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This week I listened to the multi-millionaire cruise executives praise the cruise industry at the "state of the cruise industry" at the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM 2014) trade show.

As anticipated, Carnival’s CEO and former Monsanto chemical executive Arnold Donald said cruise ship accidents are "so rare . . .  cruising is safe."  Royal Caribbean’s long time executive Richard Fain claimed that cruise lines are "heavily regulated." The audience of travel agents and vendors tied to the cruise lines all politely clapped.  

The speeches contained little substance, no statistical support, and virtually all self-serving opinions. Carnival Cruise Ship FireI felt like I was at a motivational speaker convention sponsored by Amway.

The telling comments at the conference came from Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO Kevin Sheehan. He said: "we are ruled by public opinion; unless we can keep our business running right will always be on defensive." The NCL boss added: "a period of operational excellence and no media incidents are needed."

Of course, this was the real insight into the state of the cruise industry – the cruise lines are on the defensive. The cruise lines seem nervous as they claim that their troubles are behind them. They are in the business of selling fantasy dream-like vacations to ports in the Caribbean which are becoming more and more violent.  They are praying that the media doesn’t bash them after a cruise ship catches on fire or a family is gunned down in the streets of Nassau. 

What’s the industry’s plan to pull itself out of the harsh media scrutiny? I didn’t hear one at CSM. The cruise lines, it seems to me, are just hanging in the balance hoping for the best. 

But history tells us that more trouble lies ahead. 

There have been over 90 fires on cruise ships since 1990, according to testimony at one of the many Congressional hearing on cruise ships disasters. Some fires were big, some were small although there is nothing really insignificant about any type of fire on the high seas.

Last year, the big story involved the Carnival Triumph, of course, which CNN covered non-stop. But the more significant fire involved the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas which burned for two hours. Most people seem to have already forgotten the fire on the Grandeur. Yes there will be cruise ship fires this year; hopefully minor ones only with no injuries. The public knows that accidents happen. The most important issue is whether the cruise lines respond promptly and responsibly (like Royal Caribbean did after the Grandeur fire) or delays unreasonably (like Carnival after the Triumph fire) and / or acts outrageously (like Carnival after the Concordia disaster)  

The cruise industry’s image problem is not just because of ship fires and Concordia-like disasters. The continuous stories about bad medical care, mistreatment of crew members, sexual assaults, children victimization, missing passengers, and so forth, coupled with a callous PR response, have more of an effect on the cruise industry’s image. Its like reputation death by a thousand cuts.

Last December, I published Top 10 Most Outrageous Cruise Ship Stories of 2013 & the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award.

In my assessment, the factors which most harmed the cruise lines’ reputation last year didn’t involve accidents at all. Rather, the most damage came from incidents showing the cruise lines’ egregious disregard of the law and a lack of care and compassion of their passengers and crew. The real damage comes from events like mishandling cases involving persons disappearing at sea, ignoring the man overboard laws, crew members arrested and sentenced to jail for child porn, fleecing crew members of their tips and retirement benefits, and a family cruise line aiding and abetting a child predator escape justice. 

One of the most embarrassing stories last year involved Silversea Cruises which was caught by the USPH hiding perishable food down in the crew quarters. We were contacted by crew members who complained about this, but Silversea ignored us when we contacted them. We sent the story to CNN. The special that CNN produced tarnished not only this luxury line but cast the entire industry in a bad light. The entire chain of events could have been avoided by Silversea just being honest and transparent.

The cruise lines suffer, in my opinion, from a combination of being arrogant and rattlebrained. The cruise industry engages in some really bad conduct on a continuous basis. It often makes things substantially worse when confronted by the media and bloggers like myself.

Last week, former crew members sent us video and photographs which seem to suggest that MSC MSC Cruises Cruise DumpingCruises has been dumping garbage, plastics and debris into the water in violation of international pollution law.

We asked MSC for an explanation. MSC ignored us just like Silversea Cruises did last year. MSC claims that un-named authorities in Brazil are investigating the allegations, but it refuses to identify the authorities or provide contact information. MSC is digging itself and the cruise industry into a deeper hole.

