Last week Carnival announced its new brand "fathom" as the first "first voluntourism cruise line." It said that the new cruise line will focus on the "environment" and "sustainability," which seem like ridiculous propositions to me given Carnival’s deplorable record of polluting the air and water. Plus the new brand is going to operate the bunker-fuel burning and smoke-belching ship Adonia cruise ship.    

Today, Carnival released a PR statement that it signed a multi-billion dollar contract to build four "next-generation" cruise ships with the largest guest capacity in the world. The new ships will be able to carry 6,600 passengers which is 200 more passengers than Royal Caribbean’d gigantic Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. However, the news ships will at 180,000 gross tons which is Carnival Cruise 45,000 gross tons less than the Royal Caribbean "monsters of the seas." 

Most significantly, Carnival says that it’s four new ships will feature a revolutionary "green cruising" design. "The ships will be the first in the cruise industry to be powered at sea by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) — the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuel, representing a major environmental breakthrough."

The four new ships will be the among the first in the cruise industry to use LNG to power cruise ships in port and on the open water which will eliminate emissions of soot particles and sulfur oxides. I have written many times about the harmful effects of the tremendous amount of bunker fuel burned by the cruise industry. Carnival’s announcement, admittedly long overdue, is truly unprecedented by a major cruise line.  

Carnival and its PR agency just won an award for improving a brand’s reputation after a crisis. They recovered from an "onslaught of negativity" over the last two years. Some of the initiates of the new successful PR campaign include launching a “good news” storytelling campaign to change the tone of the conversation about the brand, and positioning CEO Arnold Donald as a "leader, change agent and collaborator."

I may be skeptical that "fathom" will be anything other than another polluting cruise line, but it certainly seems that the new ships Carnival announced today will be a major step in the right direction in reducing air pollution.

The new ships will sail for the AIDA and Costa brands.     

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The Associated Press (AP) reports that jihadi fighters are increasingly buying tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq.

The AP states that jihadists are trying to bypass travel restrictions in neighboring Turkey.

According to the AP, Turkey says that it has been deporting hundreds of terrorists caught in airports and bus stations.  But there are some 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to the Middle East to fight for extreme Islamic causes. 

The BBC reports that Islamic militants are using of cruise ships "more and more."

The AP quotes outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble as saying:

"Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships – dangerous people on cruise ships – really al Qauda Cruise Shipfocused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal. But as we’ve gathered data, we’ve realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will – sort of closer to the conflict zones – of Syria and Iraq."

Terrorism is a concern for any kind of international travel. The current news does not suggest an attack by such groups on cruise ships but there is historical evidence of such attacks. We have written about plans uncovered two years ago by al Qaeda to seize cruise ships and dress passengers in orange jump suits and execute them. Three decades ago, Arab terrorists killed cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro cruise ship and a decade ago our U.S. Navy lost several dozen sailors who were blown up during the attack on the U.S.S. Cole by an al Qaeda group.

 

Photo Credit: CNN

Carnival Cruise Lines announced today that smoking will be prohibited on stateroom balconies effective October 9, 2014.

Carnival Cruise Line  spokesperson Vance Gulliksen said that the new policy is in response to comments by the majority of its customers.  

It’s about time. 

In 2007, our client Lynnette Hudson, testified before Congress after her father died on the Star Smoking Cruise ShipPrincess in 2006 because a passenger flicked a cigarette butt from an upper balcony on the cruise ship.

The cigarette butt landed in a lower balcony. It smoldered in a towel or clothing and then caught fire.

Due to the highly combustible balcony partition materials and the absence of heat detectors and sprinklers on the balconies, the fire rapidly spread and burned 100 cabins, killing her father.

Princess knew of the danger of permitting cigarette smoking on balconies but didn’t do anything about it before the fatality

You can read about her story here

Carnival already prohibits smoking in cabins.

However, Carnival still permits smoking in designated open-deck areas, night clubs, casinos and casino bars. 

The Gazzetta del Sud newspaper reports that government officials in Rome, Italy ordered a halt to large cruise ships passing through the Venice lagoon, effective November 2014. The outright ban on cruise ships applies to those ships over 96,000 tons. (The Costa Concordia is 114,500 tons).

The legislation comes after years of debate and highly charged emotions regarding the effect of increasingly larger cruise ships on the historic old city. 

According to the newspaper, environmentalists warn that the lagoon surrounding Venice, an UNESCO Venice - Large Cruise Ship Banheritage site, is at risk due to its fragile ecosystem. Experts warn that the thousand-year-old wooden piles that prop up the city underwater would crumble like toothpicks under the weight of a 114,500-ton cruise ship like the Costa Concordia cruise ship.

In September, there were protests against the cruise industry which were widely reported in Italy, although the news did not gather much attention in the U.S. You can see photographs of the giant ships here. The Miami-based cruise industry took a rather arrogant approach to the local protesters and largely disregarded them as a radically based nuisance.   

