Biscayne Bay PlotsThe safe operation of a cruise ship to and from the port of Miami depends in large part on someone who few cruise passengers will ever meet – a pilot from the Biscayne Bay Pilots.

Cruise ships, tankers and cargo ships are all piloted in and out of the narrow channel of Miami’s Government Cut by a highly trained and experienced "harbor pilot." Before the ship enters the port, a harbor pilot will board the ship by climbing up a ladder from the pilot boat onto the ship. The officer in charge of the ship’s navigation will then turn the command of the ship over to the pilot, who will use his familiarity with the unique characteristics of the port to safely bring the ship into (and later, out of) the port.

There is overwhelming pressure on the ship captains employed by the cruise lines to depart from and arrive at ports on time. The cruise lines pay bonuses to these captains for keeping their schedules. There are recent instances where the captains have been forced to imprudently take their cruise ships into dangerous sea conditions; a good example was reported by the Washington Post last year regarding Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas in an article titled 4,000-Passenger Cruise Ship Inexplicably Sails Into Atlantic Mega-Storm.  

The harbor pilots, whose rates are determined by state law and are not under the thumb of the cruise lines, are at the front line of keeping safety paramount over economic pressure.

The Miami-based cruise lines, through their trade association, the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association ("FCCA"), is nonetheless seeking to reduce the compensation to be paid to the Biscayne Bay Pilots Association for its services. 

The Florida Pilotage Rate Commission is holding a hearing this week on the FCCA’s petition to lower the rates paid to the pilot’s association. No other maritime ship owners or operators, like the bulk carriers or cargo ship owners, have objected to the pilot’s rates.

There appears to be no legitimate reason for the cruise lines to try and reduce the compensation paid to the local pilots.

There has been no rate increase for the pilots since 2002; the rates have remained flat or have trended downward over the last 15 years. In contrast, the billions of dollars in revenues collected by the cruise lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have increased substantially during this time period. Cruise lines enjoy a virtual tax-free status by incorporating their business in countries like Panama or Bermuda and flying foreign-flags of convenience. The compensation earned by each of the local pilots, in contrast, has decreased by $100,000 in the last 15 years. The pilot rates have not been adjusted to keep up with the consumer price index ("CPI"). Taking into account inflation, each local pilot has lost another $90,000 in real dollars, while the cruise lines have all substantially increased their profitability by billions of dollars.

Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Marine Operations William Baumgartner, testified on behalf of the FCCA. Admiral Baumgartner initially praised the pilots but quickly criticized everything about their services. He characterized the port of Miami as a "simple, safe and easy to access" port, particularly compared to other ports like New Orleans, Tampa, Bayonne or New York City, implying that the pilots’ jobs were easy. This argument was effectively rebutted by Stuart Lilly, Biscayne Bay pilot and past president of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association, who explained the difficulty of piloting Biscayne Bay Pilotsthe increasingly wide and deeper post-Panamax ships in and out of the narrow port of Miami channel which has not been widened since 1968. The channel into the busy port of Miami, with heavy traffic by pleasure boats, sail boats, work boats, fishing boats, ferries and oil tankers, is only around 500 feet wide, with tight turning basins, sometime called "malfunction junctions," (watch video here) in contrast to the channel in Bayonne, New Jersey with a width of around 2,000 feet.

The greatest risk is a cruise ship striking the hard rock side of the narrow channel at the port, similar to the Norwegian Dawn which ran aground near Bermuda in 2015 or the Costa Concordia which struck rocks near Giglio in 2012. A long, salvage effort similar to that involved in the Costa Concordia catastrophe would cause financial ruin to the port of Miami and the cruise industry.

