As the sewage-laden Carnival Cruise ship staggered into Mobile, Alabama last night, the mainstream media has begun to analyze what went wrong. Almost every point is made, except the crucial one: corporate greed is what made this the cruise from hell.
When I was very young I looked forward to visits to New York City, especially the drive along the West Side Highway. Back then steamship cruises were still popular and our family would “ooh” and “aah” at the sight of the Queen Elizabeth, one of the most beautiful ships ever made.
Today it is impossible to distinguish one cruise ship from another, especially those that fly under the Carnival Cruise banner. Heavily advertised on television, the company markets to working class people, those who never would have booked a trip on the Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, the audience for the ads is the same as it is for the time-share resorts sold by David Siegel through Westgate, incorporated. In the documentary “Queen of Versailles”, which is focused on Siegel’s wife Jackie as she tries to adjust to a more modest life-style after the prime mortgage crash knocks Westgate on its ass, you can see couples being shown around a Siegel property in Las Vegas that has the cheap and gaudy allure of a Carnival Cruise liner.
Carnival Cruise’s CEO is Micky Arison, who lives in Florida like David Siegel and shares his Jewish ethnicity. He also owns the Miami Heat, the championship basketball team led by Lebron James.
“Devils on the Deep Blue Sea: The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns That Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires” by Kristoffer A. Garin came out in 2005. The N.Y. Observer review provides background on the industry:
Mr. Garin begins by recounting the cruise industry’s exotic lineage. Its “grandfather” is F. Leslie Fraser, a Jamaican plantation owner who, between hobnobbing with Errol Flynn and General Rafael Trujillo, launched the first Miami-based pleasure cruise line in the 1950’s. His concept begat the “modern cruise industry’s founding fathers”: a Norwegian, Knut Kloster, and an Israeli, Ted Arison. The son of wealthy shipowners, Arison was a WWII veteran who smuggled Jews into Palestine, fought in the war for Israeli independence, emigrated from America (because, says Mr. Garin, he “wanted to be a self-made man”) and was eulogized by The Jerusalem Post as the “world’s richest Jew.”
But before that, Arison was Kloster’s partner in Norwegian Caribbean Lines. Their venture was successful, so successful that financial disputes drove a wedge between them. In 1971, Arison launched his own company, which pioneered the marketing scheme that redefined tackiness as we know it: the “fun ship” concept, which meant selling the ship, not the port of call, and catering to the lower, not upper tier of the market. It meant the birth, in other words, of the Wal-Mart of the sea: Carnival Cruise Lines, which now has a market capitalization of $36 billion and control of over 50 percent of the market.
From the start-up sagas of the 60’s, to the Love Boat era launched in 1977—when the television premiere of a “glorious, unapologetic shlockfest” became the best advertising cruise lines couldn’t buy—to the “Me Decade,” when bigger, fatter ships (and customers) proved that size does matter, Devils on the Deep Blue Sea traces the rise of the current industry trinity: Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. But really it’s the story of Carnival, its rise from penny-pinching underdog to corporate behemoth (during the past decade, it rapaciously gobbled up rival cruise companies).
Carnival Cruise is the quintessential “globalization” entity. Using its foreign registry, it avoids American taxes and regulations, especially those that might protect the health and safety of its working class passengers and the super-exploited Third World workforce.
On December 24, 1999, the N.Y. Times described how both passengers and crew are sacrificed to the altar of profits:
Four Filipino waiters filed suit in state court in Miami three years ago, claiming that they had been blacklisted after objecting to being forced to return part of their tips to their cruise line and hiring a lawyer, Luis A. Perez, to represent them. Lawyers for Majesty Cruise Line, the company that employed the waiters, denied retaliating and said the lawsuit was the result of a misunderstanding. The case is pending.
Douglas B. Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarers’ Rights, which is affiliated with the Seamen’s Church Institute, said there was ample evidence of blacklists.
“There are so many people ready, willing and able to take these jobs that you are not going to find too many people willing to complain, because they are afraid of losing their job and being blacklisted,” Mr. Stevenson said.
In October, at a sentencing hearing in Miami for Royal Caribbean Cruises on pollution-law violations, the Justice Department said the disparity in work, pay and opportunities for advancement on ships made employees less likely to call attention to crimes like the cruise line’s years-long dumping of contaminated waste water.
“The work practices hardly empower the lowest levels to challenge pollution practices or provide such employees a direct route of communication with senior ship or shore-side managers, as good corporate compliance practices would dictate,” prosecutors said in court papers.
A Nexis search on “Carnival Cruise” and “accident” will return 816 articles. Here is a sampling:
Journal of Commerce, May 18, 1989, Thursday
SAFETY BOARD SAYS CRUISE LINE WON’T COOPERATE IN ITS PROBE
A cruise company whose luxury liner rammed into a Cuban merchant vessel, killing its captain and two seamen, is refusing to cooperate with federal investigators, according to safety officials.
A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines Inc., however, said the Miami company is responding to investigators in Liberia, where its vessel is registered, and accused the head of the National Transportation Safety Board of making misleading and totally irresponsible” statements about the company.
The New York Times, June 20, 1995
Vessel Sent to Assist Stranded Cruise Ship
Carnival Cruise Lines sent out an ocean liner today to bring ashore, if necessary, more than 2,500 people left adrift on a ship in the Bahamas with no air conditioning or hot food after an electrical fire.
The blaze on Sunday in a control room left the ship, the Celebration, without a main power source, its engines unable to restart.
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), February 20, 1996
Pilot of stranded ship has a past
Harbor pilot Thomas Baggett, who only recently completed his probation from a fiery 1993 vessel crash in Tampa Bay, is under scrutiny again.