The Italian government also announced a limit on smaller cruise vessels which will become effective in January. Cruise ships more than 40,000 tons must be reduced to 20% of their current volume in Venetian waters. 

The new law was enacted with heavy references to the Costa Concordia disaster last year.

Cruise traffic will eventually be rerouted so that any maritime accident would not approach the best-known and most vulnerable parts of the city and would reduce the disruption of the fragile foundation of the city.

Read some of our prior articles about Venice and the threat of larger cruise ships:

Cruise Ships Swamp Venice

Carnival Sunshine Buzzes Venice & Rekindles Controversy

Monster Cruise Ships Menace Venice

Are Cruise Ships Ruining Venice Or Just Memories From My Youth?

Have a thought about Venice and cruise ships? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

 

Webcam credit: ismar.cnr.it 

Today the Wall Street Journal published an article about the cruise industry’s efforts to overcome damage to its reputation while battling off criticism by a consumer group and efforts by Congress to regulate the industry.

The WSJ points out that the cruise lines have a lot to be concerned with, including "stranded vessels, fires, people falling overboard and being victims of crime." 

The cruise industry claims that no regulation is necessary because it adequately polices itself. The Allure of the Seas - Cruise Ship Regulationcruise lines cite a number of self-imposed (although largely unenforceable) recommendations to provide a safe and secure cruising experience for almost 21 million cruise passengers a year.

I was quoted in the article saying that cruise passengers should not take comfort in the so-called "bill of rights:"

“It’s not a bill of rights, it’s a bill of the industry’s rights, a voluntary scheme to limit their own liability.”

One of the problems I pointed out is that cruise lines register their ships and incorporate their companies in countries outside the U.S.  In the process, the cruise industry avoids U.S. taxes, U.S. minimum wage laws and safety inspections.

Most cruise lines are also not employing automatic man-overboard system, as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. 

You can access the WSJ here, but you need a subscription to read the whole article.

The Florida Today newspaper published two articles today about the issue of sexual assault of passengers and whether cruise lines conduct background checks of their cruise ship employees

The issue of background checks is a rather interesting topic. But it’s an issue the cruise lines hate to talk about.

Six weeks ago, I attended a workshop in Washington D.C. about sexual assault on cruise ships and on vacations outside of the U.S. A cruise line spokesman, Bud Darr, Director of the environmental and health program of the cruise industry’s trade group, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), Bud Darr - Cruise Line International Association attended.  

One of the participants asked Mr. Darr (photo right) a simple question: Do the cruise lines conduct background checks of their crew members?

Mr. Darr began to stutter. He didn’t answer the question. He spun his response around & around & around saying that crime is rare and other gobbledygook until the participant couldn’t remember the question.

But the answer is as simple as the question: No.

Cruise lines don’t vet their employees. They rely on third-party hiring agents to try and screen the applicants. In places like India and the Caribbean, the hiring agents often accept (require) money from the applicant in order to get a job on a cruise ship. There is no incentive for a hiring agent to turn down a crew member who’s willing to pay a little extra to get a job.

In places like Jamaica, the applicant has to obtain a certificate from a constable certifying that the applicant has no criminal record. But there is no computerized data-base for the local police in Ocho Rios, for example, to check whether a Jamaican has committed a crime in Negril or Kingston or other places in Jamaica. After a favor from an uncle or a little pay-o-la to a policeman who’s making only $250 a month, anyone can appear with a stamped I’m-not-a-crook certificate and hop aboard a cruise ship.   

We have seen hiring agents in India tell the applicants that unless they list the Four Seasons, or the Hyatt, or the Hilton as a prior job, they would not be hired as a waiter on a Celebrity cruise ship. Falsification of a resume is not only a common practice, it’s often required by the cruise lines’ hiring agents. 

There’s no chance of screening out pedophiles or child molesters. Think your cabin attendant is carefully screened and vetted?  No country in Central America or the Far East has a social-security-type database or a drivers license number system or a sexual criminal record collection practice. If a pedophile shows up with a certificate from God-knows-who that he not a criminal, he’s welcome aboard. 

The worse though is not a country like India or Nicaragua. Its the cruise lines themselves. If a crew member aboard Disney has been fired on suspicion of molesting a child, Disney won’t tell Carnival or Royal Caribbean. The security personnel of the cruise lines meet every 60 days. They may discuss the risk of a jihadist terrorist attack, but they don’t tell each other about pedophiles on their own cruise ship’s kid’s centers or rapist-employees who molest teenage girls during cruises.  

We have seen cases where a Royal Caribbean rapist who was fired after a passenger alleged rape go to work for Princess, and a Princess rapist who was fired after raping an unconscious woman later join a NCL cruise ship.

