siege.  

Cruise line presidents used to be able to appear on cable news business shows and trot out their new products and intineraries and pontificate at length without a hint of controversy.

But as you can see in this interview on FOX BUSINESS, Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO and President Adam Goldstein had to dodge and weave through what should have been a friendly interview by a FOX NEWS business reporter. It's hard to talk about the new cruise ships coming on line, when images of the stranded Triumph and the burned stern of the Grandeur of the Seas are playing as a back drop.

Cruise fires and mishaps are "extremely rare" cruise executive Goldstein says.     

Are you convinced?

 

Cruise Line "Voluntary" Crime & Man-Overboard Disclosures: Royal Caribbean's Data Is Incomplete and Misleading

Senator RockefellerYesterday Royal Caribbean and a couple of other cruise lines "voluntarily" posted a limited amount of data on their websites regarding cruise crimes and disappearances of people from cruise ships.

Of course there was nothing remotely "voluntary" about the cruise lines' conduct.

Last week Senator Rockefeller convened a hearing where he introduced legislation intended to compel, under penalty of law, all of the CLIA cruise lines to divulge incidents of disappearances from cruise ships and theft, homicide and sexual assault on ships. On the day of the hearing, the president of Royal Caribbean, Adam Goldstein, announced that his cruise line, as well as Carnival and NCL, would agree to post crime data without the necessity of legislation.  Cruise executive Goldstein said that his cruise line would begin posting the crime and man overboard information on August 1st.

The cruise lines have been resisting and dodging disclosing truthful crime statistics over the course of the last 7 Congressional hearings I have attended. Cruise CEO Goldstein's new promises of transparency were made for PR purposes to try and stave off the tough legislation introduced by Senator Rockefeller. 

Senator Rockefeller is skeptical that the cruise industry can be trusted to self-report accurate crime statistics. The Associated Press quoted Senator Rockefeller stating: “If we’re really going to make a difference for consumers, I believe it’s going to take legislative action to make sure this industry is required to give customers the information they need and deserve when they’re making a decision about taking a cruise."

The CEO of the International Cruise Victims organization, Ken Carver, is also skeptical that the cruise industry can be trusted, The AP quoted Mr. Carver's belief that crimes reported by cruise lines are vastly lower than reality, because the initial investigations are handled by cruise line security personnel rather than law enforcement officials.

The skepticism by Senator Rockefeller and cruise victim advocate Carver is well founded. There is a well documented history of the cruise lines providing incomplete and misleading crime data to Congress and the American people. In some instances the information released by the major cruise lines is patently false.

In January 2007, the LA Times published an article looking into the problem of crime on cruise ships, entitled "Cruise Industry's Dark Waters." The article points out that Congressman Shays previously called for Congressional hearings where he requested crime statistics from the cruise industry. The cruise lines resisted the legislation arguing that it can be trusted to provide honest information. At several points in the hearings, when cruise line representatives extolled their safety statistics, Congressman Shays seemed skeptical. "I do not think we have all of the statistics," he told representatives of major cruise lines.

Royal Caribbean informed Congressman Shays that 66 sexual assaults occurred over a three year Adam Goldstein Senate Hearrng Cruise Ship Crimeperiod on its cruise ships. However, in a case we handled against Royal Caribbean involving 12-year-old twins who alleged that a crew member molested them, the cruise line was forced to hand over the internal records requested by our firm after a judge threatened to fine it $1,000 a day if it failed to comply. 

The Royal Caribbean data revealed not just 66 incidents, but 273 reports from passengers who said they were victims of sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching during a shorter time period. The LA Times quoted me saying that Royal Caribbean "redefined things and in the process, magically, poof, what used to be a crime no longer existed. Then they served up these numbers and thought they could get away with it."

So with this history in mind, let's take a look at what Royal Caribbean just posted yesterday as part of its "voluntary" disclosure on its website.

It disclosed just three persons overboard for the time period beginning October 2010 through the end of June 2013. There is no information regarding these incidents on the cruise line's skimpy website chart. There is no way a consumer can understand what happened. One of the three incidents involved a young woman who went overboard in September 2012. You can read about in detail on our website here, here and here

What's even more troubling is that Royal Caribbean did not reveal that 8 other people went overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships and the ships operated by its subsidiary Celebrity Cruises for the time period in question. Consider  the following man overboard incidents which occurred in the Royal Caribbean / Celebrity fleet:

January 2011 - Passenger disappeared from the Liberty of the Seas

March 2011 - Crew member disappeared from the Grandeur of the Seas. 

March 2011 - Crew member disappeared from the Constellation.

May 2011 - Crew member disappeared from the Eclipse

May 2011 - Crew member disappeared from the Millennium (see cruise expert Professor Ross Klein's database)

December 2011 - Crew member disappeared from the Summit

January 2012 - Crew member disappeared from the Monarch of the Seas. 

February 2012 - Passenger disappeared from the Allure of the Seas. 

September 2012 - Crew member disappeared from the Serenade of the Seas.

October 2012 - Another crew member disappeared from the Serenade of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean's website indicates that the cruise line intends to reveal only those overboard situations involving U.S. citizens. But there is no reason to hide man overboard incidents involving passengers of other nationalities and crew members. Disney Cruise Line, for example, discloses overboard cases involving non-U.S. citizens.

The truth is that at least 11 people went overboard for the time period in question. But Royal Caribbean disclosed only 3 incidents. That's only around 27% of the true number.  If a cruise ship is a floating city, why exclude all of the crew members and non-U.S. citizens who are members of the city? Royal Caribbean includes crew members and non-U.S. passengers as part of its population in determining crime ratios, Allure of the Sea Crime Statisticsbut then excludes crew members and non U.S. citizens when they are victims. That manipulation of the data distorts the true crime ratios. 

The only explanation for doing this is that the cruise line wants to present an image that is markedly different from the truth. 

Royal Caribbean's "voluntary" disclosure reveals exactly why the cruise industry cannot be trusted. Senator Rockefeller, like Congressman Shays long ago, has every reason not to believe the cruise lines' "voluntary" statistics.

The American people and citizens of countries around the world deserve to know the truth about crime and overboard cruise passengers and crew members. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean like to keep the public in the dark.

A well drafted law with stiff penalties is the only way to shed light on what really happens on cruise ships far out at sea. 

Where Are Photo & Video Images of the Fire on the Grandeur of the Seas?

Cruise fans have largely praised Royal Caribbean's public relations efforts in responding to the fire which erupted aboard the Grandeur of the Seas early Monday morning.

Royal Caribbean tweeted updates from its new Twitter PR feed @RoyalCaribPR and updated its Facebook page. It uploaded one photo showing a portion of the damage to to fire stricken cruise ship (a good PR move) and one image of cruise president Goldstein inspecting the damage once the ship arrived in Freeport.  But most of the of the photos Royal Caribbean released were of the cruise president and executives meeting with cruise passengers at the port and on the cruise ship

The question I wondered was where are the photos and video of the fire? We have handled other cruise ship fires. There are usually videos taken by passengers which quickly find their way to the media and/or are posted on YouTube, as in the case of the deadly Star Princess fire off the coast of Cruise Line President Adam Goldstein - Grandeur of the Seas FireJamaica. You can't comprehend a ship fire until you have seen the flames and billowing smoke and listened to the frightening sounds surrounding such an event.

The first information released about the Grandeur fire was that the fire was limited to deck 3. But in truth, the fire damaged decks 3, 4, 5 and a portion of 6 deck and burned for 2 hours.

So where are images of this 2 hour multi-deck fire?

A video report by ABC News states that the cruise ship's crew tried to stop passengers from taking pictures of the fire and chaos.

Carrie McTigue told ABC News that "even when people put their cameras up to photograph the sunrise, they were told, 'no photos.'"  

I have seen Royal Caribbean try and stop passengers from taking photos of what the passengers though was a near collision between Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise ships which you can see in a video here. But some crew members responded that there is a policy against the taking of photos during a muster drill and that's why the crew interfered with the photography.

I am a big fan of "citizen journalists."  I believe that photos and video taken by passengers and crew are an important part in telling the whole story of what really happens during ship fires and other cruise calamities.  Even with Royal Caribbean's new and improved PR efforts, the fact remains that the cruise line released more photos of the cruise CEO reassuring passengers than of the damage to the ship. Plus there are absolutely no photos or video released of the fire itself.

Better cruise PR is still cruise PR. The cruise line still wants to control the images you see and your feelings about the experience. 

Two and one-half years after the Carnival Splendor fire, there have been no photos or video released of the fire or the damage to the engine room (or even a report) regarding the disabled cruise ship. Regarding the more recent Carnival Triumph fire, again there are no images released of the fire. I am aware of only one innocuous photo of the fire damage in the engine room which was released by the Coast Guard. 

Secrecy like this is not a good thing. The American public should not settle for a few photos of a cruise CEO drinking ice tea with passengers in a cafe after a ship fire. The release of full and complete reports, photos and video are important to maintain a transparent and safe cruising environment.

 

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

Trending Now: Carnival Cruise Line's Reputation Circles the Drain

One of the interesting things about social media is that there are numerous services which track "what's tending now." Certain applications can also track words or phrases which are dominating the news.