The cruise lines also criticized the business model of the pilot association. The FCCA’s accounting expert criticized the fact that the pilots pay for "full insurance" for their employees as "unreasonable" and also labeled the retirement plan as "rich" and also called it "unreasonable." This was an ironic argument given that the cruise lines have all terminated the retirement plans of their crew members or have agreed to pay only a small pittance (a token amount of $5,000 to be paid after 10 years of 8-10 month contracts which few crew members will ever reach). Meeting the insurance and retirement needs of employees are honorable steps to take, and are actually grounds to increase the pilotage rates. There is also irony in the fact that the cruise executives of the of the larger lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, make around $10,000,000 a year each.       

A review of the schedule of ships which will be piloted into and out of the port of Miami tomorrow by the Biscayne Bay Pilots provides an insight into the vital services provided to the shipping commerce at the port. The pilots will be in command of three cruise ships into the port of Miami early tomorrow morning, the Norwegian Sky, Carnival Victory and Enchantment of the Seas between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. The pilots will then take these cruise ships out of the port late tomorrow afternoon between 4:00 P.M. and 5:00 P.M.

In addition to the cruise ships, the pilots will provide in-bound services to container ships MSC Antonella, Hansa Augsburg, Arsos, and Seaboard Patriot, the general cargo ships Tango III and Sara Regina, and the pallet carrier Betty K VII, as well as pilot the ro-ro ship San Gwann and the container ship Arian to and from the port.     

Due to economies of scale, the average pilotage rates per cruise passenger are minimal. The handling rate for the Norwegian Sky, for example, is only $1.16 per passenger.

The rate reduction which the FCCA is seeking for the cruise lines amounts to only $0.25 per passenger, which is a $1,800,000 discount to be spread amongst all of the cruise lines.       

The effect of this proposed reduction on the pilots will be disastrous. It will reduce the compensation to each pilot by $100,000, even though the pilot compensation has already decreased over the years and has not been adjusted for inflation for a decade and a half.  It will be well below the national compensation paid to pilots of equal experience and training (not the meager salaries of the foreign-flagged cruise ship captains) and will undercut the efforts of the pilots to attract skilled pilots to Miami who are needed to handle the increasingly complex ships calling here at the cruise ship capital of the world.     

My view: The cruise industry likes to demand control of everything, whether it is the taxes imposed by the state of Alaska for environmental protection and infrastructure, or the minimal head taxes of the poor Caribbean ports. It steals the tips intended from its powerless foreign crew members. And it nickels and dimes all of its passengers to collect every penny it can. When the industry acts badly, like Princess Cruises did leading to a $40,000,000 environmental fine last December, it just passes the fines on to its customers via higher fares. But when it comes to reasonably paying a group of highly skilled local pilots who are vital to the safe transit of cruise ships into and out of Miami, it shows its true penny-pinching colors.

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Photo credits:  Biscayne Bay Pilots Facebook page. 

Today, Univision Noticias and Columbia Journalism School published the results of four months of investigation which resulted in a major multi-media presentation titled Vacations In No Man’s Seas – "The billion-dollar cruise industry operates under the laws of the tax havens where it operates, making it one of the least regulated industries in the United States."  

The project is the result of the work of an alliance of journalists and students who tracked some 411 cruise ships around the world. The introduction to the project explains that "a team of reporters, graphic artists and video journalists from Univision News was in charge of analyzing and visualizing the data from Columbia University. They complemented the reporting and personal research with input Carnival Cruise Shipsfrom industry and legislative sources, as well as lawyers, cruise ship workers and passengers, all of whom tell their stories in this interactive article."

There are five chapters published in the presentation:

Chapter 1: Cruising, A Trip Far From U.S. Law (by Ronny Rojas & Maye Primera)  – "Three U.S. companies control 80 percent of the global cruising market. Their ships carry up to 18 million passengers per year around the world, under the legal jurisdiction of the tax havens where they are officially registered."  

Chapter 2: Crimes On Board: Investigation That Sink (by Patricia Clarembaux) – "Ships are cities with no police or 911 emergency hotlines. When a crime occurs, it’s the crew members who investigate and draw up the only available statistics."

