Adventure of the Seas Brings 3,800 Hurricane Maria Evacuees to South Florida

Adventure of the SeasA local news station in Miami reports that Royal Caribbean used the Adventure of the Seas to take around 3,800 evacuees from St. Thomas, St. Croix and Puerto Rico back to South Florida, following the destruction and chaos caused by Hurricane Maria.

7 News in Miami aired a brief segment on its television program today, showing the Adventure of the Seas returning to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. 

Royal Caribbean and other Miami-based cruise lines have enjoyed good press due to their hurricane relief efforts, which we commented on in Cruise Lines Aid Hurricane-Stricken Caribbean Islands.

But it has not always been smooth sailing for Royal Caribbean in dealing with recent hurricanes. 

The cruise line was recently named in a a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges that Royal Caribbean forced its customers to fly to Texas when it was in a state of emergency due to Hurricane Harvey rather than cancel or modify its August 27th cruise on the Liberty of the Seas which was scheduled to depart from the Port of Galveston. The cruise line refused to cancel the cruise until its passengers had already flown to Texas, unlike other cruise lines which prudently canceled and provided full credits to its customers. 

Royal Caribbean repeatedly told passengers that if they canceled, they would lose the entire cost of the purchased cruise. The passengers and their families then faced catastrophic flooding caused as the Category 4 hurricane flooded south Texas. Read the class action complaint here.   

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Photo credit above: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert via Boston Herald.

 

LabadeeĀ® in Limbo - When Will Royal Caribbean Return to Its Private Resort?

Today is the third occasion when Royal Caribbean has canceled a port call in its private destination of Labadee, Haiti. The Vision of the Seas was supposed to call on Royal Caribbean's fenced-off private port today but instead the cruise line has chosen to avoid Labadee and take passengers on the Vision of the Seas to San Juan a little earlier, according to the unofficial RCL Blog.  

The last two times a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was suppose to call on Labadee ( Freedom of the Seas on January 19th and the Navigator of the Seas on January 21st), the cruise line initially encountered a small group of boats with protesters aboard and then on the second occasion refused to disembark its passengers there because it had not yet received assurances from the Haitian government that the drama would not be repeated. It replaced the port on these two cruises with a sea day. Royal Caribbean has reportedly returned the passengers' port taxes for Ladabee, as it is permitted to do in its one-sided passenger ticket. There are rumors and a couple of postings on social media sites that Royal Caribbean has replaced Labadee with Belize, but the company has decided not Labadee Haitito post anything official. The cruise line has done a poor job notifying guests who are booked on cruises which include Labadee in the next few weeks exactly what is happening. 

Today was suppose to be the day of the much anticipated national elections in Haiti. Royal Caribbean has implied that the protests in Labadee were about the national elections, but there appears to be far more to the story that the cruise line is admitting publicly.  

The cruise line took over sovereign Haitian land when it made its deal with Baby Doc Duvalier in 1986. It separated the village of Labadie with a 12 foot chain-linked fence, covered with barbwire, from its private resort which it trademarked Labadee®.  

Labadee® is a major money maker for the cruise line. Royal Caribbean pays no actual rent of any kind for the 260 acres of waterfront property, but its passengers pay a $10 to $12 head tax. Few people will argue that this money reaches the local villagers in Haiti, which some local people contend is the real source of the local protests last week. Passengers pay hundreds of dollars to Royal Caribbean to ride on the "Dragon's Breath Flight Line" (a zip line which towers over the beach), or to rent jet-skis, or to lounge in a private cabana.  A "Labadoozie" frozen rum drink costs a whopping $14 plus 18%. Needless to say, Haitians on the other side of the barbwire do not receive any of this money and are mired in abject poverty. The local artisans, who are permitted thought the barbwired scurity fence, receive only a pittance selling their local artwork. In contrast, cruise ships from Royal Caribbean and its sister company Celebrity bring many millions of dollars of money generated in Labadee back to their headquarters in Miami on each cruise.  

Many cruise passengers don't know, or seem not to care, about the troubled history of Haiti or Royal Caribbean's sharp deal with the former corrupt leaders of Haiti, which resulted in the Miami-based cruise line obtaining 260 acres of water front land for 50 years. Many people don't seem to understand that the resort of Labadee is part of Haiti. Some still believe that it is an island unto itself or is part of Hispaniola, a marketing image encouraged by the cruise line knowing that selling a vacation spot in an impoverished and sometimes violent country like Haiti was a long shot. Even a travel article published recently in the News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign, Illinois about cruising to Labadee mistakingly calls it a "private island" located just "off the shore of Haiti."  

Indeed, Royal Caribbean's official video of Labadee misleadingly refers to it as "Royal Caribbean's Private Island Paradise."

Large multi-national companies obtaining sweet deals for valuable land of impoverished Caribbean or Central America nations for private destinations seems like business as usual in the winner-take-all world of the cruise industry. Multi-billion dollar, Fortune 200 companies gobbling up ports in one-sided deals with beholden and often corrupt leaders of tiny countries in the Caribbean and Central America seems to be viewed as just good business.  