I like to use TweetDeck as well as Monitter to follow trends involving the cruise industry.

"Carnival cruise" has been trending all week at a frantic pace. And the news is not good.

Carnival Cruise ship NightmareThe cumulative effect of the recent cruise ship fires, power failures and images of passengers on disabled cruise ships complaining about toilets over-flowing has turned Carnival's reputation into a joke.

Carnival's "fun ships" have been ridiculed on Saturday Night Live, David Letterman & Jay Leno, and featured in MAD Magazine (see below). 

Consider some of the comments which are twirling on Twitter right now:

Packing for my Carnival cruise: tent, sleeping bag for deck, iodine pills, generator, Cipro.

We all lose if CBS doesn't film the next Survivor aboard a Carnival Cruise Ship

Maybe we should shut down Abu Ghraib prison and send the terrorists on a Carnival Cruise

I wouldn't go on a Carnival cruise right now even if it were free

One of the secrets to Carnival Cruise’s unsinkable business model: free Coast Guard rescues

They have so many cruise commercials because Carnival is just sinking

Even with the 50% discount from Carnival it will be difficult to go on that cruise line again

Carnival cruise boats are shit LOL dont know why ppl go on them...

Decisions. Decisions. Trying to decide whether to take a Carnival Cruise or just stay at home and shit my pants

My new punishment for my 12 year old daughter: Do your chores or I'll send you on a Carnival Cruise

if its a carnival, there's a 96.13% chance something will go wrong and youll get a free cruise out of it... Have fun!

Last week I posed a question on Twitter whether Carnival was the Wal-Mart of the high seas? Several people said no way - don't insult Wal-Mart, Carnival is more like K-Mart.

What's the funniest comment about Carnival you have heard on Twitter this week? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

MAD Magazine - Carnival Cruise Ship

Is Cruise Line Public Relations the Hardest Job Around?

I have always wondered how the cruise industry PR people do it.  

They face non-stop bad cruise news. The Splendor fire. The Concordia deaths. The Allegra fire.  The Triumph fire.  Plus another 10 cruise ship fires, 50 norovirus outbreaks and more shipboard rapes than you can count in just 3 years.

Yet, the cruise line public relations employees put their happy faces on and pull out their talking points. Cruise ship fires, crimes, deaths and disappearances are "rare" they say. Cruising is "absolutely" safe they promise. The safety of passenger is the cruise industry's highest priority, they proclaim. 

Cruise Lines PRBut fewer and fewer people seem to believe the cruise lines shtick. 

The usually friendly-to-the-cruise-lines reporters at the Miami Herald are even writing some articles that suggest that cruising may be suffering an image problem.

The Herald just published "Americans Think Less of Cruising after Carnival Triumph Fire, Poll Says."  A Harris Poll of 2,230 adults showed that "trust" and "perceived quality" of Carnival and other cruise lines dropped "significantly."

According to the poll, 58 percent of people who have never taken a cruise say they are less likely to try one now than they were a year ago. 

On the same day the poll was released, Forbes announced that Carnival CEO Micky Arison's fortunes increased one billion dollars last year, from $4.7 billion to $5.7 billion.

With all of Carnival's deferred maintenance of its cruise ships, exploitation of its crew members, refusal to reimburse the U.S. federal government for Coast Guard expenses in responding to disabled ships, and avoidance of U.S. corporate taxes by registering itself in Panama, how do the cruise PR representatives spin the news today of cruise tycoon Arison's enormous wealth?

 

Image Credit:  A Bruising For Cruising  (NetBase)

Does Anyone Believe the Cruise Industry Anymore?

The U.S. and international media covered the saga of the stricken poop-filled Triumph cruise ship non-stop last week. CNN led the coverage with its "ceaseless, rigorous reporting" on what some newspapers are characterizing as essentially "inconvenienced cruise passengers without working toilets." CNN enjoyed a 74 percent increase from its recent prime time numbers according to the people that follow these type of statistics.

The media loves to interview maritime lawyers in Miami. As of the weekend, I participated in over 45 newspaper, radio, TV and cable news interviews about the Triumph fire.  The media is still covering the PR and legal fallout following the debacle.  There is a debate playing out in newspaper articles and cable news shows whether aggrieved passengers should pursue lawsuits over the incident or, as I Cruise Ship Public Relations - Pr - Triumph Fire feel, they should accept Carnival's meager compensation and move on with their lives.     

But there is little debate about whether there are too many fires and capsizings involving cruise ships these days. 

The cruise industry has done a pretty good PR job with its talking points over the years - "cruising is remarkably safe, the "safety of our passengers is the cruise industry's top priority" and so forth. But after the Costa Concordia deadly disaster just a year ago came a dozen cruise ship fires on cruise lines like Azamara, Costa, Cunard, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. At some point, the cruise casualties reach a critical mass. If the cruise lines' response is always "cruise-accidents-are-rare," at some point the public simply does not believe a word they say.

We are past that point today.  

Last week CNN asked me to write an article about my opinions of the cruise industry. Readers of this blog know I have a lot of opinions about how the cruise lines operate. I had literally a few hours to type the article and CNN posted it on line later that day: "What Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know."  The article sparked a debate not only about cruise ship safety, but about the cruise industry's non-payment of taxes, avoidance of wage and labor regulations, exploitation of its foreign crew members, and damage to the environment.  Many hundreds of readers left comments (nearly 2,000 to date) and over 12,000 people "liked it" on Facebook.  Clearly the article struck a cord with a lot of people.

Yesterday, the cruise industry's trade association, the "Cruise Line International Association" (CLIA), wrote its response to my article: "A Cruise is a Safe and Healthy Vacation."  Only 115 people have "liked it," and just 10 readers have left a comment.  Here are some of the comments:

"This guy works for Cruise Lines, enough said."

"Why in the world would I believe this cruise line spokesperson?"

"How many wolves do (we) need to guard the hen house again, honey?"

"Someone getting Cruise industry payoffs to write this nonsense."

If I have learned one thing as a trial lawyer for the past 30 years, it's that the American public is smart. Don't ever underestimate a jury's intelligence and common sense.  If I have a problem with my case, I acknowledge it. I make certain that I discuss the weaknesses in the case in my closing argument. But If you talk around troubling issues and try to bamboozle people, you will lose your credibility and lose your case in the process.

The cruise industry has some serious problems, including a lack of federal oversight over the safety of passengers and crew.  But the cruise lines will not acknowledge anything negative about their industry.

By publishing a puff piece like cruising is "safe and healthy" when cruise ships are catching on fire and guests are sloshing around in urine and feces, the cruise industry is doing more harm than good to its already shaky reputation. 

 

Join the discussion about this article on our Facebook page

Where Is CLIA When Disaster Strikes?

It has been a brutal week for the cruise industry. Consider the developments over the last week:

A 24 year old dancer from Massachusetts died aboard the Seven Seas Voyager. Her body was found when the cruise ship docked in Australia.

Two passengers went overboard from MSC cruise ships in the last couple of days.  The body of a 46-year old passenger from the MSC Divina was pulled from the water but a 30 year old man who went overboard from the MSC Fantasia this weekend has not been located.

Cruise Line International Association - CLIA Five crewmembers are dead and three injured when a cable snapped as a lifeboat was being raised aboard the Thomson Majesty in the Canary Islands.

Yesterday, the Carnival Triumph lost power after an engine room fire disabled the ship.  The cruise ship is now being towed to port in Progreso, Mexico while the guests have no running water or air-conditioning and are having to poop in bags.  

So where are the reassuring words from the cruise industry's leadership? Where's the don't-worry-cruise-fans these are just rare mishaps in the remarkably safe world of cruising?

So far no word from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), which now seemingly has every cruise line in the world as a member.  Nothing either from CLIA's CEO Christine Duffy.  Does CLIA and its CEO work on weekends when the lifeboats and passengers are falling and the ships catch fire?

I suppose all of this must be embarrassing to the marketing and public relations people at CLIA. After the Concordia disaster, CLIA announced 10 new safety proposals with great fanfare. One of them had to do with lowering lifeboats with only a few essential crewmembers aboard to avoid unnecessary injuries and deaths. But it seems that this was just a proposal which the cruise lines could ignore.  Why were 8 men sitting like guinea pigs in the lifeboat as it is winched up to the 22 year old ship when the cable snapped?

So how does CLIA handle this mess?  It seems like CLIA is about as responsive to the disastrous week in cruising as Captain Schettino was in responding to his sinking ship. Its hide-under-the-bed PR.

Eventually the executives at Carnival and Royal Caribbean making tens of millions a year will send some talking points over to CLIA.  Then we will hear talk about the remarkable safety record of the cruise industry. Maybe CLIA will announce a Blue Ribbon Lifeboat or Fire Safety Task Force or something equally obtuse but official sounding.

Meanwhile eight families are mourning their dead loved ones and a boatload of families stuck on the disabled Triumph are being towed back to Mexico.   

Can the Cruise Industry Keep Up With Bad Cruise News?