Cruise lines like MSC tout that they treat the maritime environment like this when in truth they may be treating the waters like this.  When the major media networks latch onto a story, the cruise industry is forced to make a statement, but the cruise lines often sound and appear evasive and unbelievable.

Until cruise lines act responsibly and treat all of their crew members, guests and the earth with respect and act with transparency toward the media, the cruise industry’s reputation will continue to suffer. 

Friday evening, a fire broke out on the Dawn Princess. 30 minutes after the first public announcement, the cruise ship’s captain ordered the passengers to their muster stations where they remained for over another hour until the fire was extinguished.

We first learned of the fire when a reader of this blog contacted us on Saturday. We followed up with a request for information from the public which we made on our Facebook page. On Sunday morning, we posted a first hand account from a passenger currently aboard the cruise ship.

This particular passenger indicated that the crew handled the emergency well. The ship was back to business as usual within three hours of the first report of the fire. Even the bars were packed!  

But lacking from the account was an explanation or even any curiosity regarding why the fire broke out in the first place; why the passengers were ordered to muster 30 minutes after the fire was first reported; and why it apparently took well over an hour for the fire to be extinguished.  

We requested a statement from Princess Cruises on Sunday. We received a two skimpy sentence response with no explanation regarding what caused the fire and why it was not extinguished by the automatic suppression systems.  

Today there have been no national or international newspapers covering the story.  Travel Agent Central published a story quoting our account.  Cruise Critic just wrote a three sentence story that contained even less substance than the meager cruise line statement.     

No major media companies have published anything about the event. The sentiment from regular cruisers who have contacted us seems nonchalant with no inquiries regarding why & how the fire erupted.  

I understand that people who are in the middle of a cruise vacation would prefer to continue their fun-filled vacation than conduct a worrisome forensic cause & origin analysis. But the public’s understanding of incidents like this is important to maintaining a safe and responsible cruise industry. A vigilant press which asks tough questions is a fundamental part of that process. 

Even a small fire that is quickly extinguished is potentially a big deal when you are on the high seas.

Remember that the deadly Star Princess fire started off with something as small and seemingly innocuous as a cigarette smoldering in a towel on a balcony. The result was an inferno which ravaged the ship, destroyed 100 cabins, killed one passenger and injured many others (photo right).   

I’m wondering if the major newspapers are burned out on fires at sea?  


Photo Credit top: Wikimedia (Stan Shebs)

Miami Port - Cruise ShipThis weekend, KHOU news station reports from Galveston, Texas that the Carnival Triumph returned to port Saturday afternoon "after a passenger had a medical emergency."

KHOE didn’t explain the medical emergency but reported that the U.S. Coast Guard said the medical emergency was not life-threatening, "so they did not fly out to the cruise ship." The cruise ship then told the Coast Guard that it would be "just easier for the ship to return to port and drop the passenger off."

That’s the end of the reported story.

If that’s not sufficiently uninformative, here’s another one from Canada’s Herald News: the police are investigating a "sudden death" aboard Holland America Line’s Eurodam after a woman was found dead. 

The police in Canada said that the death of the 59-year-old passenger “is not considered suspicious at this time.” 

The newspaper also reports that medical examiner’s officer was called to the scene and "no further information is available."

Are you satisfied with this type of "news?"

Do you believe that the details of stories like this are any of your business? 

Do you think that the cruise lines and official authorities will tell you all you are entitled to know?


 Photo Credit: AP Photo / Andy Newman

The U.S. and international media covered the saga of the stricken poop-filled Triumph cruise ship non-stop last week. CNN led the coverage with its "ceaseless, rigorous reporting" on what some newspapers are characterizing as essentially "inconvenienced cruise passengers without working toilets." CNN enjoyed a 74 percent increase from its recent prime time numbers according to the people that follow these type of statistics.