Baggett, 65, was guiding the Carnival cruise ship Tropicale on Sunday night when the ship and its 1,600 passengers and crew ran aground along a Tampa Bay channel 2 miles south of MacDill Air Force Base.
Baggett, who has been the subject of more state and federal disciplinary actions than any other harbor pilot on Tampa Bay, was released from probation on Jan. 10, state records said. The probation was imposed after hearings into the crash Aug. 10, 1993, of three vessels on Tampa Bay.
The Balsa 37, with Baggett as pilot, was outbound in Tampa Bay’s channels that morning. It collided with a barge carrying jet fuel and another barge carrying heavy bunker oil. More than 300,000 gallons of the oil spilled into Tampa Bay, coating beaches and soaking wildlife. It still sits on the bottom in spots of the bay. Cleanup costs approached $50-million.
It was Baggett’s fourth license suspension by state or federal authorities and fourth probation during his nearly 26-year piloting career. Baggett has also received three letters of guidance, a reprimand and an admonishment for his actions on the water during his career. A review of federal and state records after the 1993 crash found that Baggett had been involved in 19 mishaps or near-mishaps while piloting.
Sunday night was the third time Baggett was piloting a cruise ship when it ran into trouble, according to state and federal records. In 1984, the Scandinavian Star ran aground while Baggett was guiding. He was not disciplined. In 1987, Baggett’s license was suspended for 45 days when the Scandinavian Star, with Baggett at the controls, crashed into another ship while overtaking.
On land, Baggett once lost his driving privileges after being charged with drunken driving. He has been involved in four traffic accidents since 1984, according to state records. Last year, Baggett paid $ 105 in civil penalties after being ticketed for making an improper U-turn and having an expired registration, Pinellas court records show.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), July 21, 1998
60 PASSENGERS ARE INJURED IN CRUISE SHIP FIRE; BLAZE STARTS IN LAUNDRY AS LINER LEAVES MIAMI
Fire broke out in a crew laundry aboard a cruise ship that had just set sail from Miami on Monday with more than 2,500 vacationers aboard. The blaze burned through three lower decks before the crew extinguished it and the vessel was towed back to shore.
Smoke billowed from the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Ecstasy during the height of the two-hour fire.
At least 60 people were injured, most of them suffering from smoke inhalation and one with an undisclosed heart problem. Nine paramedics were on board treating the injured.
Tampa Tribune (Florida), October 6, 1999, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION
Ship fire may have been worsened by faulty valve
TAMPA – The valve may have let leaking diesel fuel feed the fire aboard the cruise ship Tropicale.
A Coast Guard inquiry of a cruise ship fire focused Tuesday on a fuel valve in one of the ship’s boilers, which crewmen said hadn’t been operating properly.
A possibly faulty shut-off valve may have let diesel fuel leak into the engine room of the cruise ship Tropicale, fueling a fire that left the ship disabled amid tropical storm waters, the ship’s chief engineer said Tuesday.
After the Sept. 19 fire aboard the 660-foot Carnival Cruise Lines ship started in the engine room’s boiler compartment, crew members tried to stop the flow of fuel into the area.
San Jose Mercury News (California), November 10, 2010 Wednesday
Spam and a slow tow for thousands on cruise ship stranded in Pacific
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Coast Guard official says one of two tugboats tasked with pulling a disabled cruise ship to San Diego didn’t have enough power and was forced to turn back.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Jetta Disco says a Mexican company has sent a third tugboat to the scene but authorities are trying to determine whether it would be better to leave the one tugboat alone while it slowly makes headway.
She says using two tugboats is more complicated and may not necessarily move the ship faster.
An engine fire Monday cut power to the Carnival Splendor, carrying nearly 4,500 passengers and crew on a Mexican Riviera cruise.
Instead of lavish buffets, passengers on the Carnival Splendor were subsisting on Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crabmeat flown in by Navy helicopters. Carnival says the boat is starting to move into cell phone range.
You would think that with such a compromised record, America’s most famous liberal magazine would think twice about raising funds through such tours. But apparently the Nation Magazine organizes them for the same reason that Carnival Cruise is in business: to raise money.
With the sea cruise business generating such bad publicity it was just a matter of time before a leftist brought the magazine to task. As one might have expected, it was up to CounterPunch, the real alternative to the Nation in a million different ways, to hold its feet to the fire:
Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 18-20, 2011
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The Silence of “The Nation”
The Dark Side of the Cruise Ship Industry
by RUSSELL MOKHIBER
Let’s say you are a crusading liberal magazine.
Exposing corporate power.
Champion of the workers.
Defender of liberalism.
But, on the other hand, for the past 13 years, let’s say that you have been raising an average of $200,000 a year by charging readers for a chance to float on a monster cruise ship through beautiful seaways with hundreds of your fellow liberals and listen to prominent writers and activists denounce corporate power.
And let’s say the cruise ship industry you are partnering with has a nasty history of environmental crimes and treating its mostly third world workforce like modern day slaves.
And let’s say that in the 13 years you have been taking your readers on cruise ships, you have been approached many times by investigative reporters and activists pleading with you to run one article – just one – in your crusading magazine about the dark side of the cruise ship industry.
And you agree that you will.
But you never do.
Let’s just say that was the case.
What would be the explanation for that?
Well, one explanation would be – if you expose the industry for polluting the seaways and treating its workers like modern day slaves, then your readers might be less willing to dish out the $1500 to $5000 per person to go on the cruise.
And you wouldn’t be making as much money for your magazine.
Another explanation would be that you just haven’t had the time to get around to it.
Thirteen years is just a blink in time.
And you just can’t do it all.
Even if reporters and activists are willing to do it for you.