The Costa Concordia in January disaster set off a seemingly endless avalanche of stories on cable news this year about ship fires, sinkings and other cruise disasters, as well as a steady stream of articles and videos about sexual assaults during cruises, drunken brawling passengers, and the disappearance of women at sea.

I'm just one of probably 100 maritime attorneys in the United States who handle cases against cruise lines. But just this year alone I have appeared on ABC's 20/20, Dateline, PBS, Canada's CTV and CNN, as well being quoted in newspapers and magazines like the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Daily, London's Financial Times, Newsweek Magazine, Newsweek's The Daily Beast blog, Fund Web, Reuters, Consumer Affairs, Australia's Herald Sun, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Sun Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Business Insider, and Greenwich Magazine.

I Love Lucy - Chocolate FactoryEven Perez Hilton quoted one of our stories about a cruise crime for goodness sakes. 

The cruise lines' PR have been working overtime to respond to hundreds of stories from the U.S. and international media about cruise ship mishaps and dangers.

The cruise industry's trade organization (CLIA) has been pumping out press release after press release, touting that cruise crime is "rare" and trying to explain that the Concordia debacle was an isolated incident caused by one bad-apple captain.

But stories about ship fires, engine failures and children being sexually assaulted on cruises keep coming and coming.

A lot of pressure has fallen on CLIA to salvage the cruise industry's reputation. That's a daunting task.

There's the pesky image of the Concordia lying on its side in Italian waters as a daily reminder that 32 people are dead and yet the cruise line did not even have a procedure in place to require life boat drills before sailing. Plus the cruise industry has the visual disadvantage of having to compete with the dramatic images on television of the panicked passengers trying to save their own lives, as well as teenage rape victims explaining the horror of being raped during a vacation cruise.

Slick corporate gobbledygook after-the-fact PR statements about the "safety of our guests is the cruise lines' highest priority" are not going to cut it.           

The victims' stories are too compelling. Belated PR statements from an industry with a major credibility problem won't work.

The cruise industry has picked the CEO of CLIA, Christine Duffy, to combat the bad press.  CLIA just launched a new blog and opened a twitter account for Ms. Duffy to fight the bad news. 

One of MS. Duffy's first blogs was "Sailing with Respect" where CLIA touted itself as a steward of the marine environment. It included a beautiful stock photo of colorful tropical fish and pristine water. But today a story broke about what is believed to be cruise ship garbage and feces drifting ashore on a quaint beach in Massachusetts. Local officials believe a HAL cruise ship emptied its bilges after sailing from Boston last month. The story was covered in the local press, a television station in Boston and USA Today's travel section.

Faced with these images, its hard for anyone to believe the cruise industry statement that it is "extremely committed to protecting the waters and surrounding environments where we operate to preserve their natural beauty, minimize impact on native species and protect the waters upon which we sail."  Happy talk won't persuade the public faced with plastic bottles, used hygiene products and condoms washing ashore covered in a gooey brown mass of human excrement.

Also breaking today was a story from a local station in Houston about a woman from Texas raped during a cruise out of Galveston.  CLIA responded with its usual PR statement that crime is "rare," which seems cold and callous juxtaposed against a video of a woman sobbing that no one helped her after she was raped on the last night of the cruise. 

I don't see how Ms. Duffy can keep up with the continuous bad news.

An image comes to mind of an "I Love Lucy" episode of Lucy working at a chocolate factory.  Pieces of chocolate come out of the kitchen on a conveyor belt. It's Lucy's (and Ethel's) job to tie the chocolate up in an attractive wrapping (not unlike Ms. Duffy's job to wrap the bad news with a pretty bow). 

But the conveyor belt picks up speed. Soon Lucy is overwhelmed. She tires to eat or hide the chocolate but makes a mess of herself and the chocolate in the process. Finally, she exclaims "I think we are fighting a losing game." 

    

Reuters Falls For Cruise Industry's PR Release

This year has been a public relations mess for the cruise industry.

2012 started off with the January Costa Concordia disaster, followed by a series of articles and TV specials about cruise ship engine failures, fires, sexual assaults and controversy over the cruise industry's manipulation of the new cruise safety law.

Just the other week the cruise industry's best friend, the Miami Herald, published a critical article stating that "the cruise industry is treading water, faced with depressed fares in key markets, continuing negative headlines and would-be cruisers still spooked by the deadly disaster." 

Costa Cruise Ship Collision But yesterday the cruise industry tried to turn the bad press around. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) released a press release stating that it polled 300 of its 16,000 CLIA travel agents and over one-half of them claim to be "doing better than last year."

But let's take a look at the actual poll.  The percentage who claim to be doing better is only 51.9% which, if accurate, means that 48.1 are doing no better or even worse than last year.

Of course, the CLIA poll is not scientific, or quantifiable, or verified by a third party.  Even if it were, there would still be a margin of error, something like like 4-5%.  So the notion that over half of travel agents are really enjoying increased bookings is a rather dubious proposition at best.

But that did not stop Reuters from writing a promo piece for CLIA "US Cruise Industry Sees Increased Bookings for 2012." Reuters ran with the conclusions on the CLIA PR release that ticket sales were up and then quoted the CLIA CEO Christine Duffy characterizing the Costa Concordia disaster as "a very isolated event and not indicative of how the broader cruise industry operates."

Other travel publications then quickly fell in line and reported that cruise ticket sales were up. 

Breaking Travel News reported "Cruise Lines International Association Finds Optimism in Industry;" Travelers Today published "Cruise Bookings on the Rise in 2012 Despite Costa Concordia Incident;" Travel Agent's Report stated "Agents' Cruise Sales Are Outpacing 2011;" and the Sun Sentinel reported "Cruise Agents Optimistic About Sales, Survey Says."

Its a fascinating process to watch a cruise industry, battered by bad press, create its own happy news and then feed it to the press as a newsworthy event.

Costa to Re-Float the Concordia, But Can the Cruise Industry Salvage Its Reputation?

Friday the 13th was the 6 month anniversary of the January the 13th Costa Concordia disaster.

This weekend, I read through several dozen articles which looked back over the last 6 months since the Costa cruise ship killed 32 people and terrorized thousands.  I watched the recent specials on NBC and CNN about dangers inherent in cruising, including rapes as well as ship fires and sinkings.

I am struck by just how badly all of the articles and videos portray the cruise industry.

The Miami Herald recently published an article Cruise Industry Still in Troubled Waters Six Months After Costa Concordia, written by tourism reporter Hannah B. Sampson, who I have criticized for writing puff pieces supporting the cruise lines. Ms. Sampson seems to have had a moment of insight.  She writes " Costa Concordia Salvage. . . the cruise industry is treading water, faced with depressed fares in key markets, continuing negative headlines and would-be cruisers still spooked by the deadly disaster." 

The article continues: " . . . lawsuits related to the Jan. 13 catastrophe are piling up. The captain blamed for the accident — still being investigated but no longer on house arrest — is making new headlines in television interviews. And the larger question of safety on cruise ships is earning greater scrutiny as longtime critics gain a wider audience."

This time, the Miami Herald has the story exactly right. Things are indeed tough when the Miami Herald - a huge supporter of the cruise lines - delivers a message that the cruise industry is struggling.

The Miami Herald interviewed the usual cruise lines fans and industry representatives. Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of the popular online cruise community Cruise Critic, and an unabashed cruise supporter, is quoted saying “It was horrific, the ship’s still in the water, we’re still hearing about it.”  She predicted that  " . . . we won’t see the new normal until we get past the year’s anniversary."  I agree, assuming the doomed ship is not still lying on its side in the little port of Giglio next year.

Salvage operations are finally starting in an effort to float the dead cruise ship out of sight to a scrap yard where it will be disemboweled, cut up and eventually melted.  The salvage operations seem to be painfully slow to me, although I suppose it is a massive undertaking with a ship that big.

Will the salvage be done by January 13th of next year?  It will be a PR disaster if not. The cruise industry doesn't want the ship to still be there when the families of the dead return for another vigil.  I would not doubt it if the salvage contract contains incentives to complete the job before January 13, 2013.      

There is another operation underway - to try and salvage the cruise industry's reputation.  This is a far more difficult task.      

The Concordia disaster brought the world's attention not only on the outrageous conduct of the captain but on the manner in which the cruise industry treats its customers after disaster strikes. Part of the discussion today involves the onerous terms of the passenger tickets which the cruise lines draft to protect themselves against all legal claims.  It is shameful for a cruise industry, which collects over $35,000,000,000 a year and pays no taxes, to offer 11,000 Euros on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to traumatized passengers.

There is also the pesky business of cruise ship crimes (particularly rape) and accusations that the industry covers crime up. The debate whether cruising is a perfect place to commit a crime has resurfaced and reached a much broader audience.   

The cruise line's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), doesn't have much to say to compete with the images of the panic and terror aboard the Concordia or the spectacle of a rape victim explaining how a family vacation turned into a nightmare.  CLIA's talking points are old.  This is an industry that promises cruising is safe, but works overtime to conceal crimes from the public.

The public must feel uneasy when CLIA's favorite PR statement “the number one priority of the cruise industry is the safety of its passengers” is juxtaposed against a 15 year old girl on CNN's Anderson Cooper's program discussing how a crew member raped her.

