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 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.
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