The media loves to interview maritime lawyers in Miami. As of the weekend, I participated in over 45 newspaper, radio, TV and cable news interviews about the Triumph fire.  The media is still covering the PR and legal fallout following the debacle.  There is a debate playing out in newspaper articles and cable news shows whether aggrieved passengers should pursue lawsuits over the incident or, as I Cruise Ship Public Relations - Pr - Triumph Fire feel, they should accept Carnival’s meager compensation and move on with their lives.     

But there is little debate about whether there are too many fires and capsizings involving cruise ships these days. 

The cruise industry has done a pretty good PR job with its talking points over the years – "cruising is remarkably safe, the "safety of our passengers is the cruise industry’s top priority" and so forth. But after the Costa Concordia deadly disaster just a year ago came a dozen cruise ship fires on cruise lines like Azamara, Costa, Cunard, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. At some point, the cruise casualties reach a critical mass. If the cruise lines’ response is always "cruise-accidents-are-rare," at some point the public simply does not believe a word they say.

We are past that point today.  

Last week CNN asked me to write an article about my opinions of the cruise industry. Readers of this blog know I have a lot of opinions about how the cruise lines operate. I had literally a few hours to type the article and CNN posted it on line later that day: "What Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know."  The article sparked a debate not only about cruise ship safety, but about the cruise industry’s non-payment of taxes, avoidance of wage and labor regulations, exploitation of its foreign crew members, and damage to the environment.  Many hundreds of readers left comments (nearly 2,000 to date) and over 12,000 people "liked it" on Facebook.  Clearly the article struck a cord with a lot of people.

Yesterday, the cruise industry’s trade association, the "Cruise Line International Association" (CLIA), wrote its response to my article: "A Cruise is a Safe and Healthy Vacation."  Only 115 people have "liked it," and just 10 readers have left a comment.  Here are some of the comments:

"This guy works for Cruise Lines, enough said."

"Why in the world would I believe this cruise line spokesperson?"

"How many wolves do (we) need to guard the hen house again, honey?"

"Someone getting Cruise industry payoffs to write this nonsense."

If I have learned one thing as a trial lawyer for the past 30 years, it’s that the American public is smart. Don’t ever underestimate a jury’s intelligence and common sense.  If I have a problem with my case, I acknowledge it. I make certain that I discuss the weaknesses in the case in my closing argument. But If you talk around troubling issues and try to bamboozle people, you will lose your credibility and lose your case in the process.

The cruise industry has some serious problems, including a lack of federal oversight over the safety of passengers and crew.  But the cruise lines will not acknowledge anything negative about their industry.

By publishing a puff piece like cruising is "safe and healthy" when cruise ships are catching on fire and guests are sloshing around in urine and feces, the cruise industry is doing more harm than good to its already shaky reputation. 


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Let me place my biases front and center.

I am no fan of the Miami Herald.  it’s beholden to the cruise industry which pays it for cruise advertising ads.  The Herald’s "business" editor, Jane Wooldridge, is the former travel editor for the newspaper. Although she graduated with me from Duke in 1980, she is at the opposite of the spectrum.  She unabashedly praises the cruise lines whether they are right or wrong.  

I have written some unflattering articles about both the Miami Herald and Ms. Wooldridge which you can read here, here and here.

Micky Arison - carnival CEO - Costa Concordia and AllegraUnlike the L.A. Times, the New York Times, or other newspapers with some sense of investigative journalism and professional integrity, the Miami Herald is a journalistic mistress to the Miami-based cruise lines.

So it was no surprise to me that when Carnival CEO Micky Arison decided to give his first interview after the Costa Concordia disaster, he picked his friends at the Miami Herald.  They were happy to offer up some softball questions for Mr. Arison for him to pitch the cruise industry’s talking points.

Arison and the Carnival president Howard Frank touted the wonderful safety record of its subsidiary Costa, saying such unchallenged drivel as: "we as a company do everything we can to encourage the highest safety standards."

Arison whined: “No matter what I would’ve done, I think I would’ve been criticized.” 

He touted Carnival as offering a "great vacation value, a great product, a safe product at a fantastic price.”

The assessment by Arison’s next in command Howard Frank was more of the same, referring to Costa as a "great company and a great brand, with a terrific management team and with a great future."