Chapter 3: Sweatshops On The High Seas (by Damia S. Bonmati) – "Cruise ship employees work over 70 hours a week, with no rest days or paid vacations. If they suffer any mishaps, they are not protected under the United States justice system."

Chapter 4: Floating Cities With Less Regulations Than a Warship (by Alejandra Vargas M.) – "It’s estimated that a cruise passenger requires about 8.4 gallons of water a day, which then must be discarded because it’s contaminated by human waste."

Chapter 5: From Cruise Industry Investigation To To Executives (by Damia S. Bonmati) -c"The cruise industry has spent over $30 million in the last decade to influence lawmakers in Washington, particularly in fiscal and environmental matters. And high-ranking FBI and Coast Guard agents frequently ended up working for the industry they started out investigating."

This is a well documented presentation from a team of professionals, in a format not unlike the Panama Papers.  

Photo Credit: By Calyponte CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia

The cruise lines and the cruise industry’s trade organization, the Cruise Line International Organization ("CLIA"), spend many millions of dollars lobbying our U.S. Congress each year.

In 2015, CLIA spent $1,380,000 lobbying Congress. Carnival Corp. spent an additional $898,710, plus $80,000 on behalf of subsidiary Carnival Cruise Line and another $80,000 for subsidiary Holland America Line. Royal Caribbean Cruises spent $464,000 in donations to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. These figures are revealed by the OpenSecrets website

Cruise Lines Lobby CongressSince 1997, the cruise industry has spent over $52,000,000 lobbying Congress through 2014, according to cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein. Considering the $3,000,000 in 2015 and the $1,000,000 spent this year, the cruise industry has invested over $56,000,000 into the coffers of Congress. 

I familiarized myself with these donations after reading on Twitter that CLIA is publicizing its annual Congressional Cruise Caucus. This is an event sponsored by CLIA in Washington D.C. where CLIA, its partners and travel agents meet with Congressional leaders to network with Congressmen and Congresswomen and discuss policies which will advance the interests of the cruise lines.   

The cruise industry exists and thrives because of special policies which benefit no one but the billion dollar cruise lines:

  • Because of loopholes in the Federal tax code which excludes taxes income generated by foreign incorporated companies and foreign registered ships, cruise line pay virtually no federal taxes. Carnival Corp., for example, paid taxes of only 0.6 during a five year period
  • The cruise industry uses the infrastructure of U.S. ports, the resources of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection, U.S. Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Protection and another 20 U.S. agencies for free, although cruise lines pay virtually no U.S. taxes; 
  • The cruise industry does not comply with U.S. labor laws like minimum wage or overtime laws and works their ship employees well past a 40 hour work week because cruise line are incorporated in places like Panama (Carnival) or Liberia (Royal Caribbean). 

All of this special treatment exists because of the reluctance of our U.S. Congress to try and regulate the cruise industry.  The Congressional Cruise Caucus and the millions of dollars spent a year spent lobbying our Congressional leaders help the cruise industry grease the system. 

Photo Credit: Consumerist

China CruiseEvery day it seems that there is an article about another cruise line expanding into China.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that cruise lines are posting some of the strongest earnings in history with profits this year for Carnival more than quadrupling. Earnings at Norwegian grew 26% and Royal Caribbean earnings rose 20%. Much of these profits are coming from China. The cruise lines are all charging premium fares for the China market.

The cruises lines are all mercenaries, selling their cabins to the highest bidder. Why sail from New York or Miami if the Chinese will pay 50% more for the Quantum? These flags of convenience have no loyalty to the U.S.

MSC announced that the Lirica will home port in Shanghai from May 2016. Princess is already over there, of course. Royal Caribbean seems to be taking the lead in China. Next year the Ovation of the Seas will be joining the Quantum of the Seas in China. together with the Mariner of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Legend of the Seas.   

