A Cruise "Junkie" Exposes the Industrys Dark Side
Cruising. A dream holiday. What could be better than lying on the deck of a modern cruise ship, soaking up the sun, and indulging whatever fits your mood? That is what sells cruises. But there are environmental and social costs one never discovers in a brochure.
Over the years, Ive been on close to a dozen different lines with cruises in the Mediterranean, Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, South America, and Alaska. As the ship was pulling into Cozumel, on one of my earliest cruises, one of the officers said: "You see that ship over there? The last time we were in the harbor, they took seven bodies off the ship." He explained that the crews dining room had run out of rice and a food riot had erupted. People had died. Thats a whole different perspective from what you read about. In 1996, I started thinking, maybe theres something to write about here. In 1998, I finally put pen to paper. As a sociologist, I first became intrigued with the social life and social problems onboard. As I accumulated additional experiences, I began to uncover the underside of shipboard life.
Contrary to positive media and industry
representations, the harsh reality is that the industry is neither
environmentally nor socially sustainable. It also has a history
of misleading consumers through advertising. The less-than-positive
side has been occasionally identified, but the industrys
economic power it has an advertising budget of over a
half a billion dollars has been relatively successful
in keeping bad press to a minimum. In 1978, it demonstrated this
power following a story in the Sunday Times that reported U.S.
inspectors had found cockroaches and other filth in the galleys
of the Queen Elizabeth II and sister Cunard Line ships.
In retribution, Cunard Line withdrew $100,000 in advertising
both from the Sunday Times and the London Times.
Like other corporations, the cruise ship industry is out to make money. Carnival Cruise Lines is one of the most effective. Most passengers, trusting the advertising that promotes the cruises, expect few, if any, expenses that have not been covered by the "all-inclusive" fare. They are quickly surprised by the multitude of methods used to separate them from their money. Almost giving their cruises away, the lines rely heavily on onboard spending for their profit margin. In 1999, the average person spent between $220-$232 per day on onboard spending: in bars, gift shops, and for onshore excursions. In the past five years, Holland America has increased its take per passenger for shore excursions by over seventy percent. Recently, I was on Carnivals newest ship, the Carnival Legend. This "all inclusive" ship will make over a million dollars a year with its extra tariff dining room and à la carte menu minimum $25 per person alone. In 1997, a Princess ship one of their smaller ones was reported in an industry paper as taking in six million dollars a week from onboard spending. Its mind boggling.
To generate further revenue, the newer ships are eliminating outdoor deck space and replacing it with cabins with balconies. The older ships always had a back deck; now theres very little, if any, exterior deck space. Its all in the interior with enclosed glass that can be opened. When I was aboard the Carnival Legend, what struck me was that its the last step in the transition into the cruise ship being a resort and not a ship. It used to be that if you went on a ship, you knew you were on a ship. The ships that were being built in the 90s were trying to mimic the resorts, but you still had a sense of being on a ship. That sense is now almost entirely gone.
Tour operations, particularly in Alaska, have also become the domain of the cruise lines. In 1968, on one of my earliest cruises, there were no tour operations. We explored on our own, or in small groups. Today, cruise lines increasingly are the owners of buses, railcars, and end-point resorts, controlling much of the shore side activity. Local tour operators are left to compete with the cruise line (which has the passengers undivided attention for sales while onboard the ship) and often have to undersell their product. The economic domination of the cruise line means that little revenue trickles down to local residents. The problem is further compounded in terms of employment. The seasonal nature of the stores means that they hire mainly college students arriving in Alaska for summer work. For those in the local community, jobs are not only few in number, but are often minimum wage, available only during the peak tourist season. Tourists displace locals from their quiet community, and outsiders wanting summer employment displace employment opportunities.