Cruise lines are making sharp deals throughout the Caribbean. The government of Belize just passed a bill which "legislates tax and duty exemptions for Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), a billion dollar multi-national company that has been given a 25-year exclusive contract to control cruise operations in southern Belize," according to a local newspaper in Belize. The Supreme Court of Belize earlier found that NCL "fast-tracked" its dredge-and-fill Harvest Caye project with the government hastily approving the NCL’s new port and resort project over environmental concerns. 

The indefinite postponement of the elections, apparently due to violence and fear of corruprion, will result in Royal Caribbean postponing its decision when it will return its ship to Labadee.  Have no doubt about one thing - Royal Caribbean will return to Labadee. It has directed far too much of its profits on building a pier, zip-lining and roller-coaster rides and cabanas to walk away from such an immensely profitable waterfront boondoggle that it has tied up for the next 24 years.

It seems questionable to me whether any significant percentage of Royal Caribbean passengers care about whether the cruise line is exploiting the local villagers. It's just another private destination, they say, like Coco Cay (another Royal Caribbean private resort), or Half Moon Cay (operated by HAL), or Castaway Cay (operated by Disney).  

But it seems, unnfortunately, that Royal Caribean feels compelled to first make a point with the protesters. It will continue to freeze out the local people, just like Carnival Corporation did when 150 Indian P&O waiters congregated on the pier in Seattle and politely protested their low wages and the withholding of tips. When it was over, despite promises that there would be no retribution, the Carnival CEO's terminated all of the waiters and black-balled them from ever working in the cruise industry

One Royal Caribbean crew menber left a comment on my Facebook page: "guests did not pay to change the world during their visits but to relax and have fun." Is this true? Once Royal Caribbean shows the protesters who is boss of Labadee®, will passengers again be unloaded into the cruise line's private resort to zip-line, parasail and drink $14 Labadoozies in their private cabanas, or will they wake up to the injustice of Labadee®? 

Photo Credit: Tancy Talks Cruising Part 2: Fake Haiti

January 26, 2016 Update:  Time magazine weighs in

January 28, 2016 Update: A travel agent takes a look at Labadee.

Royal Caribbean Crew Member Sexually Assaults Passenger on Quantum of the Seas

The FBI arrested a crew member working on a cruise ship sailing out of Bayonne, New Jersey for abusive sexual contact of a passenger after he allegedly snuck into her cabin while she was sleeping. 

According to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in federal court in New Jersey, the federal government alleges that crew member KARAN SEECHURN violated Title 18, United States Code, Section 2244(a)(2). This statute defines as a crime to knowingly engage in sexual contact with an adult female including the intentional touching, directly and through the clothing, of the Karan Seechurn Quantum of the Seasgenitalia, without the victim's permission, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade . . . 

The arresting FBI officer's investigation led to the filing of an affidavit which states in pertinent part: 

"On or about December 23, 2014, defendant KARAN SEECHURN was a male employee, on board a cruise ship, which embarked from Bayonne, New Jersey, traveled to the Bahamas, and disembarked in Bayonne, New Jersey on December 27, 2014.

Defendant KARAN SEECHURN was employed by the cruise line and was responsible for re-stocking the minibars located in passengers’ rooms. In order to conduct this duty, he was provided with a key that provided access to passengers’ rooms. On or about December 23, 2014, KARAN SEECHURN used this key to access passengers’ rooms when he was not authorized or permitted to do so.

On or about December 23, 2014, a female passenger (the “Victim”) was sleeping in her room aboard the cruise ship. While the Victim was asleep, defendant KARAN SEECHURN entered the Victim’s room without her knowledge and permission. The Victim awoke to find one of defendant KARAN SEECHURN’s hands touching her genitalia, she pushed him off her and she tried to leave the room, but he pulled her back and threatened to burn down the cruise ship if she told anyone."

The FBI agent didn't identify the name of the cruise ship or cruise line. This is often done as a matter of professional courtesy by the FBI so as not to embarrass the cruise lines which often hire former FBI agents to work in the cruise lines' security department. There are numerous news outlets referring only to an "unidentified" cruise ship.  

The only cruise ship calling on the ports at the times identified in the affidavit is Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the Quantum of the Seas.  In addition, a search of the crew member's name reveals that such a crew member works for Royal Caribbean and is from Mauritius. The Department of Justice' press release says that the crew member is from Mauritius.

The crew member is scheduled to appear in Newark federal court today.

It's a dangerous practice to give male cabin attendants or mini-bar attendants a master key to passenger cabins. Prior sexual assaults have occurred on Royal Caribbean ships under similar circumstances.

Royal Caribbean touts the Quantum as the most technological advanced cruise ship on the high seas. It's too bad that the cruise line didn't use old school technology and deactivate the master keys and cards to passenger cabins after hours.  

December 30, 2014 Update: Many crew members have reacted to this story by blaming the victim and feeling sorry for the alleged assailant. (see comments below and our our Facebook page).  They recklessly accuse the victim of lying or tricking the crew member or looking for a lawsuit. These type of outrageous, misogynous comments reflect cultural issues on cruise ships which breed an atmosphere of contempt for women passengers that leads to sexual assaults. The problem is that this dangerous attitude is displayed not just by low level crew members but by the male-dominated managers and supervisors who decide how the victim is treated after the assault and make decisions regarding whether to report the crime to the authorities.   

 

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