A man from Tennessee was "stunned" when a company calling itself "Royal Seas Cruises" initially refused to refund his cruise to the Bahamas after his wife unexpectedly died. 

A news station in Knoxville reports that Bob Mackay and his wife Bonnie had paid for a cruise but his wife died shortly before they could go on the trip. 

As WATE explains, Bob was devasted when Bonnie died on June 26th. He called Royal Seas a few days after the funeral, asking for a refund of their cruise.  

“They told me that they would not cancel it. That I could sell it. Or if I found another girlfriend, I could use it and take her,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I really don’t want to go on a cruise without my wife . . . ”

Bob requested to speak to the service representative’s supervisor who reportedly "had no interest in giving me a refund whatsoever,” notwithstanding Royal Seas’ claim that its "customer service is second to none."

But after an "on your side" reporter contacted Royal Seas, the cruise line quickly agreed to issue a full refund.

Free Cruise Scam?

Royal Sea Cruises is actually not a cruise line but a vacation marketing company which sells cruises on the Grand Celebration which many passengers have complained is part of a "free cruise" scam.

The Better Business Bureau rates Royal Seas Cruise a "D-." It writes that its files contain "a pattern of complaints from consumers that allege they were contacted by Royal Seas Cruises informing them they won a ‘free’ cruise; however when they tried to redeem the free cruise they were informed of undisclosed fees and the requirement of attending a time share presentation. Consumers informed BBB they cancelled the cruise and requested a refund but they did not receive a refund from Royal Seas Cruises. Some consumers allege receiving unwanted phone calls from Royal Seas Cruises and requested to be removed from the company’s call list but they still continue to receive calls." 

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Carnival Cruise Line is hiking its gratuity charge by nearly 8 percent, according to an article in Travel Agent Central today. The charge will rise to $12.95 per person, per day for passengers in most cabins, or $13.95 per person, per day for passengers staying in suites, effective September 1, 2016. There is a question posed on the comments section of the article: "does the charge actually go to the staff as a tip? or is it just a fare increase?" The question remain unanswered.    

Carnival said that passengers can lock in the current gratuity rate by pre-paying before Monday, May9, 2016.Carnival Pre-Paid Gratuity Removed

The gratuity charge, which crew members tell me does not all go to the crew members but is diverted to pay salaries or is considered revenue (profit) for the cruise line, is only a suggested amount. Carnival says that passengers can adjust it, or remove it entirely, by visiting the Guest Services desk while onboard the cruise ship.

You can read the Carnival tipping policy here.

Earlier this week, a Facebook page called "Complaining Crewship" complained that Carnival passengers were not paying tips and posted about 30 pages of photographed pages showing the names and cabin numbers of Carnival passengers (from an unidentified ship) who had their prepaid tips removed. There were hundreds and hundreds of passengers who removed their tips. Some of these people may have removed the pre-paid gratuities and paid cash but I was left with an unpleasant feeling that they were largely stiffing the crew.

I then shared the posting and photos on my Facebook page and started a discussion regarding the problem of passengers not tipping the crew members.  A firestorm of controversy then erupted. Some passengers did not like the fact that the names of passengers who removed the tips were revealed. Others expressed their feelings that it was outrageous that many people refused to pay any tips to the hardworking crew members.

Some readers seemed not to care at all about the crew and seemed concerned only with protecting the identity of those removing the tips. I guess the power of Wikileaks, Julian Assage and the Panama Papers escapes them. Several people complained to John Heald, the Carnival head cruise director and blogger at Carnival, about the release of confidential data. Others may have complained to Facebook about the "Complaining Crew ship" page, which may have been a page operated by either current or former Carnival crew members who were tired of being cheated by the guests.

The reality of the matter is that Carnival pays crew members like waiters. bartenders and stateroom attendants a small pittance by the cruise line (around $50 a month) and then requires them to work incredibly long hours, relying on tips for the majority of their compensation.  It’s quite a business model. Carnival incorporated in Panama and registered its cruise ships in Panama and the Bahamas to avoid virtually all taxes and then requires U.S. taxpaying public to pay the bulk of the crew member compensation. But many passengers view a gratuity as reserved only for spectacular and far-beyond-normal service. These guests obviously don’t tip at all or only occasionally and say that it’s the cruise line’s responsibility to pay the ship employees.        

