Costa Concordia Cruise Ship DisasterAs 2012 comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the images of the year in cruising.  

Below are 10 images of 2012 which tell the story of one of the most dangerous and controversial years in the history of cruising. My perspective is not that as a travel agent or vacation planner, but as the publisher of a law blog with the motto "everything the cruise lines don’t want you to know." 

No. 10 – The Year of the Cruise Ship Bug:  Cruise lines hate it when anyone calls norovirus the "cruise ship bug." The nasty virus strikes nursing homes, day care facilities and hospitals too, but who wants to defend sick cruise ships by comparing them to facilities filled with ill patients or kids with pooh in their pants? I wrote more stories about norovirus and e-coli causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to nice people on the high seas than I care to admit.  We end the year with ABC News airing a segment on the Cruise Ship Norovirus"dangerous virus" sickening hundreds on the Cunard QM 2 and Princess’ Emerald Princess cruise ships over Christmas.

Putting hysteria aside, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documented 16 cases of cruise ship gastrointestinal illness, mostly noro, and that’s counting only cruise ships calling on U.S. ports. Princess won the award for the greatest number of sick cruise ships this year, as well as the quickest to blame the passengers for not washing their hands even though the norovirus is primarily a food and water borne pathogen. The thought of being trapped on one of these floating petri dishes with hundreds of puking passengers makes me break out in a cold sweat.

No. 9 – Are Crew Members Fungible Goods?  This year has seen flagrant abuse of hard working crew members who are the backbone of the cruise industry. By registering their companies and cruise ships in countries like Liberia, Bermuda, and the Bahamas, the cruise lines ensure that the cruise employees have virtually no legal rights or bargaining power. Cruise giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean take advantage of the situation. A documentary in the U.K earlier this year exposed Celebrity Cruises Cruise Ship Crew Member Wages Working Conditionsoverworking and underpaying its waiters. Carnival’s P&O Cruises terminated 150 waiters from India who went on a peaceful 2 hour strike in Seattle to protest low wages and the withholding of tips, even though the Captain personally promised that the cruise line would not retaliate against the cruise employees. Carnival and P&O broke their word but not the law because there is no law protecting the crew members if they strike. 150 Indians now find themselves blackballed from the cruise industry.

We were contacted by more ill or injured crew members this year than ever before, most with serious orthopedic and neurological injuries to their necks and backs.  Cruise lines try and keep the sick employees out of the U.S. and try and suppress stories and images of injured crew employees. When the Azamara Quest experienced a disabling engine room fire, the cruise line quickly announced that all of the passengers were okay and heaped praise on the ship’s captain. But the cruise line failed to mention that crew members were seriously injured during the fire, including one crew member trapped in an elevator shaft who was overcome by Richard Fain Royal Caribbeanthe heat and smoke.  No newspapers in the U.S. mentioned the injuries to the crew members.  Does anyone care about the crew?

No. 8 – Cruise Executives Get Richer, While Crew Members Get Poorer: 2012 was reportedly a difficult financial year for the cruise lines but you would never know it by looking at the huge sums of money which the cruise line CEO’s pay themselves. In addition to his regular multi-million-dollar salary, Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain collected $11,500,000 by selling a small amount of his RCL stock.  Royal Caribbean meanwhile paid its bar-servers only $50 a month and required them to work for tips carrying a dozen tropical drinks around the pool deck while balancing a bottle of rum on their heads. Carnival CEO Arison paid himself an end-of-the-year bonus of $90,000,000. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean viewed the tips paid by the passengers for crew members as sources of income for the cruise lines while paying their executives astronomical salaries, bonuses and stock options.

No. 7 – Polluters of the Air & Seas: The cruise lines made a big pitch this year that they are leaders in conserving the marine environment, proclaiming that they vigorously protect the waters upon which they Cruise Ship Pollutionsail. The Cruise Line International Association started the year with a message to the public that the cruise lines were stewards of the environment and embedded a beautiful stock photo showing colorful coral reefs and an abundance of tropical fish. But the following day the quaint coastal town of Nahant, Massachusetts found a local beach fouled by a huge amount of human excrement, toilet paper, rubber gloves, plastic bottles, dental floss, condoms, personal hygiene items and a urinal cake covered in a mass of disgusting brown foam which was believed to have been dumped by a passing NCL cruise ship.

Cruise lines are fighting stricter air emissions laws and are still burning toxic bunker fuel, even on its newest cruise ships.  A passenger sent me a photo of the Saga Sapphire which tried to continue sailing with some seriously smoking engines. The Friends of the Earth environmental group graded both Carnival and Royal Caribbean a "D+" for their disastrous impact on the air and sea.

Disappearances at Sea - Cruise Ship Cover UpNo. 6 – Cruise Lines Stonewall Families of Missing Passengers & Crew Members:  Mike and Ann Coriam are still waiting for basic information about what happened to their daughter Rebecca who worked as a child care supervisor and disappeared from the Disney Wonder last year.

Investigations into the disappearances of of people from cruise ships at sea often fall to the "flag state" countries like Bermuda and the Bahamas which have little interest in doing anything that might embarrass their cruise line customers which fly their flags.

This year, twenty-three (23) passengers and crew members vanished on the high seas. That’s an average of 2 a month. The cases are characterized by the cruise lines’ lack of transparency and the flag states’ hide-the-ball tactics. The families are hit with a double whammy. First, they suffer the loss of a child or other family member. Then, secondly and unnecessarily, they have to endure the cover-up by the cruise line and flag state. 

No. 5 – Deaths & Injuries on Zip Lines, FlowRiders, Rock Walls, Jet-Skis, & Excursions: As the cruise ships got bigger and bigger this year, the cruise lines added an increasing number of activities Royal Caribbean Flow Riderboth on and off the ships.

