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 inconvenience 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.