CLIA was under siege at a Senate hearing into the Concordia last March when Senator Rockefeller characterized CLIA President Christine Duffy as dishonest and the cruise industry being more interesting in avoiding U.S. taxes than the passenger's safety.

Add to this the recent revelation that the FBI and the cruise lines scuttled the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act in a concerted effort to prevent the U.S. public from learning about the hundreds of crimes which occur each year on CLIA cruise ships.    

CLIA tries to portray the cruise industry as proactive and interested in regulating itself.  But many think this is more publicity than substance. Consider how little the cruise lines have done since January to actually improve cruise ship safety. 

The Herald article outlines only a handful of steps the cruise lines have discussed in an effort to convince the public to spend their vacation dollars cruising:

Costa Concordia Evacuation - Confusion(1) more life vests on the ships; (2) no unnecessary people in the bridge; (3) pre-approved ship routes shared with all members of bridge; (4) twelve uniform emergency instructions; and (5) evacuation drills before a ship leaves port.

But these are such basic procedures that it is shocking to think that they were not in place 100 years ago, after the Titanic sank. 

It's like having an aviation industry where there are no mandatory safety instructions before take-off, girlfriends of the captain are permitted to enter the cockpit during an emergency landing, and the captain is the first one off the plane and down the emergency slide.

Even uber cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown admits: "Many of those changes should have already been in place before the incident."

My prediction is that the salvage efforts will have the Concordia out of sight before the one year anniversary of the disaster.  

But the cruise line's reputation?  If the cruise industry doesn't develop transparency, its battered reputation will sink further below the waves. 

 

Photos credits:

Top - AP / Pier Paola Cito

Bottom Sky News

Royal Caribbean Posts Bogus Comment to Article Regarding Alleged Near Collision Involving Liberty of the Seas

Yesterday I blogged about a near collision which allegedly occurred between Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas and a small Italian fishing boat, the Angela II, which is based in Civitavecchia.   

You can read my article: Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas Nearly Runs Over Italian Fishing Boat. The article was based on an account from the highly credible cruise blog Noticias de Cruceros.  You can also read about the incident here from an Italian newspaper.

This morning, someone posted a comment to my article, claiming that the near collision story was a lie, and suggesting that the Italian authorities made it up.  The person who posted the comment claims that Royal Caribbean Cruises - Bogus PR he was on the cruise ship and says that the fishing boat had no fishing equipment and that it was the Liberty of the Seas which altered course and passed the boat by some 250 meters.  

Now, I was not on the cruise so I don't know what happened. There are two sides to every story and I'd like to know what really happened.

We have the fishing boat's version of events. There is no official corporate statement by Royal Caribbean at this point.  And I can find no comments from the passengers on the cruise ship.  Just this one comment to my blog:    

"It's such a lie, what they wrote there,I been on this ship and watch what happened.This fishing boat was with out any fishing equipment and just suddenly start to run towards the ship from close distance.The ship is the one who alter course to avoid collision,where fishing boat just stopped dead in front of them and distance when we pass fishing boat was over 250 mtrs.

However,it's was a nice try from Italian authorities to blame the ship,but not their own fishing boat,for creating such a dangerous situation for the ship."

The person leaving the comment left only a first name and a bogus email address: John10@gmail.com.

After a little research, I determined that the comment  was posted by someone at Royal Caribbean's headquarters in Miami.  How do I know that?  I'm not saying.  But I am 100% certain that it was sent from the Royal Caribbean offices near the port of Miami.

Cruise Law News (CLN) is a very popular blog. Lots of people love to cruise but subscribe to this blog to get "the other side of the story."  Many major cruise lines here in Miami understand that. They will respond to our inquiries about issues we write about here and send us press statements. If we have our facts wrong, the cruise lines will call or send us an email.  I will immediately post their statements to set the record  straight, even if the statements are pure PR drivel.  

But Royal Caribbean is different. It is the least transparent cruise line in the business. It refuses to respond to requests for information.  Instead of issuing a corporate statement under its letterhead, it will be sneaky and try and slide in a comment pretending to be a passenger, and an eye witness at that! What kind of reputable PR department acts like this? 

Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash

Shortly after the Costa Concordia capsized, the cruise lines' PR committee assembled to try and figure out a strategy to minimize the disaster's effect on the cruise industry. 

A decision was made for the cruise lines to issue a series of "talking points" to the media. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) distributed "cruise safety talking points" to travel agents, travel magazines and the media.  CLIA embedded the talking points into "updates" on the Concordia crash on its website. CLIA's president Christine Duffy released "open letters" which travel publications and blogs often published in their entirely, without questioning the accuracy of the information.   

Costa Concordia Cruise ShipTravel agents began pitching the talking points to the public in articles like this one from Travel Market Report entitled "What to Say to Clients Post-Concordia."  You can read "6 Talking Points" and other tips from travel agents on how to overcome reluctant clients' fears and talk them into buying a cruise. 

Here are some of the cruise industry's talking points: 

1.  "100 Million Passengers Sailed in Last Five Years and Only 16 Died"

This talking point is part of the "cruising is incredibly safe" message.  It's false and misleading.  It's based data from a private consulting firm for the cruise lines which excludes crew deaths and excludes cruises which don't call on U.S. ports.  This excludes the deaths in the last cruise sinking (the Sea Diamond).   Click on the cases under our section "Maritime Death" and "Disappearances" categories to the left.  You will see that there have been many more than 16 people who die during cruises each year.   

The information is further limited to "maritime casualties," like two ships colliding into one another.  But if you take into consideration the passengers and crew who died because of bad cruise ship medical care, murder, lifeboat accidents, deaths during excursions, deaths on Flow Riders and rock climbing walls, drownings, drug overdoses, drunken assaults, being dropped overboard during medical evacuations, and suspicious disappearances - there are far more than 16 deaths during cruises each year for each of the last five years.  

The cruise industry wants you to think that the Concordia is just a freak accident.  But read about prior similar accidents here and the problems with cruise ship fires here.  The Concordia is just the latest in a long list of catastrophes. 

Dayana Arlotti - Costa Concordia CruiseCruising is not just a means of transportation. Cruise ships are floating amusement parks and entertainment venues. Compared to Disney World (which attracts more tourists than all cruise ships combined) or any international hotel or resort chain, there is no place where you are more likely to die than on a cruise ship.     

2.  "Cruising Is Safe for the Family & Kids"

This whopper of a lie makes my skin crawl. Last week, the bloated body of Dayana Arlotti (photo left), a five year old little girl from Italy, was finally pulled from the wreckage of the Concordia.  

It's a sick joke for a travel agent to hawk cruises by telling parents "hey, I bring my children cruising - it's perfectly safe!"  Don't tell that to Susy Albertini, Dayana's mother (photo below right).

Read though my blog and learn of other dead children caused by cruise line negligence over the last few years. Read about cruise tragedies involving kids, and the extraordinary efforts the cruise lines take to avoid accountability, like this story.  And this doesn't include the kids who are sexually abused during cruises, including being molested by cruise line youth counselors.         

Susy Albertinni - Costa Concordia Cruise3.  "No Cruise Ship Has Sunk Since the Titanic" 

Some travel agents have taken the "cruising is safe" talking points so far that they are claiming that no cruise ship has sunk in 100 years.  

The Travel Market Report quotes travel agent Nancy Yoffe of Cruise Planners, in Spartanburg, South Carolina explaining how she sells cruise tickets in the post-Concordia world: “ . . I would say the last time a ship like this went down was 1912.”

These travel agents may be good salesmen but they are bad historians.  

The truth is that many cruise ships have sunk with loss of life.  The last sinking was the Sea Diamond,which nailed a charted reef, and sank just four years ago.

Then there is the infamous sinking of the Oceanos cruise ship (photo left), where the captain abandoned ship leaving women, children and elderly passengers to die (they miraculously survived). The sinking of the Oceanos is featured on my list of top 5 cruise ship disasters - watch the video here.
Cruise Ship Sinking - Oceanos

Other spectacular sinkings of cruise ships include the loss of the Sun Vista which burned and sank.

No one can forget the sinking of the Andrea Doria, which ironically enough was home ported in Genoa, Italy where Costa is based. It sank in the Atlantic after a collision with another cruise ship. The fire and sinking of the Yarmouth Castle resulted in nearly one hundred dead passengers and crew.  Add to this list, the sinking of the SeaBreeze I, the Majestic Explorer, the Al-Salaam Boccaccio, Achille Laura, Explorer, M/V Saurav, Queen Of The North, Senopati Nusantara, M/V Bulgaria, Estonia, and the Mikhail Lermontov (which sank in 100 feet of water off the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island after hitting a reef).

If a travel agent sells a cruise by misrepresenting that no cruise ship sank for the 100 year period between the Titanic and the Concordia, they should be sued for fraud.

4.  "The Cruise Industry is Heavily Regulated"

The basic business model of the cruise industry was perfected by Carnival's founder Ted Arison in the 1960's - incorporate the business in Panama and register the cruise ships there too in order to avoid all U.S. taxes and safety and labor laws, and then sell cruises to tax-paying U.S. citizens.  