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, whose cruise line is also making a play for China, and Adam Goldstein, COO at Royal Caribbean, are headlining the 10th China Cruise Shipping show in two weeks. 

All the cruise executives want to talk about is China.

China, China, China.

The China frenzy reminds me, in a way, of the Donald Trumph campaign.  He can’t say a sentence without mentioning China. 

And yes, the Chinese are pretty weird passengers, as you can read here and here.  

 

Cruise Industry Financial InformationA reporter for the Marketplace interviewed me yesterday regarding the state of the cruise industry.

I explained that compared to a year or two ago, the general perception of cruise lines is up. More than 23,000,000 passengers will cruise this year. Bigger and bigger cruise ships are being constructed. Travel agents seem more energized than before and appear to have lost their funk brought about by the Costa Concordia and Triumph "poop cruise" disasters.

Industry leader Carnival Corporation, with over 100 cruise ships in its multi-brand fleet, is reaping the rewards of hiring Arnold Donald with his dynamic and charismatic style of leadership.    

Cruise fares are up, prices for excursions and alcohol are up while the cruise CEO’s are driving costs down.  

On the other side of the coin, critics say that the same-old-problems remain in the industry. Last week the Freedom of the Sea erupted in flames and literally burned from bottom of the ship to deck 15. Royal Caribbean tried to down-play the fire, but YouTube videos and photos posted on Facebook and Twitter showed that the fire was indeed dangerous and that the cruise lines still suffer from a lack of transparency that has tarnished the industry for years. Our friend and former Royal Caribbean cook Kevin Chamber’s video of the ship on fire has been viewed well over a million times.  

Crew members and passengers tell me that contractors aboard the Freedom of the Seas were installing a scrubber system when the fire erupted. The captain of the ship says that the cruise line will disclose why the fire broke out, which the suits at Royal Caribbean’s headquarters in Miami will never do. Its been over two years since the Grandeur of the Seas ignited near the Bahamas and the cruise line still refuses to tell the public what happened. The Freedom of the Seas fire will become just another mystery where the cruise line will keep its customers in the dark.

Just a couple of days ago, the Safari Voyager also erupted in flames in Seattle, due to welding operations. Welding at sea rather than in dry-dock is one of the risks of cruising and only one of many dangers that the cruise industry won’t tell you.

Today, the Professional Mariner published an article titled "U.S. Coast Guard cites loose bolts, escape-route issues in fatal fire" about a Coast Guard marine safety alert regarding the deadly fire aboard the Oceania Insignia where three crew members perished when the cruise ship ignited in port at St. Lucia last December.       

This week two crew members were seriously injured when a rescue boat was being lowered from the NCL Pride of America in Hawaii when the cables broke. 

In just the last couple of months, passengers and crew members disappeared from Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Costa, MSC, NCL and HAL cruise ships. Yet, the industry as a whole still refuses to invest in automatic man overboard technology.

Sexual assaults at sea still occur with alarming frequency. In the last month, the news mentioned a passenger and a crew member assaulting women on Celebrity cruise ships in separate incidents. A sexual predator employed by Disney Cruises was recently sentenced to  over 5 years after pleading guilty to molesting a 13 year old passenger on the Disney Dream.   

Four months ago, twenty-two cruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ship were murdered by terrorists in Tunis, after these cruise lines sailed them into danger without a single warning.  The specter of ISIS terror remains a dark cloud over cruise ships which risk proceeding along itineraries across North Africa.  

Cruise Ship Fire - Royal CaribbeanBut the 40 billion-dollar-a-year cruise industry is rich and powerful. As a result of incorporating its businesses in place like Liberia or Panama and registering its ships in third world countries like the Bahamas, cruise lines avoid U.S. taxes and can pay their crew members peanuts. The industry has a huge advantage over U.S. resorts and hotels. It’s cheaper to sail on a Carnival cruise out of Galveston than it is to stay in a Motel 6. 

