Yesterday, Carnival announced its new cruise brand, "fathom" (no capitalization), at a press conference in New York City. It said that the one-ship brand has an "unique business model for sustained impact and lasting development" with a "global vision that reaches beyond what the world has ever seen."

Carnival claims that "fathom" will focus on "education, the environment and economic development" in its ports in certain third world countries where it sails. Bloomberg explains that Carnival is targeting customers who want to "save the world while sailing the seas."

Before the press conference, Carnival greased the wheels of the promotion of its "first voluntourism Fathom Cruise Linecruise line" by distributing glossy photographs of models / faux-cruise-passengers pretending to help local farmers in the Caribbean. The travel and cruise publications reprinted Carnival’s images and talking points hook, line and sinker.

Convincing people other than travel agents and Carnival’s hardcore fans that this is a genuine and charitable project will prove to be far more challenging. 

Cruising in general and Carnival in particular are not remotely associated with sustainability or environmentalism, and with good reason.

The group Friends of the Earth recently protested Carnival’s shoddy environmental practices at the cruise convention Cruise Shipping Miami. The group presented Carnival’s new CEO Arnold Donald with over 100,000 signatures demanding that the cruise line update its 35 year old wastewater treatment practices. Carnival refuses to install Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems on its cruise ships. It dumps disgusting amounts of sewage into the oceans. In 2014, Carnival received a "F" grade for its sewage treatment practices and a "D" for air pollution reduction. 

Avoiding environmental regulations is a fundamental part of the cruise line’s business model since Carnival was incorporated in Panama in the early 1970’s. The company incorporated outside of the U.S. and flies "flags of convenience" of countries like the Bahamas on its cruise ship in order to avoid all U.S. taxes and wage & labor laws and most safety regulations. 

Carnival also has a history of grossly underpaying and overworking its crew members. When CEO Donald joined Carnival, one of the first things he did was cancel the crew’s meager retirement program. This is a cruise line that fired 150 Indian waiters who protested low wages and found themselves black-balled from the cruise industry.  

Carnival will use one of the oldest cruise ships it owns, the M/V Adonia, which is part of the P&O Cruises brand, as the flagship of the "fathom" brand. The Adonia used to be operated by Renaissance Cruises and Princess and has been registered in flag-of-convenience countries like Liberia, the Marshall islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda since it was built in 2001. It’s a bunker-fuel burning and smoke-belching ship in the true cruise tradition of Carnival.

Here’s what people are saying on our Facebook page

  • "A big pile of Carnival corporation lip service meant to deflect attention from the environmental nightmare that was the Concordia."
  • I better book so I can have a "Social Conscience."
  • "Socially conscience and financially (unconscionable) which is the only way that boat will float…. It’s embarrassing that I still cruise Carnival . . ."
  • "CCL has tapped out the EBT Card market, let’s go after the church’s mission money! But we take out cut off the top. BRILLIANT!" 
  • "It will fail, (not) enough people will pony up $1500 to feel good about Carnival pretending to have a social conscience. Let’s see them put scrubbers on their ships first."

This is strictly a for-profit cruise with a weeklong trip in a cabin with a window will cost a small fortune, $3,220 for two (more for a balcony) plus gratuities.  

There are lots of church organizations and non-profits that have a demonstrated, genuine commitment to the poor in the Caribbean and Central America.

The first stop for the "fathom" cruise line will be Carnival’s private development in the Dominican Republic, Amber Cove, where the "save the world" cruisers can buy made-in-China souvenirs sold by Carnival.

Is this a money-making scam targeting U.S. passengers feeling guilty for choosing to vacation in the least socially and environmentally way possible?  It’s a lot cheaper and more effective to fly down on your own to Santo Domingo and work with local charities if you really want to help the poor. But I’ll let your conscience decide that for you.  

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

June 17 2015 Update: Travel Mole weighs in on the issue: "Big questions over Carnival’s venture into voluntourism."

Photo Credit: Fake passengers – "fathom" via Cruise Critic