Today, the cheer-leading by the Miami Herald continues in its article "Getting the Cruise Industry Back on Course."

The Herald touched on the recent troubles afflicting the Costa brand with the capsizing of the Costa Concordia and the fire aboard the Costa Allegra, as well as cruise over-boards and norovirus cases. However, it was careful to call upon cruise line executives and cruise lines fans to place the cruise into Carolyn Spencer Brown - Cruise Line Shill  a positive light.

The article calls upon the usual cruise line shills like Carolyn Spencer Brown, who recently wrote an article for Conde’ Nast Traveler.  She falsely represented that no one died on the latest Carnival cruise ships which caught on fire – read my open letter to Ms. Spencer-Brown for the truth – and she blamed the parents of a 16 year old girl who was the fancy of a NCL pedophile child porno collector assistant cruise director in a stairwell of the cruise ship.

The Herald was careful not to include any survivors of the Concordia disaster, representatives of victim organizations or neutral experts to comment on the nasty state of affairs of the cruise industry.

Larry King Live - George Smith Disappearance - Cruise ShipThe media’s interest into the "missing groom" story was unparalleled in the history of the cruise industry.  Royal Caribbean had been able to dodge bad press about the disappearance of passengers and women and children sexually assaulted on its fleet of cruise ships for decades.

But the case of George Smith was different.  Every network was covering the story, non-stop. 

I will never forget sitting behind my desk speaking on the telephone with Greta Van Sustern about the case when my secretary, Betsy, buzzed me saying: "Larry King is holding on line 2."  I suppose it was a tad obnoxious to respond to Betsy: "tell Larry that I will call him back in a couple of minutes." 

But that was the way it was with the most popular case involving a cruise ship mystery like this.  We were receiving letters, Fed Ex packages, flower arrangements, notes, and invitations to stay in hotels before and after high profile interviews on a weekly basis.  

We used the media to our advantage.  We were dealing with Royal Caribbean, an admitted corporate felon which was just coming off a five year period of probation for lying to the U.S. Coast Guard about wide spread illegal dumping of chemicals and blackwater into the aqua, warm waters of Biscayne Bay in Miami to the dark, cool waters of Alaska.  This was a corporation with a reputation for dishonesty. 

Larry King Live - George Smith Missing - Royal Caribbean Cruise ShipLarry King invited me on his show twice.  First in August 2005 before I was hired by Jennifer Hagel to talk about the issues in the case.  The second time was in January 2006, together with the Smith family and their counsel, after I was retained, to talk about the details of the case. 

Shows like Larry King Live, with literally millions of viewers, were instrumental in educating the public about the problems of crimes and disappearances on cruise ships which the cruise industry had kept hidden for years.  The publicity would continue as the U.S. Congress convened five hearings in the House of Representatives and Senate into the issue of crimes and disappearances of passengers on cruise ships. 


This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV – Six Years Later.

Do you have information which may solve this case?   Please let us hear from you.

Yesterday, the Bermuda Gazette reported on the sentencing of an American tourist who was arrested for possessing pot on a cruise ship which ported in Bermuda.

The Gazette identified the passenger as 43-year-old Edward John Molinari, from New York.  The newspaper reported that after the cruise ship arrived in Bermuda, customs officers and police searched Molinari’s cabin with a drug sniffing dog and "found seven homemade cigarettes in the room’s safe, plus a partially-smoked eighth, containing cannabis of an estimated street value of $178."

John Molinari - Bermuda - Pot The other major newspaper in Bermuda, the Bermuda Sun, also reported on the petty drug offense and mentioned that Mr. Molinari was married with three children.  The Sun included a photograph of Mr. Molinari taken by a photographer camped outside of the courthouse.    

Neither the Gazette nor the Sun mentioned the name of the cruise line, and the Gazette did not mention the name of the cruise ship either.  Why not?  Was it because Mr. Molinari informed the Bermuda judge that that cannabis had been in use “all over the boat?” 

I have been critical of the press in Bermuda in general, and the Royal Gazette in particular, for not mentioning the names of cruise lines when the stories include embarrassing facts like drugs and crimes on the cruise ships.