Well, the original post by "Complaining Crewship" seem to have been taken down (as well as the entire Facebook page), voluntarily or involuntarily I can’t tell, and so did the photos I shared in the process.  But I had previously copied them all and am posting a few here (with the names redacted of those who removed their tips) to show the large number of tips removed.

Cruise lines do not like their ship employees to "out" the guests or to name and shame them, although these type of people seem to be largely deadbeats in my view, or to reveal the cruise line’s unfair treatment of the hard working crew members. For example, when a Royal Caribbean created a You Tube video a few years ago showing that the cruise line was in essence stealing automatic gratuities from the crew, Royal Caribbean threatened the crew members with legal action and petitioned You Tube to ban the video. Read: "Screw the Crew" Video: Banned By Royal Caribbean & YouTube!      

So the cruise line gratuity scam continues.  Carnival will create the impression that the increased gratuities are for the crew who, in reality, will never see a penny of the increase. Many passengers will remove all of the gratuities in their entirely and hide their cheapness behind their anonymity.

Carnival Pre-Paid Gratuity Removal

 

This week we have seen the leak of 11.5 million financial documents over a period from the 1970s to December 2015 from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. These documents allegedly reveal the identity of individuals involved in creating shell companies, ponzi deals and tax evasions schemes.

The law firm at the center of the leak is only one of many law international firms involved in setting up off-shore accounts in places like the Bahamas, Panama and the British Virgin Islands. The offshore corporations are not criminal per se in nature but are often used by unscrupulous types to secret away money Panama Papersfor nefarious purposes. 

The leak of the proprietary, sensitive information is remarkable not only in the breadth of the information (estimated to be 1,000 times more megabytes than the Wikileaks data) but in the number of world leaders, political figures and celebrities outed for creating offshore corporations associated with money laundering and other financial mischief. 

At the moment, the major media outlets are reporting on the obvious crooks and scammers, like President Putin and his cronies who reportedly funneled 2 billions dollars through dummy corporations. The vast majority of the massive amount of data is still unreleased to the public. Journalists have said that the next wave of incriminating information and individuals of interest will be released in May.  

The information is organized in a manner like the Wikileaks information that can be searched by offshore entity and the names of the clients and officers. The names of all of the cruise lines, the dummy corporations created to be the owners of cruise ships, and the principals of the cruise-related companies need to be analyzed.

The cruise industry is, of course, essentially an offshore industry designed to avoid U.S. income tax and labor / wage / environmental laws. Corporations like Royal Caribbean, registered in Liberia, and Carnival, registered in Panama, are exactly the type of companies motivated to avail themselves of tax-avoiding mechanisms, or associate themselves with people and companies that do like the Mossack Fonseca law firm and their ilk.

Forbes said today that "the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 100 reporting partners around the world started publishing stories on Sunday that tied 140 politicians, 29 billionaires and at least 33 blacklisted people to 214,000 offshore entities. The impact of the leak could reverberate for months."

The cruise industry already has the distinct benefit of large loopholes in the U.S. tax code which permit the major cruise lines to avoid virtually all U.S. taxes. So perhaps nothing of significance regarding the major cruise lines will come from scrutinizing the Panama Papers. But the offshore cruise catering, food and beverage, ship chandler companies and crewing agents which do business with the cruise industry need to be searched in the Panama Papers database. Of course the names of politicians and leaders of Caribbean and Central American countries, which are heavily dependent on income generated by the cruise industry, also need to be scrutinized.

The Nation reported that when asked why none of the information so far seemed to implicate many US-based individuals or businesses, the editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung said, “Just wait for what is coming next.”

People in the cruise industry and doing business with the industry are probably waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has an interesting and informative web site where you can follow the investigation and also sign up for email updates.

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Image and video credit: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

  

https://youtube.com/watch?v=F6XnH_OnpO0%3Frel%3D0

A reader of Cruise law news has brought to our attention that newspapers in Germany are reporting that the police in Berlin arrested a cruise ship employee impersonating a cruise ship doctor.

In an article titled "Fake Doctor Treated Hundreds of Cruise Passengers," the German newspaper Aftenposten says that a 40 year old man was arrested in Germany after flying from Miami yesterday to join an AIDA cruise ship.  He had been working on cruise ships in the Caribbean, after falsifying documents in order to claim that he was a doctor. He was actually educated as a nurse but had he had worked as a ship doctor for five years the newspapers suggest.