Hiring outsiders is also common for those providing shore excursions. The result for visitors is that they are given inaccurate and incomplete information. A message posted on a Usenet newsgroup in July by a person living in the Yukon Territory is revealing. The author tells of several cruise ship passengers who approached him while sitting outside a general store in Carcross (Yukon Territory), which is where the White Pass Railroad stops to offload cruise passengers. One young woman asked if his home had a dirt floor he laughed, assuming she was joking, but she wasnt. Not only had their driver told them that many of the people have dirt floors, he said that they suspend babies in a sort of hammock above the floor. The man pointed out that he had no running water as its too remote, but he does have electricity, high-speed Internet access, a gas kitchen, and wood floors. This wasnt the view given by their tour guide.
Many ships have stores and boutiques that are owned and run by Miami Cruiseline (100 ships, 26 cruise lines including Carnival and RCI Royal Caribbean International), a subsidiary of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, which possesses sixty well known brand names, including Dom Pérignon, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Christian Dior. Many of its brand names are sold in onboard stores, and these stores often guarantee that onshore merchants will not undersell them. Its an easy guarantee to make when the wholesaler and manufacturer of many of the products own the onboard retailer. Miami Cruiseline (through Onboard Media) is also responsible on many cruise ships for port lecturers, marketing shore excursions, and the shopping program (i.e., providing a list of preferred stores for shopping).
Merchants, tour providers, taxis, and local guides are all at the mercy of multinational companies for their livelihood. They have to compete with the multinational, or if they sell their product to the multinational it is often at a price that leaves little real profit. Stores pay considerable sums to be included in the ships shopping program. The effect: the cruise line and the company marketing the shore excursion and the onshore stores make sizable profits. These profits end up in the coffers of a faceless corporation with headquarters thousands of miles away; relatively little remains in the local community. The irony is that the cruise lines, because they are foreign-registered, pay virtually no corporate income tax. Even a corporation like Carnival, earning a billion dollars every year, pays virtually no corporate income tax because it is registered in Panama. Royal Caribbean, which also owns Celebrity Cruises, is registered in Liberia where there are no taxes. P&O Princess, apparently the highest taxed of the major cruise companies, is registered in the UK and pays taxes amounting to approximately 5% of its worldwide net income.
Revenue isnt the only important factor.
Given the waste that is produced on a cruise ship 100
gallons of wastewater per day per person, including ten gallons
of sewage, as well as 3.5 kilograms of solid waste per person
per day ships have an interest in remaining in areas where
waste can be legally discharged. International regulations limit
the discharge of sewage within four or twelve miles of the coast
(depending on whether the sewage is treated) and disposal of
other waste within three or twelve miles (depending on whether
it has been ground and fits through a 25 mm screen). There are
no regulations pertaining to gray water wastewater from
showers and sinks, the galley, the spa, and beauty parlor
almost anything that goes down a drain other than a toilet.
Visiting Alaska today is a stark contrast to 1968. Then, we would get off the ship, which had no preplanned shore excursions, and either wander through town or hire a car to explore a bit further. Cruise passengers were welcomed because they arrived in small numbers. They were also different than those who cruise to Alaska today. People going in 1968 were a bit adventuresome the cruises were not luxury and they were not cheap. Today, people go on a cruise to be shown the sites so they can go home and tell friends that they have seen Alaska.
The influx of up to 10,000 visitors in a single day to a community of 1000 year-round residents is not trivial sidewalks are congested (if passable at all), noise volume is high, and the site is far from the reality of the town when cruise ships are not visiting. During my 1996 cruise, I was told numerous times of the love-hate relationship with cruise passengers and the cruise industry. While there was conscious awareness of the economic value of the cruise industry, there was also contempt for the huge numbers of people who would overrun the town for the day and leave their refuse behind. The feeling of being invaded was commonly expressed, and I often heard: "The cruise season has just begun, but I cant wait until it is over so I can walk down the street or enjoy a quiet meal at a restaurant." These were simple pleasures, impossible to indulge in from May through September.