99% of crew members are honest and hard-working individuals. But there are perverts, predators and sociopaths everywhere. The problem is that cruise lines have not invested the money necessary for an effective system to weed out the criminals who will prey on unsuspecting passengers and their children. The cruise industry would rather deny that there is an issue and avoid answering honest questions about the problem. 

The New York Times Travel Section published an article today about the topic of cruise ship "mishaps" such as collisions, fires, evacuations, groundings, and sinkings.

The problem is that there is no centralized agency collecting data about such incidents. Plus the cruise line industry is notoriously secretive about events that are inconsistent with the notion that cruising is a safe and enjoyable vacation. 

This means that web sites like this and the site Cruise Junkie operated by Professor Ross Klein have to fill the gap.

You can read the article here: How Normal Are Cruise Mishaps?

The New York Times interviewed me and cruise expert Professor Ross Klein.

The Carnival PR person said the usual propaganda, saying that cruise mishaps "are quite rare” and "Carnival’s ships are extremely safe."  Lots of self-serving opinions and adjectives but the usual lack of statistics.

Carnival Cruise Ship Accidents

Here’s the first comment to the article:

"Ah, for the days of deck chairs, hot bouillon, salt air, gentle strolls around the deck, dressing for dinner, a chance encounter with Dali walking a pair of Ocelots. Now it’s down to the sea in floating Malls afloat in sewage. Captain, I think we’re sailing backward."

Governor Parnell and the pro-cruise pollution legislators in Alaska have some new talking points in their efforts to weaken the cruise line waste water restrictions. They say that its not the cruise sewage that will harm the state’s image but their opponents’ "hype" that easing the standards will result in "dirty water and terrible discharges."        

Putting aside for a moment the nasty spectacle of dumping partially treated sewage into the water, the fact is that cruise ship water treatment devices clearly do not treat all of the wastewater discharged in Alaskan waters in compliance with Alaska’s water quality standards regarding ammonia, as well as the heavy metals – copper, nickel and zinc.

Alaska Cruise Ship Pollution It’s unhealthy and dangerous to release these heavy metals into the waters where they will find their way in the fish, particularly salmon. 

Three years ago, the cruise industry flat out threatened Governor Parnell that it would boycott Alaska unless he would agree to work with the cruise lines to avoid pollution regulations. Read Governor Parnell Gets Punked.

Instead of demanding better technologies to address this problem, as required by the 2006 initiatives, Governor is heading the state in the other direction where no efforts will be made to address the problems with heavy metals. Meanwhile, the sewage (whether partially treated or not) will continue to fill the Alaskan waters.   

A newspaper in Ketchikan explains that this is a huge problem given the enormous amount of sewage and toxic by-products which cruise ships will dump in Alaskan waters:

"About 30 cruise ships carrying a total of nearly one million people visit Alaska over a five month period. This result is over one billion gallons of cruise discharges being dumped into unknown areas of Alaska state waters every year."

The newspaper also points out that on January 29th, as the relaxed laws were being fast tracked by legislators, Princess Cruises was fined $20,000 (a slap on the wrist) when one of its cruise ships, the 2,590 passenger Golden Princess, discharged 66,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  

Zinc, nickel and copper in the fish and chlorine in the water. Alaska is heading backwards.

Read our last article on these disturbing developments in Alaska:

The Dirty Alaskan Cruise Industry Just Got Dirtier

While some cruise ships have elected to hunker down in port and ride out Hurricane Sandy, other ships such as the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas and Carnival’s Miracle are out at sea trying to skirt the high seas and high winds. ABC News reports: 

 

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The UK’s Mail Online newspaper has some interesting photographs today regarding the ongoing protests by environmental groups in Italy who are trying to protect the beautiful city of Venice from the effects of water pollution, air emissions and erosion of historical building by traffic from huge cruise ships.

Earlier this week we addressed this issue in our article Italian Environmentalists Urge Sofia Loren to Stop "Monster of the Sea" from Attacking Venice.  

Over the past 25 years, the number of cruise passengers cruising into Venice increased from 280,000 to 1,800,000 last year.

Over 650 gigantic cruise ships sail into Venice every year now.  Unlike the quaint gondolas historically associated with the city, cruise ships today are 1,000 feet long, weigh 140,000 tons and have drafts well over 25 feet. They pose a substantial risk to this fragile Italian city which is struggling against mass tourism and the deterioration of the city’s underwater foundations. 

Here is my view of the problem last year: Are Cruise Ships Ruining Venice Or Just Memories From My Youth

Take a look at the spectacle below.  Do you trust the titans of the cruise industry with the survival of historical sites like this?  Do you trust the Micky Arisons of the world to be the curators of Venice?  

Cruise Ships - Venice - MSC Divina

Cruise Ships - Venice - MSC Divina

Photo credit: Getty Images via Mail Online