For example, the Bermuda Gazette recently covered a trial in Bermuda involving allegations that a crew member raped another cruise line employee.   We covered the incident and of course mentioned the names of the cruise line and cruise ship.  We tried to place the incident into context by mentioning this cruise line’s history of similar alleged crimes on its fleet of cruise ships.

The Gazette, however, choose not to mention the name of the cruise line (Princess Cruises) or the name of the cruise ship (Caribbean Princess).  Was this because Princess Cruises incorporated itself in Bermuda and registered its cruise ship there in order to enjoy that country’s lax safety regulations and minimal taxes?  Is the Bermuda press extending the same courtesy of "looking the other way" routinely extended by the Bermuda vessel registry and incorporation officials?  The Gazette claims that it decided not to mention the cruise line or cruise ship in order to protect the identity of the alleged rape victim and defendant.  That seems like quite a stretch.  But assuming that to be true, why did the Gazette decide not to mention the name of the cruise line or cruise ship which allegedly had drug use "all over the boat?"

When you search the Bermuda Gazette’s archives, you will find that while it is quick to identify U.S. passengers caught with small amounts of pot on cruise ships, it will not publish anything potentially embarrassing about the cruise lines.     

The island is very strict when it comes to prosecuting U.S. passengers.  Bermuda will bust U.S. passengers for minor drug possession on cruise ships porting in Bermuda even if its clear that Angelo Faliva - Disappearance - Bermuda Flag of Conveniencethe pot is for the passenger’s personal use and the pot never leaves the cruise ship.  And the newspapers in Bermuda love reporting about such minor offenses. 

But Bermuda does a deplorable job investigating violent crimes or mysterious disappearances which may implicate cruise ships which fly the flag of Bermuda.  You will see no real journalism by the Bermuda newspapers into the issues of cruise ship crime, pollution, exploitation of crew members and tax avoidance.  Take a moment and read about Bermuda’s indifference to crimes on Bermuda flagged cruise ships.

For example when Italian crew member Angelo Faliva disappeared from the Bermuda flagged Princess cruise ship the Coral Princess, Bermuda eventually conducted a dilatory and unmotivated "investigation" which quickly ended without any answers and no criticism of the cruise line.  The Royal Gazette and other newspapers in Bermuda completely ignored the Faliva family’s plight.

The Angelo Faliva disappearance demonstrates the fundamental corruptness of incorporating cruise lines in remote islands and flying flags of convenience of countries with a non-existent regulatory scheme and a press which acts like a cruise line PR department.  Disappearances often go un-reported, un-investigated, and un-prosecuted because of the indifference of the flag countries and the desire of the image-obsessed cruise lines to sweep the problem under the rug.

Independent newspapers with integrity keep large corporations like the cruise lines honest. 

But newspapers like the Bermuda Gazette are a different story.  If you are a passenger caught with some reefer in a safe in your cabin on a cruise ship docked in Bermuda, be prepared to have your name and photograph appear on the front page of the Bermuda newspapers.  But if you are a cruise line with a history of pollution and shipboard crimes, don’t worry – the newspapers in Bermuda will be certain never to mention you.  


Photo credits:

Top:  Edward Molinari leaving courthouse, photo by Kageaki Smith via Bermuda Sun

Bottom:  Angelo Faliva, courtesy of the Faliva family

I have been critical of Royal Caribbean’s PR skills over the years, thinking that this particular cruise line’s credibility is at the bottom  of the cruise industry.  So when RCCL announced after the terrifying storm which rocked the the Brilliance of the Seas and injured its passengers that the cruise ship "had full power and was operating as normal" and that no passengers were "seriously injured," I thought here we go again – another misleading PR statement.

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise  RCCL has pulled this stunt time and time again, quickly issuing misleading statements in the hope that the media will quote its carefully crafted misinformation and then the story will quickly blow over.

This strategy didn’t work with the Brilliance storm story.  The storm was too big.  And the damage to the ship’s interior and to the passengers’ psyche were too extensive. 

