I am fascinated regarding what travel writers and cruise experts write about these days.

Gene Sloan’s blog on USA Today called CruiseLog features a debate on which Royal Caribbean cruise ship is bigger, the new Allure of the Seas or the Oasis of the Seas.  I suppose comparing the gargantuan Excess of the Seas with the monstrous Indulgence of the Seas (with over 12,000 passengers and around 500,000 tons between the two of them) is a fair enough topic.  It is perfectly emblematic of the cruise industry’s grotesque view of environmental consciousness and sustainability.   

And a cruise blog in a U.K. newspaper, Captain Greybeard, by John Honeywell, focuses admiringly on the CEO of Royal Caribbean, Richard Fain, pocketing $6,000,000 after selling a small portion of his large Travel Writer - Cruise Writercruise stock portfolio. 

Neither of these popular travel blogs contain any insight into these stories.  For example, CEO Fain profited millions of dollars by slashing employees from the company’s payroll and terminating medical benefits for hundreds of injured and ill crew members.

Unfortunately, pandering to the cruise lines is a full time job for some travel writers and cruise bloggers. They do not want to offend their friends at the cruise lines who invite them on cruises for free.  Well, it is not really free, if you consider the is a quid pro quo – free cruises for free publicity.  

This is a subject I have touched upon before: 

Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News

Cruise Crime and the Indifference of Travel Writers

There are plenty of interesting issues affecting cruise passengers that these type of writers avoid at all costs.  For example, on Monday I wrote about a British passenger who became stuck in a Mexican hospital with a $125,000 bill after suffering a heart attack during a cruise on a Princess cruise ship.  Cruise lines like Princess have contractual arrangements with the local port agents and hospitals to take care of their crew members when they are ill.  If one of the Princess crew members had a heart attack, the cruise line would pay only a fraction of what the British passenger is facing.  Cruise lines and port hospitals look at sick passengers as profit centers. 

You will not see cruise writers cover a story like this or anything controversial.  They will write happy stories about big cruise ships and millionaire cruise executives.  But they will look the other way when a sick cruise passenger is saddled in debt and stuck in a Mexican hospital.  

I used to be a cruise line defense lawyer.

In 1996, I tried my last defense case, for Dolphin Cruise Lines.  The cruise line was sued by a crew member who slipped and fell on a wet floor of a photography room on the S/S Oceanbreeze.  He underwent back surgery and returned to his home country unemployable.  The crew member’s lawyer asked the jury to return a verdict of over $1,000,000.  But after a six day trial, the jury returned a defense verdict on the Jones Act, unseaworthiness and failure to provide medical treatment allegations in my client’s favor.

Defense lawyers are suppose to be happy when they win a case like this.  But when the jury returned to the courtroom and the foreperson smiled at me, I felt uneasy.  Yes, the cruise line’s Rock - Balance - Whistler - Canada head of risk management sitting next to me was ecstatic.  And the cruise line’s underwriters I reported to were pleased that I kept their money safe.

The defense verdict was upheld on appeal, with the appellate court writing an opinion which explained how effectively I cross examined the crew member and his fact and expert witnesses.  I was a zealous advocate for my client, no doubt.  I had soundly defeated the biggest name in Miami who represented crew members.

But I didn’t like the praise for winning the case.  This crew member deserved better.  His lawyers were unprepared and did, at best, a less-than-average job trying his case.  I understood that the verdict left the disabled crew member with nothing.  He had no means to support his wife or three children.  Sometimes I would awake in the still quiet of the night, wondering what I was doing.

One year later, I turned my cruise line cases back to the cruise line and its underwriters.  I opened my own law firm, advertising that I represented only people injured on cruise ships.  But I had no clients, not a single passenger or crew member to represent.

This was the most liberating feeling I have ever felt.

When I win cases today, I don’t have mixed feelings.  And I have never slept better.

I know that I’m on the right side of the fence – trying cases against lawyers who awake in the dead of the night wondering what the hell they are doing.

 

Photo Credit:

Jim Walker    Rock Balance – Whistler, Canada  August 2010

An article this morning caught my eye: "Newest and Biggest Cruise Ship: Oasis of the Seas." The article contains the usual "wow-look-how-big-it-is!" style of writing which is most typically associated with travel agents.  You know, those travel agents doubling as authors whose interest Miami Heraldin describing this monster-of-cruise-ship is hopelessly intertwined with obtaining commissions by selling cruises. 

Then I realized that the article (appearing in a Dallas newspaper) was written by Jane Wooldridge who is the business editor of the Miami Herald.

I have written about the Miami Herald and Ms. Wooldridge in several prior articles: Miami Herald: Asleep at the Wheel Regarding the Cruise Industry and Miami Herald – See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.

There have been an incredible number of newsworthy developments involving cruise lines over the past five years – missing passengers, high profile sexual assaults, endless pollution fines, fires, sinkings, and five Congressional hearings involving Miami based cruise lines. But the Miami Herald wouldn’t touch these stories.  It did not even report on the passage of the first cruise crime bill in the 40 history of the cruise industry. 

The Miami Herald’s writers never publish anything negative or controversial which might embarrass their cruise line friends.  Credible newspapers with real journalists are left to cover these legitimate stories – like the Los Angeles Times, the San Fransisco Chronicle, or the New York Times.