There is no way that an U.S. incorporated business which pays income tax and complies with U.S. minimal wage and overtime laws can possibly compete with an offshore business like Carnival which collects nearly $15 billion a year, pays no taxes, and exploits workers from India and the Caribbean islands who earn as little as $550 working 360 hours a month.  

Ted Arison's son, current Carnival CEO Micky Arison, is carrying on this tradition of avoiding all U.S. regulation and oversight.  He and other executives understand perfectly well that the success of their cruise lines depends on avoiding U.S. oversight at every turn.  No wonder Micky is the richest person in Florida with a net worth of many billions.  

Flag states like Bermuda, Bahamas and Panama will never meddle into the cruise lines' business. Yes, there is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its "regulations."  But truth be told, the IMO is a weak and toothless U.N. entity.  It's "regulations" are mere suggestions.  If a cruise line ignores a IMO rule, there is no consequence. That's why you have have reputable journalists like reporters at Reuters who are characterizing the Concordia crash as a symptom of the cruise industry's "lax regulation and supervision," as explained in the recent article "How the Cruise Industry Sails Under the Radar." 

5.  "Cruising Will Now Be Safer Now Than Ever"

There is a warm, fuzzy and entirely naive sentiment expressed by travel agents that once a disaster happens, the cruise industry will quickly learn from its mistakes and make changes to improve safety.   The problem is that's not true with an industry which keeps things secret and does not invite regulatory scrutiny.

For example, two Costa cruise ships were involved in separate collisions in the years before the ConcordiaCosta Europa - Secret Report crash. The Costa Classica ran into a freighter and slashed a deep gash through the side of the ship. The Costa Europa slammed into a dock and killed several crewmembers. The flag state, Italy, investigated the incident but refused to turn the report over to the International Maritime Organization.  In the article "Costa Cruise Egypt Accident Report is Strictly Confidential," BBC News points out that the IMO cannot begin to assess the accident and consider potential improvements to safety without seeing the report.     

After the Concordia deaths, Carnival stated that it would be conducting a full blown audit of Costa to make certain that its operations were being conducted safely and responsibly.  Whether this is happening who knows. This was a PR move, to head off public demands that the cruise line should be investigated by the government.

There is no statement by Carnival that the results of the alleged audit will be released to the public or that it will permit its operations to be investigated by professional and independent maritime experts. That will never happen. If there is an audit, Carnival will keep the results secret. This is the wild west environment of the cruise industry, not the aviation industry which is squarely under the thumb of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).    

6.  "Excessive Drinking, Violence & Crime Are Rare"

Shortly after the Concordia disaster, ABC News aired a 20/20 cruise special.  I was in the special explaining how the Concordia drama unfolded.  You can watch the first segment of the program here

The second part of the program showed the problem of excessive drinking and violence.  You can see that segment here. I learned a new phrase watching the show - "cruise drunk."  It has been clear to me for years that there is way too much booze and way too few security personnel on cruise ships.  When I expressed these opinions on the 20/20 show, I received hate e-mails for a week after the program aired.

The ASTA and travel agents took it upon themselves to include talking points in response to the 20/20 program, believe it or not.  The talking points included assurances that passengers don't get out of line or drink excessively.

Two weeks later 16 drunken cruise passengers were kicked off P & O's Pacific Dawn cruise ship for out of control violence. 

Be Honest, Tell the Public the Truth 

The cruise industry's reputation has been tarnished with a lack of transparency over the years.

A post-disaster PR campaign of talking points should start and finish with "be honest" - which is absent from the CLIA talking points.  Instead, CLIA suggests that travel agents should require clients to sign a "waiver" releasing the travel agent from all liabilities, including misrepresentations of the cruises. Why would an agent need such a waiver if they were simply telling the truth? 

There is a certain irony about all of these false talking points.  Many life threatening situations Costa Concordia - The Situation Is Under Control - Go Back To Your Cabinswhich the Concordia passengers faced after the cruise ship struck the rocks can be attributed to false information provided by the vessel's officers and crew.  

Remember, as water poured through the 160 foot gash in the Costa Concordia's hull, the officers were dishonest with the guests.  As the cruise ship sank, they lied to the passengers - "everything is okay; the ship had just experienced an electrical failure."  Later, the Costa crew falsely assured passengers - "the situation is under control, go back to your cabins." And no one can forget the lie told by Captain Schettino after he abandoned women and children to die on his ship that he had somehow "fallen into a lifeboat."   

CLIA's talking points, like the lies told by the Costa captain and his officers, perpetuate the cruise industry's reputation as lacking honesty and transparency.       

There are travel agents who don't rely on someone else's talking points.  New Jersey travel agent and my friend David Stern has his own warnings and safety videos on his web site.  

If you are a travel agent reading this, don't get caught up in CLIA's cult of personality.  Be yourself.  Learn about the history of cruise ship fires, collisions, groundings, sinkings and crimes. And then tell your clients the truth.

 

Photo credits: 

Dayana Arlotti:  lego.it

Susy Albertini: Telegraph

Royal Caribbean President's Email Blast Insults Crime Victims

Yesterday one of my clients, who I will call Jane Doe, contacted me after receiving an unsolicited email from the President of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Adam Goldstein.

The e-mail addressed her by her first name.  It seemed to be personalized to her.  It recognized her as a past customer and contained statements like:

"At Royal Caribbean International, the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority. It is fundamental to our operations. Our maritime safety record over our 42-year history Royal Caribbean Cruises  - Adam Goldstein illustrates our commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on our ships."  

President Goldstein's email outraged Jane Doe.   You see, she had just returned home with her young daughter who had been raped on President Goldstein's cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas.  

Goldstein's unsolicited email to a rape victim's mom had nothing to do with the humiliating shipboard rape suffered by Jane Doe's daughter, one of many rapes of children on the Royal Caribbean fleet over the years.  Instead, it was part of this cruise line's media campaign to try and distance itself from the negative fall out following the deadly Costa Concordia disaster.

Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line making such public statements following the Concordia crash.  You can watch Royal Caribbean's slick video touting the safety of cruising here.  President Goldstein's blog is here.  "Safety is in our DNA."  "Cruising is the safest form of transportation."  "The safety and security of our guests is our highest priority."  Royal Caribbean covered all of the cruise industry's talking points in its video, the president's blog and its e-mail blast below.    

Of course, in truth, Goldstein's email was not a personalized message to Jane Doe.  He does not know her from the man in the moon, even though her daughter was raped on the cruise line's showpiece megaship and the biggest cruise ship in the world. 

Royal Caribbean spammed Goldstein's email to every single family who had sailed with them.  This was an intentional and reckless stunt, considering that hundreds of women and children have reportedly been sexually assaulted during Royal Caribbean cruises over the years.  Certainly, the cruise line knew that its former customers who are victims of crime, and whose names remain in its customer database, would feel salt being poured into their wounds upon reading Goldstein's email in their personal email accounts.      

Insensitive & thoughtless, if not outrageous?   Definitely.  But Goldstein is not thinking of his customer's feelings.  He is motivated by his cruise line's bottom line.  He wants to reassure his customers that it is safe to return to cruising, whether that is true or not. 

This is hardly the first time this has happened.

In 2006, one of my clients, Laurie Dishman (photo right), was brutally raped by a part time Royal Caribbean security guard with a Royal Caribbean Crime Victim Laurie Dishman prior record of sexually harassing passengers.   She retained us to represent her.  I sent a handful of letters to President Goldstein, asking for our client's medical records, her statement, and the name and address of the Royal Caribbean employee who raped Laurie.  We received nothing in response.  Goldstein ignored us.

The only things Laurie initially received from Royal Caribbean were unsolicited emails inviting Laurie to return for another "cruise of a lifetime" on a Royal Caribbean ship.  The emails continued for over a year.  Each email popping into her computer's email in-box took Laurie back to the scene of the crime and reactivated a sense of panic and stress.  It was only after a half dozen letters of protest from us, and a Congressional investigation into the crime initiated by Laurie's Congresswoman in 2007, that the cruise line scrubbed her from its marketing database.

We pleaded for Royal Caribbean to implement a system to remove a passenger's information from the company's marketing database whenever a passenger was raped, killed or lost a loved one overboard during a cruise.  Believe me, cruise vacationers don't want promotional brochures in their mail boxes after a family member has been raped or lost at sea.    

It looks like Royal Caribbean ignored that request too. 

President Goldstein's blog talks in grandiose terms about the Costa Concordia crash being a "defining moment" for the cruise industry.  He promises a renewed commitment to passenger safety.  Let's hope that's true. 

But when a cruise line president sends an e-mail blast to the mother of a child raped during a cruise, you wonder whether cruise line executives like Goldstein really get it.   

 

Photo credits:

Adam Goldstein - Royal Caribbean Flickr page

Laurie Dishman - Sacramento Bee

 

ROYAL CARIBBEAN EMAILS ADAM GOLDSTEIN'S LETTER TO MILLIONS OF CRUISE CUSTOMERS:

Dear XXX, 

All of us at Royal Caribbean International continue to extend our heartfelt sympathies to those affected by Carnival Corporation's recent tragic incident on the Costa Concordia. As a Crown & Anchor Society member and loyal Royal Caribbean guest, we know you may have some questions as the situation continues to unfold.