That’s why Royal Caribbean’s stock price was largely unaffected after the Freedom of the Seas burned last week. CNBC’s Simon Hobbs reported that as long as propulsion is not lost and passengers are not stranded at sea, a cruise ship fire is "not material for investors."  Mr. Hobbs is right about that, it seems. That’s probably why the cruise executives decided not to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s recommended Safety of Life at Sea regulations, which require a post-fire investigation and survey, but instead chose to keep the cruise ship sailing on to the Caymans and Mexico. 

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Charlie CharlieThis weekend I read an article in a Bahamian newspaper (the Guardian) about – are you ready for this? – a "homosexual Mexican demon" called "Charlie" who the teachers in the Bahamas were concerned with. Kids in the schools in Nassau were apparently playing a game with paper and a couple of pencils where they would summons the so-called "demon" out by asking "Charlie, Charlie can we play?"

"Charlie" sounds like a variation of the ouija board game that my brother, sister and I used to play in the 1960s, when were little kids. We would turn the lights out in our bedroom and pull out the silly game from under the bed. We would quickly whip ourselves in a childlike frenzy of fear and become hysterical with nervous laughter. My Mom disapproved of the game but never made a big deal about it. The ouija board fad lasted about a month and we soon lost interest in the Parker Brothers game. Our ouija board quickly found itself out in our garage and then in our dumpster by the street.

That was fifty years ago. But things are different in the Bahamas today. 

The Bahamian school administrators responded to the "Charlie" game by summonsing 20 local clergy members to pray for the students and try and remove the evil "demon" from the premises. The Minister of Education even became involved and told the Tribune newspaper: "It should be regarded as serious. When dealing with supernatural things, I can’t explain it, but I don’t want our kinds to be exposed to anything supernatural that causes problems. It’s difficult to explain but we don’t know the extent to which this could impact our children so I wouldn’t sanction it."  

As a general proposition, a signifigant portion of Bahamians are superstitious. Having been raised in Arkansas Ouija Boardand the Mississippi Delta, I’m used to people with a propensity to proselytize and try to scare you with images of evil monsters. I’ve encountered more than my share of desperate bible-thumpers, preaching snake-handlers and speaking-in-tongue charismatic "Christians" who are happy to save your soul in return for a check.

But the Bahamas’ reaction to "Charlie" is completely over-the-top. The phenomenon is not unique to the Bahamas but the preachers there turned the "Charlie" demon not only into a Mexican devil but a hated and despised gay one at that. 

On Saturday, I posted the Nassau Guardian article on Facebook with my tongue-in-cheek comment: "The Bahamas officially lost its marbles." I also posted a photo of a stereotypical gay-appearing Latin man in a red outfit wearing horns and a pitchfork. By Sunday, my Facebook page had hundreds of hateful comments from angry Bahamians. 

Deon Deveaux posted that I am "gay and a demon."

Jason Neil Roberts called me a slave owner. He lectured me that the Bible teaches that "homosexuality is a demonic, foul, wicked, diabolical spirit." He questioned whether I was a "proponent of what caused Sodom and Gomorrah to be wiped out?"

"Yolanda" left these comments to an earlier article: "You people still bad mouthing my country! Hell with da likes of you! Charlie CharlieMay Satan make your wheels fall off as you drive! Mr. Walker, may your family die of cancer! Hope to God your mother and father are dead! I dream your eyes lose sight of all da is! When you fall asleep tonight may you never awaken again! You are da child of da Devil! May your seed never produce! If they have already, may they lay dead to the side of the road! Mr. Walker, "IT IS BETTER IN DA BAHAMAS"

The other comments were more of the same. 

I have a profound interest in the Bahamas, particularly Nassau. I want to know everything I can about it’s history, culture, politics and religion. Over 1,100 ships are registered in Nassau in order to avoid U.S. taxes, wage and labor laws, and health and safety laws. Many Miami-based cruise ships fly the flag of the Bahamas as a "flag of convenience" in order to avoid the oversight of the U.S. government. 

