What cruise lines don't want you to know

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    Feb 15, 2013 1:27 AM GMT
    http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/13/opinion/walker-cruise-ships/index.html

    Editor's note: James M. Walker is a maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate involved in cruise ship law and maritime litigation with his law firm, Walker and O'Neill. He has represented crew members and passengers against cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Formerly, he worked as a lawyer for the cruise industry.

    (CNN) -- A Carnival cruise ship was adrift 150 miles off the coast of Mexico after an engine room fire. Cruise passengers were complaining about the lack of air conditioning, hot cabins, cold food and toilets that wouldn't flush.

    As I watched the news broadcast, I thought it was a documentary about the Carnival Splendor, which suffered a disabling engine room fire in November 2010 off Mexico. But the story was about the Carnival Triumph, which caught fire early Sunday after sailing from Galveston, Texas, with more than 3,100 passengers.

    The cruise industry says cruise ship fires are rare, but they are not rare. They happen with alarming frequency. In the two years between the Splendor and the Triumph fires, more than 10 cruise ship fires were reported in the media. Several cruise ships were completely disabled, including the Costa Allegra, the Bahamas Celebration and the Ocean Star.

    Other cruise ships experienced what the industry would either deny or call "minor fires," including the Adventure of the Seas, the Crown Princess, the MSC Musica and the Allure. But there is nothing minor about a cruise ship, filled with thousands of passengers, catching on fire on the high seas, even for a matter of seconds.

    I have attended seven congressional hearings since 2005 regarding issues of cruise ship passenger safety. At the last hearing, before Sen. Jay Rockefeller, cruise expert and author Ross Klein said fires broke out in 79 cruise ships from 1990 to 2011. Most of these fires received little coverage in the U.S. press. It is a topic that the travel publications avoid and travel agents do not like to hear.

    The cruise industry does a remarkable job advertising that cruising is a safe and affordable family vacation. It certainly is affordable, in large part because major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia. Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. federal taxes, labor laws and safety regulations.

    In 2011, three-quarters of the nearly 16 million cruise bookings worldwide were made from the United States, according to the industry group Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 26 cruise lines, including the world's largest, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

    You can't find a cheaper vacation than spending a week on one of these "fun ships." But the vacation comes with a hidden price. The cruise lines are working their crew members excessively long hours and paying them extremely low wages.

    The Cruise Lines International Association says its "crew members are provided wages that are competitive with international pay scales." But a cleaner aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, will work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as $156.25 a week with no tips. U.S. labor laws are not applicable to provide protection to crew members at sea, nor is there any real oversight of the cruise lines' operations.

    The cruise industry insists that it is regulated and that the safety and security of its passengers and crew is its highest priority. Ships are subject to inspections by the countries they call on. In the United States, ships must pass initial and annual U.S. Coast Guard Marine inspections.

    But the Coast Guard is underfunded and understaffed and can't possibly conduct adequate inspections of the hundreds of cruise ships that call regularly on U.S. ports across the nation. And the ships are getting bigger and carrying more passengers every year. For example, Disney Fantasy -- whose safety is not in doubt -- is 14 decks high and more than three football fields long and can carry about 5,500 people.

    Cruise ships theoretically follow guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization and the recommendations in the Safety of Life at Sea. But the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations organization, does not have the authority to enforce its own guidelines, nor can it impose fines or criminal sanctions against cruise lines that flout Safety of Life at Sea recommendations. This obligation falls to flag states, like Panama.

    The result is that cruise lines are largely unregulated. They offer low-price cruise fares to get the passengers aboard and then make their profits from alcohol sales; casino, spa and photography activities; and shore excursions.

    The cruise lines operate their ships virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Cruise ships do not make money unless they are operating. The cruise lines push the ships just as hard as they push their crew members. A ship out of service for a week for routine maintenance means the loss of tens of millions of dollars and thousands of dissatisfied customers.

    It is in this environment that the 13-year-old Carnival Triumph was trying to sail back to Galveston.

    Cruise ships, like their foreign-based crew members, are treated as fungible goods. When crew members get debilitating injuries because of overwork and exhaustion, they are left in their home countries. The Triumph, sailing since 1999, will eventually end up being sold to the European market, renamed and abandoned as well.

    The push to always keep the show on the road without long delays causes the same problems in investigations of passenger disappearances, shipboard crimes and gastrointestinal illnesses. These investigations are often rushed so the cruise is held up for as little time as possible.

    When there is a norovirus outbreak on a ship, cruise lines are faced with the prospect of disembarking hundreds of ill passengers, sanitizing the ship and then reloading several thousands of passengers on board. It is an impossible prospect to locate and kill the virus on the massive ships given the short turnaround on an embarkation day. But the business model of the cruise industry is: Strike up the band and hand out the daiquiris, the cruise must go on.