AIDA Cruise Another German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost covered the story and says that the so-called doctor falsely claimed that he specialized in anesthesia and intensive care.  

Carnival-owned Aida Cruises offered no explanation why it hired someone with no medical school education or credentials.  The cruise line obviously did not conduct a thorough pre-employment background check.  It also potentially compromised the heath and well-being of hundreds of passengers and crew members. This also raises the issue whether adequate background checks were performed on other cruise employees.

The strange thing about the articles is that neither the supposed ship doctor nor the Aida cruise ship where the "doctor" was headed or the ships where he previously worked were identified.

Does anyone with information about the identity of the fake doctor or the cruise ships where he fraudulently treated passengers and crew members?

December 8 2015 Update: Based on reliable information I have receiced, it appears that the bogus ship doctor worked aboard the Aida Vita. 

April 26 2016 Update: A newspaper says that the bogus doctor was charged with "63 charges of inflicting bodily injury. The man is further charged with fraud, forgery of university diplomas and unauthorized conduct of an academic degree. In total there are 81 charges."

Photo Credit: "Aidasol" by Patrick Martini – www.schiffgiganten.de Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

Viking Ocean Cruises CEO Torstein Hagen has been indicted in Norway on corruption charges arising out of the christening of the Viking Star cruise ship.

As we previously reported last week, the Godmother for the new cruise ship, Trude Drevland, the mayor of Bergen City in Norway, has been under police investigation due to allegations of bribery by the ship owner. Among other things, Godmother Drevland is accused of being flown in a private jet to Venice to participate in the launch of Viking Star. In addition, her stay at a luxury hotel was Viking Cruise CEOpaid by the Viking CEO. Plus Ms Drevland accepted a free cruise (which she subsequently canceled) given to her by the Viking CEO.

CEO Hagan has been accused of lobbying the mayor regarding the flagging of his cruise ship in Norway. A Norwegian newspaper says that CEO Torstein wants to change the regulations for the Norwegian International Ship Register (NIS), so that his cruise ship may call the port of Bergen and go between Norwegian ports which the NIS currently prohibits.The free flight in the CEO’s jet, the complimentary luxury hotel and the free cruise have been viewed as bribery where the CEO sought special consideration from the government official for a favored economic benefit to the cruise line.

The VG News in Norway refers to emails between Torstein and Drevland where he specifically requests the "very most favorable treatment."

Viking denied that it received any benefit and says that this is business as usual in the cruise industry. 

In a statement appearing in a Norwegian newspaper, Viking says in part:

"Viking Ocean Cruises is confident that the company has done nothing unlawful in this case. The company has followed perfectly normal business practice in the cruise industry (regarding) baptism of vessels is concerned. This is a practice that has been implemented by ships for decades, and that will be practiced in the future of our line – and other shipping companies worldwide." 

Yes, it is well known that cruise lines will give godmothers and travel writers, cruise bloggers and friends in the media free or heavily discounted cruises and special favors in return for the benefits of good publicity and favorable reviews.  

But it quite a different matter that Viking gives a governmental official such benefits while lobbying her for favorable treatment in the registration of the ship.

Viking’s defense that "everyone does it" may be true but its an indictment of the cruise industry. 

The irony of all of this is that the adverse publicity came about only after the Viking Star, notwithstanding its serious mechanical defects and other problems, "won" the Cruise Critic "best new cruise ship" award by Cruise Critics editors.

I wonder what special favors Viking may have given to the Cruise Critic editors for the award in the first place?

Photo Credit: VG News

Freedom of the Seas Fire Falmouth JamaicaA hoax is defined as a "deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth."

Royal Caribbean engaged in a hoax when it characterized the big, dangerous fire on the Freedom of the Seas which engulfed the little port of Falmouth with billowing black smoke as just a "small fire."

Cruise lines used to be able to get away with these shenanigans, before social media took over the internet and exposed the truth. Now everyone has an iPhone and can record what happens in real time for all to see.

The video of the fire which I posted on my YouTube page (taken by former Royal Caribbean crew member and Jamaican Kevin Chambers) has been viewed over 1,000,000 times on Facebook. It speaks for itself. 

