A violent brawl broke out on P&O’s Britannia last night as the ship was sailing from Bergen, Norway to Southampton.  A Chief Correspondent of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Richard Gaisford, tweeted about the melee which occurred as the Britannia cruise ship was returning to the UK following a one week cruise to ports in Norway. The cruise was advertised as the “7 Night Norwegian Fjords” cruise.

The Daily Mail reported that nine passengers were injured during the violence which erupted after a booze-fuelled patriotic event on board the cruise ship. The Telegraph reported that families on the cruise were “forced to flee to their cabins or hide as apparently drunken passengers hurled furniture and plates at one another as a buffet descended into violence.”

Brawls on cruise ships are hardly rare. The vast majority of these brawls occur on Carnival owned cruise ships (P&O is a Carnival Corp. brand).  There are clear reasons for this problem, in my opinion:

The “wider audience:” Cruising is now more popular than ever. The cruise line’s trade organization, CLIA, says that over 30 million passengers will take a cruise this year.  Cheaper fares have attracted what Carnival Corporation chairmen Micky Arison characterizes as the “wider audience.” Nine years ago in an article titled Cruise Ship Brawls – A Problem that Will Get Bigger with Bigger Ships, I wrote about cruise executive Arison discussing potential issues associated with cheap cruise tickets and a more diverse group of passengers.

Arison said: “cruise ships are a microcosm of any city or any location and stuff happens . . . The negatives of discounting might be less commission for agents and less revenue for us but the positive is it opens up the product to a wider audience.” I mentioned that the “wider audience” will undoubtedly include a younger crowd from a different demographic, including what I call the hard partying “Bud Light – tank top” crowd.

Too much alcohol on increasingly gigantic ships: Cruise lines aren’t profitable based solely on their cruise fares. Of all “onboard purchases,” including casino sales, shore excursions, specialty restaurants and gift shops, alcohol sales are the key to keeping the tax-free foreign flagged cruise ships profitable.  Pushing alcohol sales are a key part of cruising on certain mass market cruise lines.

Cruise lines make hundreds of millions of tax-free dollars a year selling booze. Bartenders, who make a earning solely on gratuities and tips, are often prone to over-serve guests.

Ill trained and and insufficient number of security guards: A common complaint we hear from passengers is that ship security does not intervene at an early stage to stop potentially violent situations from escalating and getting out of hand. The cruise line typically claim that their security guards are “highly trained,” but all too often the security personnel and ship officers are filmed kicking and beating passengers (or they are preoccupied with trying to stop passengers from filming the out of control violence). Take a look at Top 5 Brawls on Carnival’s Fun Ships via YouTube.

Nine years ago, I asked how Carnival owned cruise ship (the Britannia is owned by Carnival Corp.) will handle the “wider audience” flocking onto its larger cruise ships. If cruise ships are like cities and “stuff happens,” as Carnival’s Arison rightfully suggests, what steps are cruise lines taking to protect their guests? Will the cruise lines will ever hire a full complement of well trained and experienced security guards? Or will they continue to try and save money with only a few inexperienced “guards” trying to protect their guests from the inevitable violence when thousands of people squeeze into the huge ships and far too much booze is added to the mess?

The BBC reports that six people suffered injuries. Two other guests, a 43-year-old man and 41-year-old woman, both of Chigwell, Essex, were arrested on suspicion of assault on the Britannia and are currently in police custody.

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Update: Over a decade ago, U.K cruise expert Jane Archer wrote Cruising: When Louts Waive the Rules (“P&O’s plan to attract new passengers to its new ship seems to have backfired . . .  A few said that they had a wonderful holiday and wondered what all the fuss was about, but most of the comments do not make happy reading.”)

Photo credit: Britannia – photographed by Brian Burnell uploaded to Commons by George Hutchinson, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.