Multiple media sources revealed that the ship was clearly not operating "as normal."  The ship was a complete mess.  Televisions were ripped from their mountings lying broken on the floor, glass shattered everywhere, furniture tumbled and passengers were thrown like rag dolls throughout the ship which looked like a bomb had exploded inside. 

Royal Caribbean couldn’t sweep this one under the rug. The national networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – featured dramatic photographs and video taken by passengers aboard the cruise ship.  Dianne Sawyer’s news show earlier this week revealed the terror aboard the Brilliance as it was rocked and rolled off of the coast of Egypt in the middle of the night.  ABC ran a story that the passengers were "in revolt."  AOL News and USA Today ran stories that over 100 passengers appeared in the ship infirmary for injuries. 

Royal Caribbean’s everything-is-okay PR statement was overwhelmed by the power of YouTube where passengers on the cruise ship post videos and photos of the spectacle for the world to see.  The discrepancy of what these photos (below) showed versus what the cruise line said magnified this cruise line’s lack of transparency.

Royal Caribbean finally acknowledged that the incident was indeed "serious" and some passengers were seriously injured (broken bones).   Royal Caribbean also agreed to reimburse the entire cruise fare for all passengers and provided an onboard credit. 

Brilliance of the Seas - Storm - Cruise ShipCaptain Hollywood To The Rescue

The cruise line then called on its Vice President of Marine Operations, William Wright, to appear before the media and answer questions about  what happened. 

Captain Wright flew from Miami to Valletta Malta and was ready when reporters began to interview the Master of the Brilliance, Captain Erik Tengelsen, who has a reputation for being honest and forthright.  Captain Tengelsen was at the helm when he was trying to outrun the storm into the crowded port of Alexandria.  He knew there was a storm on his tail, but when he slowed down at the port in Egypt, the stabilizers lost their effectiveness.  The cruise ship was a sitting duck. 

When Captain Tengelsen told the reporter that the incident was "horrific" and that he knew that a storm had forecast to blow to 45 knots and then gusted to 50 to 60 knots, Captain Wright saw danger brewing.  He quickly interjected that "Mother Nature is fickle" and the weather must have been a surprise. (see video below)  Clearly, Captain Wright had been sent to baby sit the ship and make certain no damaging PR statements with legal implications were made by the vessel’s officers.  He shut Captain Tengelsen up and took over the show.       

Royal Caribbean also produced a short YouTube video back in its Miami corporate office. Wearing a friendly open collar and sweater with palm tress swaying behind him, Captain Wright provides a reassuring and calming cadence to bring the public’s focus away from the horrific storm off of Egypt.  No real information as usual, but a nice relaxing video to calm everyone down. 

Many in the media loved it.  A very popular cruise blog in the U.K, picked up on the feel-good vibe and Royal Caribbean pulled off a PR comeback with "Full Refund for Brilliance Passengers."

A Seasoned Media Pro 

This is not the first time that Captain Wright has been used as a PR ploy for the cruise line.  He Captain William Wright - Captain Hollywood - Royal Caribbean was the media star for Royal Caribbean following the last high profile incident involving the Brilliance of the Seas.

Our firm was first introduced to Captain Wright when he was pushed to the front of a PR war our firm was engaged in following the death of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise on this very cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, in July 2005.  We represented Mr. Smith’s widow.  The cruise line wanted the public to think that her husband’s disappearance was just an accident, whereas many thought that Mr. Smith met with foul play.  Royal Caribbean handled the circumstances after George Smith’s death badly.  It paraded a number of employees from its corporate communications, human relations and security departments in front of the cameras to carry the Royal Caribbean "its-just-an-accident" message – only to see them flounder before the cameras.

Finally, Royal Caribbean settled upon Captain Wright to appear regularly on the cable news shows.  I nicknamed him "Captain Hollywood" given his tall stature, good looks, deep voice, and dramatization of the cruise line’s talking points.  He was was a natural before the media.  Captain Wright appeared regularly on Greta van Sustern’s show on Fox "On The Record."   The cruise line also picked him to fly to Washington D.C. to conduct media interviews during the Congressional hearings for the past five years into the investigation into cruise safety and security issues.