A result of the Bahamian flag of convenience is that the Bahamas is suppose to investigate and prosecute crimes on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships. So I read the Bahamas Tribune, Nassau Guardian, Bahamas Press and Bahamas Weekly every single day. I want to understand how Bahamians think. Will Nassau be a fair place for a trial if a woman is raped? How will a jury of Bahamians treat a member of the LGBT community? How will the Bahamian legal system treat a U.S. citizen?  

I have traveled to the Bahamas since the 1970’s to the present day. I have interacted with taxi cab drivers, store owners, hotel clerks, restaurant operators, bartenders, court bailiffs, police and the like. My conclusion? The country is going backwards. Crime is out of control. A RBPF policeman is afraid Crime Bahamasto apprehend gang members with guns. The legal system is a joke and criminals are quickly released from custody. If you are homosexual, or not from the Bahamas, you can’t obtain a fair trial in Nassau in a million years.

If you’re a victim of crime on a cruise ship flying a Bahamian flag, no one from the Bahamas will show up. When a Bahamian police officer gets involved, he is there to protect the interests of the flag state and not the victim, even if the victim is a child. Over the last 30 years, I know not a single case where the Bahamas successfully prosecuted a violent crime on a cruise ship.

There is a deeply rooted notion in the Bahamas that the country is blessed. The 1970’s marketing slogan that "It’s Better in the Bahamas" is interwoven with the provincial and self-righteous thought that God provides special protection to the islands. But it is a judgmental, condemning, fire-and-brimstone God of wrath that the Bahamians seem to pray to, from behind their burglar bars, as the murder rate increases to over seven times higher in the Bahamas than the U.S. Bahamians are killing Bahamians, and an occasional tourist, in unprecedented numbers. There have been eight critical crime warnings about Nassau from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy and the U.K. and Canadian consulates in just the last 17 months. 

The only industry in the Bahamas is tourism. But if If you have a difference of opinion with a Bahamian, be prepared to be labeled a gay demon. If you’re a passenger raped on a Bahamian-flagged cruise ship or shot on a sailboat or robbed on Bay Street and need to be protected by the Bahamian police or in a Bahamian courtroom, God help you.  

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

Photo Credits: Charlie, Charlie and Ouija Board – Hello Giggles; Devil – el infierno en Costa Rica blog.

Nassau BahamasThree Shots In Just 12 Hours reads the headlines in the Tribune newspaper today. Other articles in the local newspapers in Nassau include Tourist: I was Victim of Sex Attack by Jet Ski Operators.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau has issued a warning to U.S. citizens of the danger of women (including girls) being sexually assaulted by jet ski operators on Paradise Island near the Atlantis resort.  

The murder count in the Bahamas just reached 106 for the year and is rising. Last year 111 people were murdered there. The body count will exceed that number this month. The vast majority of the homicides involved local citizens and occurred in Nassau (New Providence) with a population of only 250,000.  By contrast Miami-Dade County has a total population of 5,500,000 with only 229 murders (Miami-Dade has twenty-two times as many people and only twice as many murders as Nassau).

Compounding the problem is the inability of the local police in the Bahamas to solve these crimes and prosecute the criminals. The same police officers who can’t solve a crime when a U.S. tourist is robbed at gunpoint in downtown Nassau are often tasked with investigating crimes on Bahamian-flagged cruise ships.

Cruise lines like Carnival, Disney, NCL and Royal Caribbean register many of their cruise ships in Nassau to avoid U.S. taxes, labor laws and safety regulations. By flying "flags of convenience," the Miami-based cruise ships divest the U.S. authorities  from law enforcement duties. In cases where U.S. citizens are victims, the FBI has special maritime jurisdiction and are permitted to become involved (although the FBI rarely does).