Some of the world’s foremost maritime experts have chimed in on Royal Caribbean’s misrepresentations.  

Captain Michael Lloyd said: "There is no such thing as a ‘small fire’ except in the minds of the PR reps in the cruise line offices. At sea especially, every fire is serious regardless of the whereabouts and size. Any Merchant Navy officer or fire officer for that matter knows that. I suppose in cruise line jargon someone has to be killed for it to be serious."

Captain Bill Doherty of Nexus Consulting commented: "That’s one major fire! Why wasn’t there a proper Flag state and Class post casualty survey done prior to sailing?"

former officer at a senior level within the cruise industry remarked: "This practice is all to common. The crew may be drilled on a regular basis, when it boils down to it, safety will play second fiddle to profit and keeping the passengers onboard. Why the classification society would allow the vessel to sail without inspection I don’t know – there is a genuine risk of deficiencies that may invalidate the vessels P&I coverage. How the senior officers onboard sleep when signing their names to the paperwork I don’t know."

A Chief Marine Engineer said: "Judging from this image, that kind and size of smoke suggests a big and serious fire in the Engine Room. The vessel should have not been permitted to sail without a thorough investigation of the cause and the integrity of her sailing out once again have been established."

A reader of this blog sent us several photos of the internal damage to the Freedom of the Seas today. Take a look here

A "small fire?" Ha!

July 28 2015 Update:  The video below taken by Kevin Chambers has been viewed over 1,000,000 times on our facebook page.

The word is out that this was no small or quickly extinquished fire.  Falmouth cruise ship blaze was no ‘small fire’ – US Maritime Lawyer.

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

Freedom of the Seas Fire Falmouth Jamaica 

Photo Credit:  Facebook 

I didn’t trust Carnival for a second that it really wanted to build a sustainable business relationship with the Dominican Republic through its "voluntourism" brand, "fathom" (not capitalized). I expressed my doubts here.

Hiring pseudo-sustainability expert and faux-celebrity Tara Russell to market the brand seemed as un-authentic as the "workers" who posed in the new cruise brand’s advertising photos. Next to the poor Dominican farmers standing in the photos, the "fathom" crew looked more like United-Colors-of-Benetton Fathom Cruise Brandmodels who got lost during a South Beach photo-shoot.  

Well the truth is out. Carnival’s much ballyhooed new social travel brand "fathom" will operate to Cuba next year after Carnival won the right to start doing business in that country. The catch was that Carnival couldn’t just detour a crowd on the Triumph swigging buckets of Bud Lights to Havana; it had comply with strict "U.S. Department of Treasury rules that allow licensed travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in activities that support the Cuban people," says Travel Weekly.

It seems like this was Arnold Donald’s plan all along. Mr. Donald was using all of the right words in the announcement today: "We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between US citizens and the people of Cuba a reality."

But Cuba is no Dominican Republic whose claim to fame is, well, that it is not as poor as Haiti and that it could actually use volunteers.  Cuba, on the other hand, will become the economic powerhouse of the Caribbean, to the detriment of Nassau and all other cruise ports in the region. So the Adonia will be one of the first cruise ships to officially enter the former communist island from the U.S. Carnival will use the fare-paying, feel-good cruise tourists to subsidize the soon-to-be-highly-profitable enterprise.  Yes, Carnival’s CEO Donald is a genius. Tricky but a genius.    

Was Ms. Russell in on the switch-a-roo from the start? Was she part of the cruise team lobbying Washington for the Cuba gig? The Adonia will still sail to the Dominican Republic for a while it seems (but it will doubtlessly be phased out as people will prefer Havana). But anyway, Ms. Russell is happily singing the corporate cruise gobbledygook: “Our goal remains the same for both destinations – to enable travelers to immerse, learn, serve and flourish while making enduring, sustainable contributions on a scalable and systematic basis."

Yeah, right.  

January 8 2016 Update:  It doesn’t seem that Mr. Donald ever lost his home as a child to Fidel Castro

April 10, 2016 Update:  Carnival chooses profits over principle; plans to sail its Fathom brand to Cuba without Cuban Americans.

Photo Credit: Carnival / fathom

I just read incredibly misleading headlines about Silversea Cruises’ new WI-Fi policy – "Silversea: Free WiFi for All Guests."