Brilliance of the Seas - Rough Weather - Cruise ship Getting cruise executives and media friendly cruise faces in YouTube videos is something I have advocated in the past if the $35,000,000,000 cruise industry wants to compete in the word of media relations.   

But cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are still a long way behind the curve in matters of social media.  For example, around 15,000 people looked at "Captain Hollywood’s" video – compared to around 290,000 people who viewed a video on our Cruise Law’s YouTube page of a cruise ship facing rough weather in Antarctica.   

Royal Caribbean still has problems handling its PR matters.  Its first inclination is not to tell the truth.  It tends to minimize the seriousness of serious life threatening incidents when honesty would serve it best.  It finally has a blog by its President Adam Goldstein, and it finally is using YouTube, although both its blog and YouTube pages lag far, far behind the popularity enjoyed by this blog and our YouTube page.  The cruise line still does not integrate Facebook, Flickr or, my favorite, Twitter, into its social media.

Instead, its media strategy is to simply issue the same old tepid "everything-is-just-fine" PR statements.  When that doesn’t work, it sends Captain Hollywood to the scene to reassure the faithfuls that everything is okay. 

When the next disaster strikes a Royal Caribbean ship, look for Captain Hollywood to fly in from Miami and announce on YouTube that the cruise ship is safe and sound.    



Photos of damage to Brilliance of the Seas – MailOnLine

Video – Times of Malta

In 2003, Mrs. Dianne Brimble (photo below) was smiling and waiving when she boarded P & O’s Pacific Sun cruise ship with her daughter for a vacation of a lifetime.  Less than 24 hours later, she lay dead on the cabin floor of fellow Dianne Brimble - Smiling and Waving - Cruise of a Lifetimepassenger Mark Wilhelm who had given her the drug GHB.  When he was finished with her and Mrs. Brimble lay unconscious, Wilhelm walked naked into another cabin of women – wearing only a life vest.  As Mrs. Brimble lay dying, he did nothing to summons medical help – instead he tried to convince other women to take the drug.

The criminal inquest into Mrs. Brimble’s death revealed a cruise ship out of control, filled with lots of drunken passengers and date rape drugs and little law & order.  Watch the video entitled "Ship of Shame" which we posted in a prior article about the P & O cruise ship.  The press covered the testimony of Wilhelm and his seven traveling companions, some of whom characterized Mrs. Brimble in sub-human terms, as an ugly dog with bad breath.  One of Wilhelm’s cruise buddies even entertained the thought of throwing Mrs. Brimble’s dead body overboard.      

But the seven year legal saga following Mrs. Brimble’s death ended last week as all cruise crime cases do – with the accused defendant serving no jail time. 

The prosecution dropped the manslaughter charges against Wilhelm and, in exchange for the deal, he pleaded guilty to the criminal offense of giving Mrs. Brimble the drug GHB which led to her death.

When the judge presiding over the case, Justice Howie, dismissed the manslaughter charges against Wilhelm he did not direct any comments to Wilhelm.  Instead, he chastised the media, Mark Wilhelm - Dianne Brimble - GHB - Cruise Crimeaccusing the press of adding to a circus like environment filled with what the judge called "prejudice" and "hysteria.”  The judge went even further – saying that "little regard had been paid to defendant Wilhelm’s rights by the publication of a series of photographs depicting his ‘unsavory’ behavior on the night Ms Brimble died," as reported by Australia’s Sun Herald.  He criticized the media for subjecting the defendant to "rumors, misinformation, supposition and conjecture." 

And so it should come as no surprise that at the sentencing hearing last week, Justice Howie decided to let Wilhelm walk free – even though he possessed an illegal drug and supplied it to Mrs. Brimble and she died because of the illegal drug.  No jail time.  No probation.  Not even a stern lecture.  Instead, the judge expressed sympathy and concern for Wilhelm, given what the judge described as "years of public humiliation."  The judge again depicted Wilhelm as the victim, who somehow had been punished enough by the media’s depiction of him.  