But when the victim is not a U.S. citizen (over 95% of the crew are not) the FBI has no jurisdiction and the responsibility to investigate crime on Bahamian-flagged ship falls to the Bahamas. 

This is, of course, an absolute joke. There are well over a thousand ships registered in the Bahamas, including not only cruise ships but tankers, bulk carriers, and cargo ships of all types. Does anyone really think that the local police in Nassau have the interest or resources to fly to Bahamian cruise Bahamas Flag of Convenienceships around the world and solve crimes when they can’t solve a crime when a tourist is assaulted in front of their own police station?

I have never heard of the police in Nassau ever solving a single crime on a Bahamian-flagged cruise ship.  But if you are a crew member from the Philippines assaulted by another crew member from Central America, it’s the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) who has jurisdiction. The BMA won’t do anything but may (but usually not) delegate responsibility to the Nassau police. The local police, in turn, will simply not show up.

Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship, the Quantum of the Seas, has dominated the news as of late. There’s endless news about all of the technological marvels on the ship. But Royal Caribbean registered the ship in crime-infested Nassau.  When the first violent crime occurs on the Quantum, don’t expect anyone from the Bahamas to show up and investigate.

 

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

Don’t forget to read: An "Outlaw Industry" Watched By "Paper Tigers"

Photo Credit:  Tim Clarke / Tribune

The U.S. Coast Guard made a remarkable statement during the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conference in March regarding passenger safety aboard cruise ships.

It said that it targets cruise ships with a history of safety problems. That’s a good idea, of course. But the NTSB failed to ask the Coast Guard a simple follow-up question – what cruise line(s) and what cruise ships have demonstrated a pattern of poor maintenance and safety concerns?

The Coast Guard didn’t point the finger at any particular cruise line and the NTSB didn’t ask the question that the public needed to know. 

Allure of the Seas Life BoatMy thought is that the NTSB didn’t want to embarrass the cruise lines who organized the conference. This reveals one of the major problems inherent in cruising. The federal agencies which are suppose to be watchdogs of cruise safety are in bed with the cruise lines. 

In response to this situation, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. asking that that inspection reports be made available to the public over the Internet. 

The senators wrote “ . . . we respectfully request that the records and results of the unannounced inspections be made public and easily available over the Internet for prospective cruise passengers to peruse before booking a trip.”

The senators added:

“We agree it is strategic of the Coast Guard to target ships and vessels that have a pattern or history of safety problems, but we further expect that consumers should also be privy to the insights and patterns that the Coast Guard already knows, in addition to the ones it discovers in the future. Furthermore, the Coast Guard does a disservice to the public when it shields from consumers the identity of cruise ships and lines that have a pattern of noncompliance.”

No response from the Coast Guard so far.

Cruise fan sites rushed to Carnival’s defense following the CNN special on the Triumph fire.

CNN cited maintenance records and advisory notices showing one of the generators on the cruise ship was poorly maintained and lacked the recommended spray guards to prevent ruptured fuel lines from igniting. The documents revealed a ship not in compliance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) recommendations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

But cruise fan sites, primarily Cruise Critic and the increasingly popular Cruise Currents (formerly Mikey’s Blog), cited documents which Carnival leaked to the press suggesting that the cruise line was in compliance with SOLAS. 

Carnival Splendor Fire You can see documents provided to cruise-friendly Cruise Currents here.

Cruise Critic quoted Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen saying that the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the Carnival Triumph days before the February 7th sailing and allegedly found it to be in compliance with all SOLAS requirements.

"The ship would not be allowed to sail if it were not in compliance with SOLAS requirements," Gulliksen said.

But this is where Carnival’s argument falls apart.

The Coast Guard also inspected the Carnival Splendor a few days before it caught fire in November 2010. Remember a U.S. aircraft carrier had to sail to the scene and drop food from helicopters to the stranded passengers? The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard spent millions attending to the sticken ship before it was towed back to the U.S.  