We have been contacted by families seriously injured on rock climbing walls, in skating rinks, and on zip lines and simulated surfing attractions. One activity, the FlowRider attraction, is something which we consider the most dangerous activities you can participate in during a cruise.  Off of the cruise ships, deaths have marred cruises due to snorkeling, diving, kayaking, para-sailing, dune bugging, catamaran, and open air bus excursion accidents around the world.  

Cruise passengers have also been targeted for robberies and rapes in cruise line ports of call.  The most potentially violent ports of call? You’re pretty safe in Canada and Europe, but Mexico and the Caribbean ports of call are dangerous. Don’t expect the cruise lines to warn you. This year we won a major appeal where the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that Carnival has the legal duty to warn passengers of violence and crimes in ports of call. The case involved the tragic death of a girl who was shot to death in front of her parents in St. Thomas.

No. 4 – The Year of Cruise Ship Child Predators and Child Pornographers: Stories about cruise ship waiters, youth counselors, stateroom attendants and pool cleaners sexually abusing children were a frequent topic on this blog. But male crew members are not the only danger presented to child and young Cunard Cruise Paul Trotterwomen during cruises.  Male passengers raped and sexually abused other passenger on a regular basis with the most common scenario involving older teenager or young men inviting younger girls back to their cabins with promises of drinking alcohol at a party.  The photo is of the most prolific cruise ship predator we know of – Cunard crew member Paul Trotter. You would think that a luxury cruise line like Cunard would carefully vet their employees. But not so. Trotter was employed as a youth counselor / child activities coordinator who worked aboard most of the Cunard cruise ships, interacting with children during nearly 300 cruises over the course of over 5 years. He was arrested in the U.K. for abusing at least 13 boys of English nationality and of course he abused American kids too.

In addition to sexual abuse of children, a number of passengers and crew members were arrested for Carnival Cruise Micky Arisonhaving child pornography images and video on their laptop computers and iPhones. The cruise lines try and keep this nasty stuff secret.  But the danger is real.  Parents watch your kids. If something goes wrong during the cruise, don’t think that the cruise line will believe your daughter over their crew member.

No. 3 – The Greatest Disappearing Act of the Year – Where’s Micky?  Carnival’s Micky Arison disappeared when the cruise world was looking for a strong voice and reassurance following the Concordia disaster. He would not answer questions raised by families of the dead about the disaster. He said later that he would make certain that all of the Concordia passengers were taken care of. He didn’t honor that promise.

Arison did prove that he is a magician who can disappear in January when leadership was needed and magically re-appear at the end of the year to watch his Miami Heat play basketball and to pay himself a $90,000,000 bonus. The only person he took care of this year was himself.

No. 2 – "Coward of the Seas" a/k/a "Chicken of the Seas:" The country of Italy has an impressive maritime tradition which dates back centuries. But cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino did a good Francesco Schettino Cruise Ship Cowardjob of single handily ruining his country’s reputation on the night of January 13, 2012.

If you were asked to write a script for a cruise ship disaster movie, the Costa Concordia script would be rejected as being too outrageous. A handsome married captain is dining with a blonde cruise ship dancer and leaves his lover and glass of vino to ram the ship into the rocks during a showboating stunt only to delay evacuation and leave the passengers while sneaking off the ship like a rat?  But Schettino is not capable of shame, explaining that he didn’t really abandon ship but that he slipped and fell into a lifeboat. He later said that the "hand of God" touched him and he should be considered to be a hero for saving thousands of passengers and crew members from drowning. He also managed to file a lawsuit against Costa for wrongful termination. Stayed tuned. 

No. 1 – Costa Concordia & Cruise Line Lies: January started with a story about a cruise ship called the Costa Concordia, a name no one will forget for a long time. Do you remember where you were when the Concordia hit the rocks? The first image (top photo) I saw of the disaster was sent via Twitter by a blogger in the U.K.   When the first official communications from Costa were that evacuation was proceeding "orderly" and the passengers were "not at risk," but people on Twitter were talking about panicked passengers jumping into the water, I knew then that things were really screwed up. 32 dead people and thousands terrorized. Costa and the cruise industry want the public to believe that the disaster was due solely to one maverick captain run amuck. But the Concordia debacle reveals much about the unregulated nature of a cruise business with little regard for spending money on passenger and crew safety.

Costa Concordia It’s now almost a year later and the capsized ship remains lying on its side like a giant dead whale – a fitting image of a disastrous year.

2012 was also the year of the big lie – who told the biggest cruise ship whopper? Take your pick: "The Situation Is Under Control, Go Back To Your Cabin" says a Costa supervisor to panicked passenger who assembled on deck with their life vests ready to be evacuated. "I slipped and fell into the lifeboat" by Captain Francesco Schettino. Or "Cruising Is the Safest Form of Transportation" (as well as an endless number of other big fibs) by the shameless Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).

Thanks for Reading Cruise Law News (CLN): We enjoyed a record setting year, ending up by far the most popular maritime law blog in the world. This year over 1,200,000 people visited CLN and they read over 3,500,000 pages of CLN. I’d like to think that people read CLN because it lives up to the motto "everything the cruise lines don’t want you to know."

Happy New Year.  We hope we have less bad news to blog about in 2013.  If you are vacationing on the high seas next year, have a safe and enjoyable cruise.

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Photo Credit:

Richard Fain – Wall Street Journal Smart Money / by Jeffrey Salter / Redux

Mike & Ann Coriam / Disney Wonder – LA Times

Costa Concordia (bottom) – Reuters