"Justice" Howie gave Wilhelm a "get out off jail free" card.  And Wilhelm walked free from the courthouse. 

And in so doing, the "Justice" system failed another victim of a crime on a cruise ship.

Results like this leave everyone questioning the legal system, particularly when criminal trials are presided over by judges with misplaced sympathies for the defendant’s hurt feelings and little regard for the dead or the suffering of their families.  

In an article in Australia’s Punch entitled "The Evil Men Do And The Courts That Ignore It," David Penberty discussed "the plodding nature of justice and the persnickety application of the law – all these things may conspire to ensure that no-one faces any genuine punishment over that fact that a woman was left for dead in a drugged stupor on the cold linoleum floor of a cheap cruise ship."

We have discussed the lack of justice on cruise ships in prior articles.  Criminals on cruise ships walk free and the victims are treated like criminals.  Consider reading Cruise Ships Are A Perfect Cruise Crime - Get Out Of Jail Free CardPlace to Commit A Crime, And Get Away With It! and If You Are A Victim On A Cruise Ship, The Cruise Line Will Treat You Like A Criminal.

Mrs. Brimble’s case presents a particularly bitter pill to swallow given "Justice" Howie’s decision not only to let Wilhelm walk free but to lecture the media for its coverage of the inquest and criminal trials.     

The injustice of the Brimble’s case and Justice Howie’s misguided attack on the media pose the question – what is the role of the media in covering cruise crime cases? 

Should the lesson of the Dianne Brimble case be that the press was somehow culpable for portraying defendant Wilhelm in an inaccurate light?  Should news reporters refrain from publishing embarrassing information or photographs which may cause "humiliation" to a criminal defendant?   

Or is the lesson to be learned that the criminal justice system is no "justice" system at all when crimes are committed on cruise ships?  And that it is only the media and probing reporters that bring the true Mark Wilhem - Dianne Brimble - Walks Freefacts to light?

Mr. Wilhelm should be humiliated by his conduct.  He is at least alive.  He took his life vest off, put some clothes on, and went home.  He has the rest of his life to enjoy.  But Mrs. Brimble is dead and buried.  Her family has nothing but their grief, for the rest of their lives. 

It is the obligation of the press in free societies to publish the facts of a crime and all of the attendant circumstances no matter how "embarrassing."  Especially when criminals on cruise ships are never convicted and the only true facts will be investigated and revealed by the media.      



Dianne Brimble

Wilhelm in life vest           Sydney Morning Herald

Wilhelm walking free            AAP – Tracey Nearmy via 9 News

I first became intrigued with Twitter when I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech in February of this year. The galley was filled with people twittering away on their Blackberries and iphones, sending out their own spin on the President’s speech. CNN covered the story and added their own perspective via @CNN.

A few days later I registered @CruiseLaw. I was hooked. In March, I started a Twitter forage that continues today.

Now a little over six months later, I can’t imagine not interacting with the people who follow me on Twitter. I have connected with more people on Twitter in the last 6 months than I have in real life in last 30 years. 6,700 followers. OK, I admit it. I don’t know them all. 

But the experience has led to newspaper and radio interviews, business referrals across the U.S., a modest group of fans and an even larger group of enemies who follow my tweets religiously for no other reason than to instantly and vigorously disagree with me. I like the agitators and detractors best.  It has been fun.

Lawyers USA Weekly recently ran an interesting article by Sylvia Hsieh which featured four lawyers who successfully turned their tweets into clients. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available on line without a subscription. But Bruce Carlton (@brucecarton) of Legal Blog Watch did a good job summarizing my small part in the article as follows:

"James Walker (@CruiseLaw) an attorney in South Miami, Fla., whose practice is devoted solely to suing cruise lines on behalf of injured passengers. Walker tweets about the three things he knows best: cruise ship law, cruise ship law and cruise ship law."

Its pretty funny to be pigeon-holed so accurately by a reporter in a 15 minute telephone interview.

Cruise Ship Law.  Exactly.  Welcome to my place in the Twitter Kingdom.

Don’t be a stranger.  Follow me @CruiseLaw