Does the fact that the Coast Guard inspected the Splendor and permitted it to sail mean that the cruise ship was seaworthy and in compliance with SOLAS? Hardly. The Coast Guard investigated the Splendor and prepared a scathing report of its many SOLAS violations and deficiencies.

One of the Carnival ship’s large diesel engines sustained a catastrophic failure with the rods and pistons cracking and exploding out of the engine which permitted lube oil and fuel oil to ignite. The post-fire investigation conducted by the Coast Guard revealed that the pistons sustained long term metal fatigue which was not checked due to an absence of appropriate maintenance and record keeping by Carnival. Other parts of the engine showed severe, advanced corrosion reflective of an absence of regular inspection and maintenance. 

Although the Coast Guard was critical of Carnival’s neglect in inspecting and maintaining the engine which failed, it should be pointed out that the Coast Guard conducted an annual Control Verification Exam on November 7, 2010 and passed the vessel. What an embarrassment for the Coast Guard to have inspected the cruise ship right before the fire and permitted it to sail with passengers.

The root of the problems with the Splendor and the Triumph is that the inspections conducted by the flag and port states of these poorly maintained ships were inadequate.

The port state (where the ship is registered, like Panama or the Bahamas) is indifferent and incompetent. The reason why foreign corporations like Carnival flag their ships like the Triumph in places like the Bahamas is that it knows that the Bahamas will leave it alone. The business model of the Carnival’s of the world is to avoid all U.S.taxes, wage and labor laws, and health and safety laws. A poop cruise is the result.

Yes, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts inspections sometimes when the cruise ships are in U.S. ports, but these "port state" inspections are hardly vigorous. The Coast Guard is facing a budgetary crisis and is grossly under-funded. They need a small army to perform a thorough inspection during the short time a single cruise ship is in a U.S. port. There are sometimes nearly a dozen ships in port over a weekend. The ships are huge of course. Coast Guard inspections are skimpy and are at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspections.   

The cruise industry is extremely wealthy, but the cruise lines don’t pay U.S. income taxes. There is simply not enough money in the U.S. budget to hire a sufficient number of Coast Guard inspectors to check on the every-increasingly large fleet of cruise ships.

As matters now stand, the U.S. spends many millions for Coast Guard and Navy services when the foreign-flagged cruise ships break down due to a lack of maintenance.

 

Photo Credit: cntraveler.com

Last week, I received a tip about the Saga Ruby cruise ship (ex – Vistafjord), which is on her last cruise for Saga to the Caribbean from Southampton, that the ship is stranded in Canary Islands due to generator problems.

I had mentioned that the old cruise ship is already apparently sold to Chinese investors and is under International Shipping Partner management. 

The following day, Cruise Critic carried the story which contained what I thought was some rather interesting information. 

Cruise Critic confirmed that there as a "faulty generator" affecting the ship’s air conditioning system.

Rather than try and sail over to the Caribbean, Saga announced that the cruise ship will sail in the Mediterranean, where it can operate without air conditioning. 

Cruise Critic quoted a Saga spokesperson, "It was discovered that one of the six generators could not operate properly without a part that needed to be manufactured." Because the air conditioning needs to run at full capacity in the Caribbean, "The Captain decided that for passenger comfort, it would be better to change the itinerary."

That’s interesting, a busted generator and they are not even going to spend the money to fix it. 

Of the 557 passengers onboard, around 30 returned to the U.K. and will receive a full refund. Those remaining onboard will receive a 40-percent refund.

As we previously reported, the cruise, which departed from Southampton on December 7th, is the ship’s last sailing. 

Saga promised a wonderful time for the passengers who remained.

One knowledgeable maritime expert commented on the situation on my Facebook page: "Good God . . . is this thing still running??? I piloted her 20 years ago and thought she was an old bag of bolts back then. Truly revealing how some owners will literally milk the death out of a ship until she earns her last penny!"  

Saga Ruby

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Holger.Ellgaard