The cruise industry is trying to put the bad news behind it. Cruise lines are announcing more and more cruise ships coming on line. The industry is moving into the Chinese market with great fanfare. Today Carnival said that it is ready to start cruising from Cuba. Travel agents and reporters are faithfully reporting the positive stories and trying to add to the excitement.
But there is a steady stream of bad news that simply won’t go away.
A couple of days ago, a NCL crew member went overboard from the Sun but the ship security didn’t know about the missing crew member for 13 hours and never bothered to turn the ship around for a search and rescue. The Coast Guard shut the search down before the public knew what happened,
Australian television just broadcast a special insight into the cruise industry titled "Murky Water: The Dark Side of the Cruise Industry," which looked at a part of cruising that many people may be disturbed to learn – sexual assaults, drugs, excessive alcohol and the loss of passengers overboard. An Australian newspaper reported, just today, that "most incidents on cruises go unreported because victims fear their attackers may throw them overboard. Crew members who fall victim also face the threat of losing their job if they complain. It is estimated that one person goes overboard on a cruise ship every two weeks . . . "
This year, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of an U.S. woman who was brutally attacked on a HAL cruise ship in the Caribbean. The room service attendant beat, choke and raped the women in her cabin over an incredibly violent 45 minute period of time and then tried to thrown her overboard. The danger of permitting male cruise employees to use master keys have proven to be an irresponsible and dangerous practice over the years, Another service employee pleased guilty this year to using his master key to open a woman’s cabin door at night and sexually assault her on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Quantum of the Seas.
But all the while, the cruise industry markets itself as safe and responsible. Its a shame that the marketing and lobbying association of the cruise industry, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), is also the part of the industry that interacts with the Federal agencies responsible for enforcing the few laws that relate to passenger safety issues.
Mark Brimble, president of the Australian chapter of the International Cruise Victims, recently told a victimology conference: "The cruise industry is cleaning up its image but it may not necessarily be cleaning up its act."
The Security Management publication in an article titled Safety at Sea by Holly Gilbert Stowell, explained today how the U.S. Coast Guard has permitted the cruise lines to slide on their legal requirement to install effective automatic man overboard systems. At a bureaucratic level in Washington D.C., the Coast Guard seems more motivated in keeping the cruise lines happy than saving lives at sea.
The article said that there are "two wildly different pictures of crime statistics are painted by cruise lines and by industry critics. For example, in 2011, victims reported 563 incidents of crime aboard cruise ships. But cruise line websites only documented 102 of those crimes" according to cruise expert Professor Ross Klein who obtained the FBI data under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request."
The article also quoted me explaining that the FBI ". . . may be great at dealing with white collar crime but they’ll just say that they’re not interested in getting themselves involved in bar fights and people smashing each other with beer bottles or women who are raped."
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut met today with the family of George Smith who disappeared from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas ten years ago. Senator Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts have proposed legislation mandating the use of safety technology and man-overboard detection that could have prevented Mr. Smith’s disappearance.
But the cruise lines have done little over the past decade to improve passenger safety. The cruise industry reminds me of an addict in denial and unable (unwilling) get past step one in a twelve step recovery program. Passengers and crew members will continue to disappear at sea as the Coast Guard and cruise lines work together to dismantle the man overboard system legal requirements. The Coast Guard will continue to posture for cozy jobs with the cruise lines and its lobbying organization. Lives which could be saved will be lost
The cruise industry has wasted the last decade. It could have agreed to real changes, fully implemented the man overboard technology, and put the issue behind it. But it resisted change, taken the easy cuts and engaged in a massive PR game. The cruise lines have proven once again to be more determined to overcome a bad image than to learn from their bad conduct.