    It is also impossible for governmental entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a thorough, painstaking epidemiology study to ascertain the type of virus and its origin. Cruise lines quickly blame the passengers for not washing their hands, but the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that the most likely and common source of norovirus is contaminated food or water.

    Crew members say that infected workers often do not complain of their illness out of fear of not being paid or of losing their jobs. Cruise lines tell the passengers to use hand sanitizers, but the culprit may be norovirus-laden salad.

    Unlike the U.S. commercial aviation industry, with strict Federal Aviation Administration oversight that can ground a fleet of aircraft, the cruise industry is largely accountable to countries like Panama or the Bahamas -- which may or may not want to offend their cruise line friends in Miami.
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    Feb 15, 2013 5:13 AM GMT
    The germ/sickness thing freaks me out. I hear too many stories of mystery illnesses on cruise ship. Also, years ago, I saw an investigative news story that showed cruise ships freely dumping junk into the ocean. From trash to furniture to machinery. I'm sure that practice still goes on. icon_confused.gif
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    Feb 15, 2013 5:29 AM GMT
    waaaaay tl;dr
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    Feb 15, 2013 5:34 AM GMT
    viitz saidA lot of that is a bit misconstrued.


    Agreed! I've been on 3 cruises and all I've ever experienced is fun! The news article won't stop me from taking future cruises.
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    Feb 15, 2013 5:51 AM GMT
    But a cleaner aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, will work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as $156.25 a week with no tips.

    Thats horrible. Seeing pushy greedy people overstuff themselves every couple of hours is sickening enough, but this is truly horrible.



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    Feb 15, 2013 5:58 AM GMT
    I highly recommend this tightly written article http://people.virginia.edu/~jrw3k/mediamatters/readings/cult_crit/Wallace_A.Supposedly.Fun.Thing.I'll.Never.Do.Again.pdf on cruises if you haven't read it yet.
  • Zinc

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    Feb 15, 2013 6:24 AM GMT
    If you think a cruise is such a raw deal for everyone, then don't purchase one. Simple. icon_eek.gif
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    Feb 15, 2013 6:38 AM GMT
    I've only been on one cruise (Holland America). It was ok. The staff was trained to make animals out of towels. Too much food available though. Way too fucking much.
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    Feb 15, 2013 7:02 AM GMT
    The only thing I could maybe see justified is some of the wages but I'm not really sure how to think about that. Even here in the USA, one company might have a different pay scale for separate offices depending on where they are located in the country. So NYC employees might get better salaries than they would in an area where the cost of living is less.

    Many of the crew on these ships are drawn internationally--especially those Disney ships--and don't forget they get to live aboard (no rent, no elec bills etc) and I would imagine they get very good food. They get uniforms. They don't have to commute. So they don't really have to spend very much money. They probably get to save more money than someone working a land-based job. So what happens when you have some crew from, say, Thailand, while other crew are from California. Ya gonna pay them the same?

    Is it equal pay for equal work when your employees are from all over the world?

    Say they both send money back to help support their families. So the Thai crew member sends back US $20k/yr and supports a family of 10. The American sends back US $20k and pays for his mother's luncheon for 10. Some exaggeration perhaps. But when I read that someone makes "only" $150/week in this circumstance, i don't know how to judge that. Because where they come from and to where they would be repatriated after working crew, that might be a lot of money.

    EDIT to add:

    Worst case scenerio, uneducated 20 year old guy from SE Asia crews on board. Makes $150/week. But all living expenses are paid. Maybe he spends $50/week in ports. Potential savings of $100/week = 5200/year compounded at 6% interest for 30 years & the guy retires back to SE Asia with a half million in his pocket at age 50. That's assuming he doesn't advance during those 30 years.

    Average net worth of American today at supposed retirement age?

    http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2012/07/23/retiree-net-worth-declines

    While the typical household headed by someone age 65 or older had a net worth of $170,128 in 2010, most of that wealth is in the form of home equity. "The run-up in housing values created a lot of wealth, but then the housing market decline took away a lot of that wealth," says Gottschalck. "When you take away home equity out of the net worth, wealth has remained relatively constant." If home equity is excluded from the calculation, the median senior-citizen household had a net worth of just $28,518 in 2010, down from $31,575 in 2005.

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    Feb 15, 2013 7:21 AM GMT
    Awesome. I am leaving for a cruise on Sunday.
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    Feb 15, 2013 7:33 AM GMT
    theantijock said.............
    EDIT to add:
    Worst case scenerio, uneducated 20 year old guy from SE Asia crews on board. Makes $150/week. But all living expenses are paid. Maybe he spends $50/week in ports. Potential savings of $100/week = 5200/year compounded at 6% interest for 30 years & the guy retires back to SE Asia with a half million in his pocket at age 50. That's assuming he doesn't advance during those 30 years.