At Royal Caribbean International, the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority. It is fundamental to our operations. Our maritime safety record over our 42-year history illustrates our commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on our ships. The measures we take in the interest of safety are many, often exceeding the regulatory requirements – these are all part of our ongoing commitment to innovation and continuous improvement in every aspect of our business.

To address some of your questions and concerns, here is a video that will provide an overview of safety onboard our ships; the training of our crew, officers and captains; and the many regulations that govern our practices. Click here to watch.

As a past cruiser, we know your friends and family may be asking about your own time at sea. We hope that you'll share this video along with your personal Royal Caribbean experiences with them, and reinforce that cruising continues to maintain the best safety record of any industry in travel.

Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon on one of our ships sailing to 270 destinations worldwide.

Sincerely,

Adam Goldstein
President and CEO
Royal Caribbean International

Costa Concordia Cruise Disaster Reveals Cruise Industry Has No Credible Voice

Late last Friday, I received a tweet from one of my 9,000 friends on Twitter informing me that a cruise ship had run aground off the coast of Italy.  Not much was known about what happened.  No one in the media was initially reporting on the incident. 

I stayed up all Friday night and Saturday morning watching the increasingly frantic twitter feed about the emerging circumstances surrounding the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.  Twitter friends like London cruise blogger John Honeywell a/k/a @CaptGreybeard began Costa Concordia Cruise Disastertweeting the first photographs of the beached cruise ship.  Other friends on twitter like Mikey's Cruise Blog tweeted non-stop as the story unfolded.  

Completely missing from the discussion on social media sites like twitter and facebook were Carnival (the owner of Costa) or its CEO Mickey Arison ( @MickyArison ) or the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) which has a twitter name @CruiseFacts.

CLIA did not make a single tweet, statement or press release all weekend. 

The few bits and pieces of information which trickled from from Costa falsely suggested that the stricken cruise ship was being orderly evacuated and that the passengers were "not at risk."

In the first blog I wrote that night, I suspected that the cruise line's comments were "probably the usual misleading and false cruise propaganda."  As it turned out, while Costa was assuring the public that everything was fine, panicked passengers were jumping overboard or struggling to survive as water filled their cabins.    

Costa Concordia Captain - Coward of the Seas?The motto of the $35,000,000,000 a year cruise industry is CLIA's "one industry, one voice."  But CLIA apparently does not work on the weekends.  When disaster struck the Concordia and over 4,000 passengers and crew feared for their lives, CLIA remained silent.

Meanwhile, the void  was filled with insightful analysis and photographs from the international media, particularly from the U.K., as well as iReporter accounts from the scene of the disaster.

The first tweet from the Carnival CEO Arison, who has amassed a personal fortune of over $4,000,000,000 (billion) from cruise fares, came long after the disaster, expressing his condolences, but quickly followed by a tweet (since deleted) supporting his pro basketball team of NBA superstars.         

The void created by the absence of information from CLIA and Carnival and its subsidiary line Costa was quickly filled by non-stop interviews of surviving passengers who described the chaos and deadly confusion as they tried to escape the sinking vessel, which we now understand was caused by the reckless conduct of the cowardly cruise ship captain (above right) who abandoned ship when things got tough.  

The media quickly called on maritime lawyers here in South Florida to provide insight into the disaster.  Our firm received inquires from major television and radio networks like ABC, 20/20, NBC, CNN, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, CNBC, the Canadian Television Network and BBC Radio, as well as national and international newspapers and magazines like Newsweek, the Jim Walker - CNN Studio - Costa Concordia Cruise DisasterNew York Times, the Washington Post, and U.K.'s Telegraph.  I spent the better part of this week speaking with several dozen journalists and shuttling between TV production studios in Miami and Fort Lauderdale for interviews.

The cruise industry did not have much to say.  No one appeared on TV on behalf of the cruise lines. CLIA finally updated its facebook page to assure the public that cruise disasters like this were "extremely rare."  But journalists are turned off by such false and self-serving garbage, and turn to information like that contained on my article Costa Concordia Calamity Just the Latest Disaster for Cruise Industry which discussed prior deaths and injuries on Costa cruise ships in the last two years and a rash of deadly cruise disasters which CNN featured this week.

CLIA also teamed up with a local cruise line defense lawyer here in Miami to write a press release with claims like "the cruise industry is a heavily regulated industry and safety is our highest priority" and "all cruise ships are designed and operated in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Maritime Organization."

I have learned that the media hates corporate PR statements like this.  It's called "gobbledygook" (definition below).  

Most journalists understand that cruise lines are largely unregulated.  To the extent that there is any regulation it is mostly self regulation by an industry whose business model is to incorporate in places like Panama and Liberia and flag their vessels in places like the Bahamas and Bermuda to avoid all U.S. income taxes, labor laws and safety laws.  The so-called "strict requirements" of the IMO are, at best, mere recommendations which the cruise lines can choose to ignore with impunity, like the decision Costa made not to bother to conduct a lifeboat drill before sailing on this disastrous cruise.    

As this week comes to an end, the misleading cruise line press releases simply added to the lack of credibility and silliness of an industry which is known for its lack of transparency.  As the Costa Concordia disaster became a nightly staple for the cable news stations this week, CLIA and the cruise line supporters were no where to be found.  They seem to be hiding under the covers.

Perhaps CLIA's new motto should be "one industry, no voice."         

 

Here are examples of some of the articles we participated in this week:  

CNBC:  Travel: Do you need medical evacuation insurance?

Canadian Television:  Crime, fires compromise cruise ship safety: experts

International Herald Tribune / New York Times: Disaster Cripples Cruiser, Not Cruising

Washington Post:  Costa Concordia sinking leaves other cruise ship passengers alarmed — and out of luck

Cleveland Plain Dealer:  Cruise ship accident prompts questions about industry safety

Examiner:  Passengers blame Carnival Corporation for Costa Concordia wreck

 

*The word "gobbledygook" comes from Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman and the mayor of San Antonio. He used the word in the New York Times Magazine in 1944 referring to a turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.” 

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

Royal Caribbean Calls on "Captain Hollywood" to the Rescue Following the Latest Brilliance of the Seas Debacle

I have been critical of Royal Caribbean's PR skills over the years, thinking that this particular cruise line's credibility is at the bottom  of the cruise industry.  So when RCCL announced after the terrifying storm which rocked the the Brilliance of the Seas and injured its passengers that the cruise ship "had full power and was operating as normal" and that no passengers were "seriously injured," I thought here we go again - another misleading PR statement.

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise  RCCL has pulled this stunt time and time again, quickly issuing misleading statements in the hope that the media will quote its carefully crafted misinformation and then the story will quickly blow over.

This strategy didn't work with the Brilliance storm story.  The storm was too big.  And the damage to the ship's interior and to the passengers' psyche were too extensive. 

Multiple media sources revealed that the ship was clearly not operating "as normal."  The ship was a complete mess.  Televisions were ripped from their mountings lying broken on the floor, glass shattered everywhere, furniture tumbled and passengers were thrown like rag dolls throughout the ship which looked like a bomb had exploded inside. 

Royal Caribbean couldn't sweep this one under the rug. The national networks - ABC, CBS, and NBC - featured dramatic photographs and video taken by passengers aboard the cruise ship.  Dianne Sawyer's news show earlier this week revealed the terror aboard the Brilliance as it was rocked and rolled off of the coast of Egypt in the middle of the night.  ABC ran a story that the passengers were "in revolt."  AOL News and USA Today ran stories that over 100 passengers appeared in the ship infirmary for injuries. 

Royal Caribbean's everything-is-okay PR statement was overwhelmed by the power of YouTube where passengers on the cruise ship post videos and photos of the spectacle for the world to see.  The discrepancy of what these photos (below) showed versus what the cruise line said magnified this cruise line's lack of transparency.

Royal Caribbean finally acknowledged that the incident was indeed "serious" and some passengers were seriously injured (broken bones).   Royal Caribbean also agreed to reimburse the entire cruise fare for all passengers and provided an onboard credit. 

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise ShipCaptain Hollywood To The Rescue

The cruise line then called on its Vice President of Marine Operations, William Wright, to appear before the media and answer questions about  what happened. 

Captain Wright flew from Miami to Valletta Malta and was ready when reporters began to interview the Master of the Brilliance, Captain Erik Tengelsen, who has a reputation for being honest and forthright.  Captain Tengelsen was at the helm when he was trying to outrun the storm into the crowded port of Alexandria.  He knew there was a storm on his tail, but when he slowed down at the port in Egypt, the stabilizers lost their effectiveness.  The cruise ship was a sitting duck. 

When Captain Tengelsen told the reporter that the incident was "horrific" and that he knew that a storm had forecast to blow to 45 knots and then gusted to 50 to 60 knots, Captain Wright saw danger brewing.  He quickly interjected that "Mother Nature is fickle" and the weather must have been a surprise. (see video below)  Clearly, Captain Wright had been sent to baby sit the ship and make certain no damaging PR statements with legal implications were made by the vessel's officers.  He shut Captain Tengelsen up and took over the show.       

Royal Caribbean also produced a short YouTube video back in its Miami corporate office. Wearing a friendly open collar and sweater with palm tress swaying behind him, Captain Wright provides a reassuring and calming cadence to bring the public's focus away from the horrific storm off of Egypt.  No real information as usual, but a nice relaxing video to calm everyone down. 

Many in the media loved it.  A very popular cruise blog in the U.K, picked up on the feel-good vibe and Royal Caribbean pulled off a PR comeback with "Full Refund for Brilliance Passengers."

A Seasoned Media Pro 

This is not the first time that Captain Wright has been used as a PR ploy for the cruise line.  He Captain William Wright - Captain Hollywood - Royal Caribbean was the media star for Royal Caribbean following the last high profile incident involving the Brilliance of the Seas.

Our firm was first introduced to Captain Wright when he was pushed to the front of a PR war our firm was engaged in following the death of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise on this very cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, in July 2005.  We represented Mr. Smith's widow.  The cruise line wanted the public to think that her husband's disappearance was just an accident, whereas many thought that Mr. Smith met with foul play.  Royal Caribbean handled the circumstances after George Smith's death badly.  It paraded a number of employees from its corporate communications, human relations and security departments in front of the cameras to carry the Royal Caribbean "its-just-an-accident" message - only to see them flounder before the cameras.

Finally, Royal Caribbean settled upon Captain Wright to appear regularly on the cable news shows.  I nicknamed him "Captain Hollywood" given his tall stature, good looks, deep voice, and dramatization of the cruise line's talking points.  He was was a natural before the media.  Captain Wright appeared regularly on Greta van Sustern's show on Fox "On The Record."   The cruise line also picked him to fly to Washington D.C. to conduct media interviews during the Congressional hearings for the past five years into the investigation into cruise safety and security issues.

Brilliance of the Seas - Rough Weather - Cruise ship Getting cruise executives and media friendly cruise faces in YouTube videos is something I have advocated in the past if the $35,000,000,000 cruise industry wants to compete in the word of media relations.   

But cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are still a long way behind the curve in matters of social media.  For example, around 15,000 people looked at "Captain Hollywood's" video - compared to around 290,000 people who viewed a video on our Cruise Law's YouTube page of a cruise ship facing rough weather in Antarctica.   

Royal Caribbean still has problems handling its PR matters.  Its first inclination is not to tell the truth.  It tends to minimize the seriousness of serious life threatening incidents when honesty would serve it best.  It finally has a blog by its President Adam Goldstein, and it finally is using YouTube, although both its blog and YouTube pages lag far, far behind the popularity enjoyed by this blog and our YouTube page.  The cruise line still does not integrate Facebook, Flickr or, my favorite, Twitter, into its social media.

Instead, its media strategy is to simply issue the same old tepid "everything-is-just-fine" PR statements.  When that doesn't work, it sends Captain Hollywood to the scene to reassure the faithfuls that everything is okay. 

When the next disaster strikes a Royal Caribbean ship, look for Captain Hollywood to fly in from Miami and announce on YouTube that the cruise ship is safe and sound.    
        

 

 

Credits:

Photos of damage to Brilliance of the Seas - MailOnLine

Video - Times of Malta

The Right Way To Report A Sad Cruise Story

A Carnival crew member went overboard around 1:00 a.m. yesterday from the Carnival Splendor cruise ship.  According to crew members, the crew member jumped.  Unfortunately, despite a prompt search, the crew member was lost.

The incident was not reported by Carnival's corporate headquarters, nor was the incident reported by the press.  Instead the first person to report on it was a popular Cruise Director, John Heald, who was aboard the cruise ship at the time of the tragic incident.  Mr. Heald is employed as Senior Cruise Director - John Heald Carnival's Senior Cruise Director and writes a very popular blog named, naturally enough, John Healds Blog

The article Mr. Heald wrote - A Very Sad Day -  explains what happened in a clear and sensitive manner.  You will not find any hint in the blog of the stiff corporate mumbo-jumbo which we see from most cruise lines.  One of the problems cruise lines face is that they are afraid to reveal tragedies like this.  When they say nothing, or delay, or sugar coat ugly facts, they lose credibility at best or look like they are hiding things at worst.

But Mr. Heald's informative and respectful blog timely explained the circumstances which brought the cruise ship to a stop in the middle of the night.  It avoided speculation and conspiracy theories. It was the right thing to do.  Over a hundred readers commented, almost all 100% in support of the thoughts expressed in his article. 

Over 140 people have gone overboard in the last decade.  This is the first time I have seen such a prompt statement of a crew or passenger overboard by anyone associated with the cruise line which contained accurate and timely information and also conveyed the story in human terms. 

The industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association, should invite all of the public relations and corporate communications experts from all of the other cruise lines to a cruise with Senior Cruise Director Heald so they can watch a real pro in action.       

 

Photo credit:   Carnival-News.com

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

Royal Caribbean Press Statements And Other Gobbledygook

Last week was another rough week for Royal Caribbean. 

First there were repeated outbreaks of the nasty norovirus aboard the Jewel of the Seas which sickened hundreds of unsuspecting passengers. Then there was the embarrassment of a Royal Caribbean employee with a criminal record stealing private information from Royal Caribbean computers regarding Royal Caribbean customers so her career-criminal-of-a-husband could break into their homes while they were on Royal Caribbean cruises.  And finally there was a sexual pervert molesting a 6 year old child in the kid's H20 WaterZone aboard Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas.    

Roya Caribbean Cruise - PR - Public Relations - Press Statement - Crime - Norovirus For those in the know in Miami, Royal Caribbean is consider to the black sheep of the cruise industry.   Ask insiders at Carnival, NCL and the smaller cruise lines like Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Silversea Cruises for a quote?  They will whisper under their breath - only at Royal Caribbean could this happen.   

These stories caught Royal Caribbean flat footed.  Its PR people (which the cruise line calls the "corporate communications" department) were late to the stories and ended up issuing the usual corporate sounding PR statements which made them sound guilty as hell:

In response to the norovirus outbreaks, the Royal Caribbean PR people issued this statement: "At Royal Caribbean International, we have high health standards for all our guests and crew . . ."

This statement came after its own employee burglarized the homes of local Florida citizens who were cruising on Royal Caribbean ships: "Royal Caribbean does not tolerate any form of criminal activity in its workforce or operations . . . " 

And finally this one after the sexual abuse of a child in the children's water zone on its cruise ship: "Royal Caribbean maintains a zero tolerance policy regarding any criminal activity onboard our ships . . ." 

Gobbledygook!

Royal Caribbean's PR statements about norovirus and crime are corporate double-talk.

For example, the cruise line's "zero tolerance" program began as a public relations stunt ten years ago after it hired outside consultants to study its high rate of sexual assaults.  After the experts told Royal Caribbean that it had a problem because of the frequent sexual crimes on its cruise ships, the cruise line ended its study, rejected the experts' recommendations, and adopted a marketing strategy where it claimed that it had "zero tolerance" for crimes.  This was the same year it pled guilty to multiple felonies for making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office about environmental crimes.   

Since then Royal Caribbean's CEO, Richards Fain, tells the company stockholders each year that crime on Royal Caribbean ships is "rare" when the cruise line's own experts concluded long ago that crimes against passengers is "routine."  

As far as the "high health standards" go, take a minute and read the 46 comments by sick passengers who just got off Royal Caribbean's norovirus contamnated cruise ship.  

Out of this gobbledygook comes a clear message: you can't trust what Royal Caribbean says.

 

*The word "gobbledygook" comes from Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman and the mayor of San Antonio.  He used the word in the New York Times Magazine in 1944 referring to a turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”

 

Photo Credit:      The Consumerist    Don't miss reading "Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites With Viral Marketing Team."

100 Norovirus Victims On Sapphire Princess Cruise Ship - Princess Cruises Blames Passengers

A Seattle news station King5.com reports today that norovirus sickened 100 people on Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess cruise ship based in Seattle. 

As we have reported in prior blogs,  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that whereas "person to person" transmission of norovirus has been documented, "norwalk gastroenteritis is transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated water and foods."  The FDA reports that "water is the most common source of outbreaks and may include water from Julie Benson - PR - Public Relations - Princess Cruises - Norovirus - Sapphire Princess municipal supplies, well, recreational lakes, swimming pools, and water stored aboard cruise ships."

But Julie Benson (right), the PR person for Princess Cruises, blamed passengers for probably carrying Norovirus on board the cruise ship.

Of course, there is no proof of this.  Ms. Benson is just a PR person and a script reader - not a doctor, scientist or epidemiologist.  It is part of the cruise industry's play book to always blame the passengers for bringing norovirus aboard.  It is far more likely - according to the FDA - that there is contaminated food or water on the cruise ship.  How did Ms. Benson figure out that the passengers brought the virus aboard, rather than poor hygiene by the crew or infected food or water?  The outbreak has not even been investigated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC database for cruise ship norovirus outbreaks is here

Blame-the-passengers is just the script that poor Ms. Benson has to read.