The Miami Herald sold out to the Miami-based  cruise industry long ago.  This latest article is just the same old cruise cheerleading that the Herald is known for.  Consider the gushing adjectives chosen in the description of the mega ship:  "wow … amazing . . . Oasis of the Seas - Monster of the Seasrevolutionary."  Can you imagine a business editor anywhere writing such drivel? The article contained quotes only from other cruise enthusiasts, travel agents and the cruise line’s CEO, Richard Fain. 

The spectacle of the Oasis of the Seas raises disturbing questions which I have mentioned in numerous articles. But you will find no hint of controversy in articles by Miami Herald employees who consistently write travel pieces designed to sell tickets for their cruise line advertisers.  

Is it just coincidence that the article uses the word "Wow" (caps in original), when the corporate mantra at  Royal Caribbean is "Deliver the Wow?"   

And the latest controversy of this Cloverfield-like-beast-of-cruise-ship sailing past the ruins of Haiti to the cruise line’s "private destination" of Labadee seems to many like corporate malfeasance on steroids.  But the Herald will look the other way.

See no evil.  Hear no evil.  Speak no evil.  The tradition of the Miami Herald continues.

 

Credits:

Newspaper vending machine        Daquella Manera Flickr Photostream 

Oasis of the Seas                       Kenneth Karsten via shipspotting.com

Cruise Law News was the first in the U.S. to report on the death of  Nina Elizabeth Nilssen in Antigua on January 19, 2010.  The story was then quickly picked up by our followers on Twitter, such as CruiseCritic and CruiseLog.

Stories about crimes against tourists in Caribbean ports, as sad as they may be, serve an important purpose.  Many people have a false sense of security when they go on a cruise for a vacation get-away or a romantic honeymoon.  But the fact of the matter is that unlike sailing to Alaska, there is an increasing amount of violent crime in the Caribbean ports of call.  We have written about this problem, and the cruise industry’s tendency not to warn passengers, in a prior article: "Crime in Caribbean Ports of Call Against Cruise Passengers."

Royal Clipper - Star Clippers - Passenger Death - AntiguaIn researching Ms. Nilssen’s death, I ran across an interesting blog written by Cynthia Boal Janssens who is one the bloggers on the cruise website All Things Cruise.  Ms. Janssens is described as a "veteran cruise writer who is also a former president of the Society of American Travel Writers."   

Ms. Janssens was one of the passengers traveling on the ill fated Royal Clipper cruise in the Caribbean.  She wrote an article which mentioned  the wonderful wedding of  Ms. Nilssen’s sister after the Royal Clipper sailed from Barbados. She described later taking a tender to the marina in Falmouth Harbour in Antigua.  She walked with her husband to the Pigeon Point beach where Star Clippers held a barbecue for lunch, followed by swimming and snorkeling from the beach. In her article "We Spend Tranquil Days in Antigua and St Kitts But Tragedy Upset Everyone," she commented:

Unfortunately, we learned this morning that a tragedy occurred late yesterday on Antigua and although I really don’t want to write about it, I feel I must. A passenger from our ship was found killed on the beach late in the day (not the part of beach that our group was on). The young woman had last been seen at 3:30 p.m. after being part of a snorkeling group. Of course, we do not know who perpetrated the crime and the ship was in no way connected to this reprehensible act.

Her family disembarked the ship that night and sailing was delayed by several hours. Word spread quickly through the ship yesterday morning about the crime although few specific details were known until later in the day. Just before dinner an announcement was made that a family had disembarked because one of their party was missing and asked that any passengers with information should report it to the police. Then we were asked for a moment of silence. All in our group felt that the ship’s officials should have been more forthcoming.

Nina Elizabeth Nilssen - Murder - AntiguaI think that this incident reinforces a fact of travel that we should never forget. That crime exists everywhere . . .

I was surprised  to read this because most travel writers tend to shy away from cruise horror stories.  Travel writers seem to double as travel agents or they don’t want to offend the cruise lines which give them free cruises.  I thought to myself that All Things Cruise had done its readers a real service.

The article touched upon a real human tragedy in a sensitive and respectful manner while adding a warning, which perhaps the cruise line failed to provide to Ms. Nilssen in the first place.

I downloaded her article and tacked it on the bulletin board in my home office. 

So when I clicked back on the All Things Cruise website this morning, I was disappointed to see that the article had been re-written.  And the title had been changed to "We Spend Tranquil Days in Antigua and St. Kitts."  There was no mention of Ms. Nilssen’s murder or any criticism of the ship’s officers. The "tragedy" disappeared.  It is as if the murder didn’t happen. 

A "tranquil" day in Antigua? 

Dear God. A young woman had just been murdered and her family devastated. "A tranquil day?"

I do not know Ms. Janssens.  She undoubtedly is a nice and caring person.  But why did her story change?  Did the cruise line ask her to change it?  Why did she decide that the story that she felt compelled to write and her warning to cruisers were no longer needed?  

The cruise industry’s reputation has taken a beating over the years. Cruise lines create the fantasy of care-free vacations and romantic honeymoons in order to sell tickets. But they lack transparency and candor when things go terribly wrong. Travel writers who ignore the murders, rapes, and violence in the Caribbean ports are not doing the cruise industry a favor.

And they are providing a grave disservice to the next unsuspecting family who decides to buy a cruise to the Caribbean. 

UPDATE (January 25, 2010 afternoon):

Ms. Janssens’ article has reappeared and is now entitled:  "We spend tranquil days in Antigua and St. Kitts but these are overshadowed by the murder onshore of one of our passengers." 

 

Credits:

Royal Clipper                 All Things Cruise

Police in Antigua          Antigua Sun  "Police Hunt for Killer"