    You go so caught up with being clever with your 4th grade math, you overlooked the fact that he worked 12 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Or maybe, thats Ok to you.
    icon_eek.gif
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    Feb 15, 2013 2:54 PM GMT
    sundayswim said
    theantijock said.............
    EDIT to add:
    Worst case scenerio, uneducated 20 year old guy from SE Asia crews on board. Makes $150/week. But all living expenses are paid. Maybe he spends $50/week in ports. Potential savings of $100/week = 5200/year compounded at 6% interest for 30 years & the guy retires back to SE Asia with a half million in his pocket at age 50. That's assuming he doesn't advance during those 30 years.

    You go so caught up with being clever with your 4th grade math, you overlooked the fact that he worked 12 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Or maybe, thats Ok to you.
    icon_eek.gif


    Oh really? How's this for fourth grade math: 1 + 1 = you're an idiot.

    In my very very very first line, you presumptuous, attacking little shit...

    I saidThe only thing I could maybe see justified is some of the wages


    There's a crap load of things wrong with that industry as indicated in the OP's article, duh. I don't like it at all and was only on once to make my family happy on a group trip. Just the pollution alone those things put out and the food waste is fucking disgusting. Why didn't you knock me down for not addressing those points either?

    I guess I wasn't clever enough to focus on more than one point at a time.

    But I can focus on one right now: Fuck you too. That okay with you?
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    Feb 15, 2013 3:08 PM GMT
    I dunno my friends do cruises all the time I personally see them as a trifle tacky
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    Feb 15, 2013 3:26 PM GMT
    yeahimback saidI dunno my friends do cruises all the time I personally see them as a trifle tacky

    Trifle must be defined as extremely, right?
    You would have to cuff me and gag me to get me on one of these whale cruises for the lame and obese. The fact that the media covered the latest cruise from hell as if this was news was absurd, as far as I am concerned, all cruises as like this, lazy complainers who should be allowed to float freely away from the world until their ships sink.
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    Feb 15, 2013 3:29 PM GMT
    smartmoney said
    yeahimback saidI dunno my friends do cruises all the time I personally see them as a trifle tacky

    Trifle must be defined as extremely, right?
    You would have to cuff me and gag me to get me on one of these whale cruises for the lame and obese. The fact that the media covered the latest cruise from hell as if this was news was absurd, as far as I am concerned, all cruises as like this, lazy complainers who should be allowed to float freely away from the world until their ships sink.


    Yep trifle meaning extremely, its an Aussie trait for understating
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    Feb 15, 2013 3:47 PM GMT
    When we lived in Hawaii, one of our friends got a job on one of the US-flagged ships that cruised the Hawaiian islands. Note that the US flagged ships are BETTER for employees - which of course is why no line flags their ships here, that costs money.

    He went off on a 3 day training cruise around the Big Island and back.

    When the ship docked back in Honolulu, he fled, didn't even ask for his paycheck. He said the conditions below decks were deplorable. The only outdoor space they were allowed was a small smoking deck in the aft, and four guys shared a bunk room - actually, three sets of four, they slept in shifts. "Slept" being defined loosely as he was woken up by a knife fight between two of his roommates the first night.
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    Feb 15, 2013 5:48 PM GMT
    Never worked the job so not familiar with the behind the scenes life onboard. I do recall saying to my mother on a Disney cruise that if one more crew smiles at me I'm gonna punch him the face.

    Here's some youtubes I just found showing behind the scenes. I don't know how truly representative they might be...





    long winded. I didn't get thru the whole thing. but race commentary @ 4:44


    On this vid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8UR4N13nFI there's similar comment as mine above such as "gizzada1 1 week ago before you make comments, you should get your facts straight and understand the economies, job opportunities, and wages of the individuals in the countries you´╗┐ speak of. I have family in the Phillipines, and working on a cruise ship pays significantly more money than any available job in their home town (education and experience being considered). It's all relative."










  • Latenight30

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    Feb 15, 2013 6:45 PM GMT
    Here we go again just like the airline industry.
    First off when you are part of a cruise ship, you live there, you work their. It is your city. 152.00 US isn't for someone renting a NY apartment.

    I have taken 4 cruises, and I'm about to take my 5th in a week. I get a great deal on the "cruise" so I can enjoy the booze, and excursions. I don't think any of this is hidden from anyone. If people want to enter into a contract they don't read, TOUGH NUGGIES! ( I have a dance for this also). I also follow the instructions for keeping my hands clean and what not.

    You have to factor in the size of these vessels and what they accomplish. Yes they work almost 365 days a year 24hrs a day. Floating cities are the best description.

    Now, in this most recent case, I think I would have given the option to get people off the ship, explaining that it would be as risky of an operation. For Carnival it was a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation.