The ripples of the Costa Concordia tragedy have not yet died away, but Carnival Corporation- the largest cruise line company in the world- has been hit by another commercial and public relations disaster, the first lawsuit in which has already been filed in Miami. More may well follow.
The crippled luxury cruise ship Carnival Triumph has been towed in to Mobile, Alabama in the US. Thousands of passengers were left in misery after an engine room fire left the ship disabled in the middle of a Caribbean cruise. The ship ended up drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for days with 4200 passengers and crew- and with the US media going ballistic, giving a blow by blow account of conditions on board- little food, broken or overflowing sewage systems, no heat, no air conditioning, and panicked or irate passengers. Reports included stories about overflowing toilets, hours-long waits to get food and flooded rooms and fearful, weepy passengers who, amongst other things, feared for their lives.
One comic on US TV called the Carnival Triumph the ‘ship of stools,’ no doubt influenced by strident stories in the US media that expressed complete shock that the Triumph passengers had been asked to use “biohazard” bags after clogged toilets overflowed.
Industry experts have already seriously questioned safety standards aboard cruise ships after the Costa Concordia disaster. The Triumph accident – the cause of the fire is still not officially known- has added to concerns in the US about the mammoth passenger ships of today that set out to sea. Maritime lawyer Michael Winkleman says that calls for higher safety standards, more oversight and other regulatory changes that might affect cruise lines have fallen on deaf ears in Washington for decades “The cruise lines as a whole are spending a tremendous amount of money on lobbyists and doing a very effective job of it,” Winkleman told a US based newspaper.
Nonetheless, there has been considerable negative publicity connected with the Concordia and Triumph incidents. “It’s starting to build up that cruising is not safe,” CruiseCritic.com’s Carolyn Spencer Brown says. “Everybody out there who has ever thought about taking a cruise is having second thoughts. It’s a train wreck. There has to be an impact.”
Carnival has been accused of not communicating properly with information about the incident, with some saying that ‘budget trimming’ is having an impact on its operations. The Company operates around a hundred cruise ships worldwide that sail under the Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Lines, Princess, Cunard Line and Costa Cruises brand. It had revenue of $15.8 billion in 2011.
The company, and others in the cruise business, have all put on a brave face after the incident. Carnival has declined to comment on the possible impact on bookings post the negative publicity. Others have said that personal injury lawsuits may be difficult to prove, and that passengers may well decide not to sue. In any case, they point out, insurance should cover most costs- including the cost of cleaning up overflowing raw sewage.
As compensation, Carnival has promised to return Triumph passengers’ fares, and give credit worth $500 for another cruise. And, as the firm tweeted, “Of course the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary.” Ironic, because the same bathrobes were used by passengers as white boards on which they headlined their complaints.