Cruise Industry News quoted Silversea Cruises’ Kristian Anderson, Silversea’s senior vice president of sales and general manager for the Americas: 

"For well over 20 years, Silversea has set the course in defining the all-inclusive, ultra-luxury cruise experience. By offering truly free Wi-Fi to all guests regardless of the suite reserved, Silverseas is Silversea Cruises Wi Fionce again setting the standard for all-inclusive luxury. Because we know how important it is for travelers to stay informed and connected, we’re delighted to enhance the all-inclusive Silversea experience with this new benefit."

The Sun Sentinel headline: "Free Wi-Fi for Everyone on Silversea Cruises" was equally misleading and deceitful. 

In truth, unlimited free Wi-Fi will be available only to select guests staying in owner’s, grand, royal, silver and medallion suites. Otherwise the rest of the passenger get only one free hour! (Can you imagine trying to load a Facebook page?) And it used to be included in fare for Mediterranean sailings!

Silversea didn’t bother to disclose what it will charge its customers after an hour.  

Sounds like the Silversea people are back to their fun and games, like when they were caught hiding trolleys of food from the USPH inspectors.   

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June 20 2015 Update: You can see what Silversea charges passengers here.

Photo Credit: Silversea Cruises via iCruise

NBC 6 is airing a story about Caribbean Cruise Line alleging that the company routinely offers essentially "free" cruises via unsolicited phone calls or vouchers in the mail, and deceives the public by not disclosing hidden fees. 

It also claims  that businessmen behind the scenes at the travel company have been in trouble for deceiving customers before. 

We have covered stories about this outfit before – Caribbean Cruise Line Lies and Steals?

The story is a bit confusing because the Caribbean Cruise Line, although technically active with the Florida Department of State, essentially went out of business after the Bahamas Celebration ran aground on October 31st while departing from Freeport, ripping a hole in the hull. In December 2014 it was announced that the newly formed Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line would operate the MS Grand Celebration which would replace the old damaged ship. 

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Stein Kruse HALToday I ran across an interesting video prepared by a Holland American Line passenger following the boiler fire on the M/S Westerdam.

You may recall that the Westerdam caught fire on June 28, 2014 as it was sailing to Alaska. The automatic fire suppression did not extinguish the fire and the crew had to use hoses to extinguish the fire. The fire flared up again and the crew has to extinguish it a second time. The Coast Guard forced the cruise ship to turn around and return to Seattle. You can read about the incident here.

HAL CEO Stein Kruse came aboard the ship later that night and spoke to the passengers. He said that one reason he came aboard was "to get this completely straight." 

He was very apologetic. He said that one port of the seven day "full Alaskan experience" would be lost. He promised that to make up for the fire and lost port, the passengers would receive a $250 credit to use on the ship. Plus, Kruse said that in order to make amends:

" . . .  we will send you a note to give a 25% discount off a future Holland American Line cruise." 

However, when a passenger later tried to a buy a cruise with the promised 25% discount, a HAL customer representative told the passenger that CEO Kruse had misspoke. The representative said that the 25% discount was good only for a cruise of a comparable price as the cruise in question on the Westerdam.

Of course, this is not what the cruise CEO said. Kruse was very deliberate, careful and precise with his words. "25% discount off a future Holland America Line cruise." There were no limitations, exclusions or caveats mentioned at all.

The customer representative wouldn’t budge. She said that "our policy is that we don’t protect verbal misquotes . . .  that goes from all the way from our reservations department up to our CEO."

The guest representative also referred to a "speech," which Kruse allegedly read from, which according to the cruise representative "specifically states that the credit would be from the sailing of the Westerdam." But this is not what Kruse said. 

In most circumstances, cruise passengers are at the mercy of the fine print and the legal mumbo-jumbo buried in the passenger ticket. But here a cruise CEO came aboard to "make amends" and to be "completely straight" with the passengers following a fire. The CEO made a promise, not a "verbal misquote."  

There is a legal issue whether what CEO Kruse said is legally binding on this cruise line. I think it is. But some other lawyer can sue HAL and argue about that.  But it’s a real shame, from a public relations perspective, when the clear promises of a cruise executive are meaningless and can be easily disavowed by a low level reservations clerk.    

 

//www.youtube.com/embed/NGdSGVqjFsk