Passengers suffered through norovirus on several cruises on the the Grand Princess just last month.  You can read about those cases here and here.  One of the problems with Princess is that the cruise line charges passengers around a $100 just for a nurse to come to the cabin when a passenger is infected with norovirus.  Some passengers didn't report their illnesses to avoid the excessive charges for "medical treatment."  At the same time, Princess didn't  try to sanitize cabins where no one reported an illness, as reported by this passenger.  This may have led to additional outbreaks on the next cruise.  

The passenger also thought that the public toilets on the cruise ships may be a problem.  Disease experts have inspected toilets on cruise ships in the past, with disgusting results: Cruise Ship Norovirus - Clean the Damn Toilets!  

Lawyers in the U.K. are suing the cruise line for improper cleaning procedures aboard the Grand Princess.  The litigation is being handled by U.K. lawyers, Irwin Mitchell which specializes in travel law in England.  The firm is demanding that passengers are informed of health risks on the cruise ship in advance of it sailing and given the choice of continuing their holiday, choosing an alternative or getting their money back.  According to the Guardian newspaper, the Irwin Mitchell lawyers criticized that Princess is only devoting two hours for "extra cleaning:"

"The fact that this liner has been allowed to set sail again so quickly is astounding given the reports of such widespread illness on the preceding cruise .  .  .  For maximum effect this would normally have taken at least two days. I struggle to see how a fully effective deep-clean of such a large ship could be achieved in a few short hours."

For other articles about the cruise ship sickness, norovirus, in general read here.    

Were you aboard the Sapphire Princess or Grand Princess during these recent norovirus outbreaks?  Were more passengers and crew infected than reported?  How did the cruise line handle the problem?  Please leave your comments below. 

Don't forget to watch the video below:  

 

 

June 8, 2010 Update:

AOL Travel published an article "Sick Ship in Europe and Alaska" about the Sapphire Princess as well as Celebrity's Constellation, where norovirus infected at least 204 passengers and 34 crew members.  A comment by one reader: "What they don't tell you is Norovirus is often a food-borne illness. Food is cruise line's stock and trade. They don't want you to know that it may be coming from the kitchen!"

 

Credits:

Video          King5.com

 Julie Benson              Twitter.com

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")  

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: 

 

 

 

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Family of Missing Crew Member Seeks Answers - Princess Cruises Claims "We Are Puzzled"

In an article entitled "Family Seeks Answers in Disappearance of Italian Chef From Cruise Ship," the LA Times reports that family members, of an Italian chef who disappeared during a cruise, met with Princess Cruises representatives in California to obtain information regarding Angelo Faliva - Missing - Princess Cruiseswhat happened to their son and brother. 

The family of Angelo Faliva (shown here left) had flown from Italy to meet representatives in San Pedro, California where the Coral Princess cruise ship arrived after a 15 day cruise from South Florida.

The Faliva family apparently left California without any information.

We previously reported on this disappearance in a prior article "Crew Member Missing from Princess Cruises' Coral Princess Cruise Ship."

The cruise line industry has a notorious reputation for withholding information when there is evidence of foul play that may hurt their legal interests or may tarnish their marketing image.  Usually the families are kept away from the cruise line's security personnel and are stuck dealing only with the cruise line's PR department or in-house lawyers who tell them nothing.    

Julie Benson - Princess Cruises - PRIn this case, Princess Cruises PR representative Julie Benson said that the cruise line's investigation allegedly did not reveal any information to explain the crew member's disappearance. The PR representative Benson tells the LA Times:

“We are really very puzzled . . .  We don’t know what happened.”

How is it possible that the hundreds of cameras on the cruise ship did not record a single image of crew member Faliva?  Earlier this year when a passenger committed suicide by jumping off of the stern of Carnival's Sapphire Princess, the cruise line produced the CCTV films. Did they find the CCTV because it exonerated the cruise line?   We wrote about this is a series of articles in September. 

Princess Cruises claim of being "puzzled"raises substantial questions.  

How can a happy and healthy crew member simply vanish without a trace?

Has the Faliva family been provided with a copy of the CCTV?  Was the Faliva family permitted to interview the security officer?  Did Princess arrange for them to talk to the CCTV operators and shipboard IT technicians?  Were they provided with copies of all reports and statements taken of the crew members on the cruise ship?  Were they permitted to board the ship and speak with the Master, the crew member's co-workers and his cabin mates and friends? 

Certainly the family is entitled to more than the cruise line's usual we-don't-know-anything PR statement.

The International Cruise Victims organization reports that this year 23 people have gone overboard from cruise ships. 

 

Credits:

Mr. Faliva           Falavi Family via IlTempo.it 

Princess PR representative Julie Benson    Twitter @JulieBenson

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

Cruise lines which are in touch with their market understand the need to be versed with all aspects of Social Media 2.0.  Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, and YouTube all present an inexpensive and highly effective way to get a company's message out to the public.  This is particularly important in times of crisis management, such when a fire breaks out or a bout of swine flu is running its course on a cruise ship.

Most cruise lines remain clueless.  Royal Caribbean, for example, has a Twitter page @royalcaribbean, but it has not been updated since June 19th.  The only tweet says: "Look for updates here soon!" - that was over three months ago. It resembles an abandoned store front.  

Other cruise lines which are using Twitter or FaceBook are not maximizing the potential offered by social media applications.  Companies like NCL  @NCLFreestyle have pleasant enough websites and utilize Twitter but are mostly just trying to push ticket sales.  Recent tweets by NCL: "hottest new cruise," cruises for "$249," etc.  You get the idea.

The problem with these tweets is that they flaunt the etiquette which has developed on Twitter.  Effective "twitterers" understand that hard sale tactics don't work.  In fact, they turn potential customers off.  But interacting with the public, and providing accurate and relevant information via a conversation, works.  You could imagine how ineffective and counter productive it would be if I took NCL's approach on Twitter - "hottest new lawyer," lawsuits for "$249," etc.  A bad idea.

Princess Cruises - What's Social Media?

When things go wrong at sea, the public deserves to receive accurate information, fast. And Twitter is the best way to do just that. 

When the Princess cruise ship "Royal Princess" caught fire on June 18th, the cruise line didn't release any information to the public.  But a passenger, a Pastor from South Carolina,  @gregsurratt tweeted about the fire from his iphone on the cruise ship.  He indicated that the fire was bigger than expected, that the cruise ship was dark, and that a tug had to tow the ship back to port in Egypt.  Frantic families in the U.S. had to rely on Pastor Surratt for information about their loved ones. He even tweeted photos of the fire, the passengers sprawling out on the deck in the dark, and the tug via "Twitpic" - an application which permits photos to be uploaded onto Twitter. 

When the cruise line finally awoke and posted its typical less-than-forthcoming corporate press statement, no one was paying attention to Princess Cruises.  Everyone was listening to Pastor Surratt tweeting away on the cruise ship in the Mediterranean.  Most troubling was that the press releases finally issued from Princess Cruises' corporate offices in Santa Clarita down-played the incident and provided incomplete and misleading information. 

Princess Cruises not only lost an opportunity to interact with the public via Twitter, but it lost credibility in the process.    

Twitter and YouTube - Effective PR Tools - P & O Cruises Gets An "A" 

Princess Cruises' sister brand P & O Cruises knows what it is doing in the world of social media.  P & O Cruises has had more than its fair share of bad things happen on its cruise ships.  It is best known for the tragic death of Dianne Brimble, who died due to a toxic mix of alcohol and a date rape drug several years ago.  The brand was known for heavy drinking, out of control parties and general debauchery.

But in the last two years, the cruise line has turned its image around.  The PR people at this cruise line rebulit P & O's reputation.  Social media played a big part.

For example, last May when the Pacific Dawn was sailing with passengers and crew infected with H1N1 swine flu, the news media in Australia went nuts. Front page news articles labeled the cruise ship the "swine ship."   

P & O went on the offensive. CEO Ann Sherry began giving short statements on the cruise line's blog.  The cruise line's website contains links to its Twitter and FaceBook pages as well as to "ship blogs" including the Pacific Dawn.  The cruise line knew how to upload videos of cruise activities to its ship blogs as part of its general marketing. It now had the experience to use this media to deal with this crisis. 

Ms. Sherry appeared on the scene, wearing a very smart red dress, and looked directly into the camera. She provided information about sick passengers and what the company was doing to address the issue. The cruise line used its Twitter page @POCruises to provide additional updates and links to the video.  It even uploaded a photo via "Twitpic" of Ms. Sherry, standing in the rain surrounded by reporters, while the beleaguered cruise ship with its sick passengers arrived at port. 

When the flu passed its course, the next ship blog, entitled "Clean Ship," showed photos of the Captain and crew having fun in the disco, smiling and laughing.  The message to the public was quite effective - everything is fine, come on aboard.

In the past several months, P & O Cruises continues to use social media effectively.  Ms, Sherry still appears regularly on YouTube videos, talking about the presence of surveillance cameras on the cruise ships, responsible drinking programs, and "customer care" teams.

it is nice to see a cruise line connecting with the public in this manner.     

 

 

Photo credits  

Photo no. 1 of Ann Sherry - Zimbio - "P & O Cruises Holds Swine Flu Conference" (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Other photographs and video - P & O Cruises