My biggest surprise during my 1996 cruise was when I got off the ship in Ketchikan. My memory of a totem pole next to a 60s era Western Auto store didnt fit. Ketchikan was now a modern city with some of the largest stores in town the same as those found at ports in the Caribbean: Little Switzerland, Diamonds International, and other familiar names had prime locations. Name recognition and their ability to discount merchandise means that much of the cruise passenger business goes to them rather than to the locally owned and operated shops.
The reaction to environmental assaults, combined with the broader economic issues, is visible in many Alaskan communities. Some communities limit cruise ship visits. For example, residents of Sitka overwhelmingly voted down a proposal to construct a wharf that would enable ships to offload passengers directly into the downtown area. The town of 8800 people believed that the need to transport passengers ashore via lifeboats would keep a lid on its more than 225,000 cruise passenger visits per year. The town of Tenakee Springs was more aggressive. It proclaimed that cruise ship tourism is incompatible with the communitys lifestyle, facilities, and services, and vowed to take whatever steps necessary to prevent this type of tourism in the town. When the first cruise ship came to visit in August 1998 a small ship with only 120 passengers the city tried to persuade the ship to cancel the visit. After that effort failed, cruise passengers were handed leaflets as they disembarked, and were told they were not welcome as part of an organized tour, but they would be welcome to return on their own. Most businesses closed during the visit.
In other communities, the publicity around cruise ship pollution tipped the balance in favor of new taxes on cruise ship passengers. In 1999, voters in Juneau approved, with a seventy percent majority, a five dollar head tax for each cruise passenger landing in the city. A similar tax had been defeated just three years earlier. The five-dollar head tax was the first time any port of call in an American state had imposed such a fee. Holland America Line responded to the tax by withdrawing much of its support to Juneau charities. Al Parrish, a Holland America Line Vice President was quoted by the Juneau Empire, "Were reassessing our whole involvement in Juneau In the past weve had a good, informal relationship with Juneau. But its been made clear by Juneau citizens that the relationship needs to be reassessed." Citing economic hardship, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced in March 2002 that it had halted its cash contributions to Alaska communities. The decision means a loss of tens of thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations, including arts councils in Juneau and Ketchikan and the United Way.
As I look to the future, I have great concern for the environment in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and for environmental impact in general. While the cruise industry argues that international regulations and local initiatives such as Alaskas are enough, the simple fact is that restrictions are inadequate and the environment continues to be threatened. The industry presents other environmental risks. Reports of discharges in Alaskas ports continue. As recently as August 2002, a Holland America ship discharged more than 40,000 gallons of partially treated sewage into Juneau Harbor. Groundings and shipboard fires have resulted in spills of oil and other pollutants in the Inside Passage. There is great potential for a major calamity. In August 2002, Holland America Lines Ryndam lost all power and drifted for twenty minutes down the Lynn Canal. With no navigation, it was pure luck that it didnt hit a rock. Earlier in the year, a near-miss involving Celebrity Cruises Infinity and Royal Caribbeans Legend of the Seas was reported by Juneau residents. Either of these could have resulted in massive damage to the environment and local ecology.
Events such as these are not limited to Alaska. In August 2002, Holland America Lines Statendam lost all power following an engine room fire and was adrift in the Straits of Georgia for several hours until tugs arrived to tow it back to Vancouver. Six years earlier, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigated a near miss in Discovery Channel (between Vancouver Island and the mainland) that involved the Statendam and the Belle Isle Sound/Radium 622. The collision was narrowly averted when the Belle Isle Sound/Radium 622, a tug-barge unit carrying a cargo of dynamite and propane took evasive action. The investigation laid blame for the near miss on the cruise ships bridge officers and the pilot. There is also the cost to the environment. It isnt just the discharge of pollutants into the sea, but collisions of ships with whales, discharging waste with known and unknown effects in ecologically fragile fish beds, and what are often described as "accidental" discharges in harbors and ports. Many of these accidents never reach public attention.
My concerns go beyond environmental issues. While the cruise industry has positive economic impacts on many ports, these benefits rarely come for free. The industry plays ports off against one another the future holds an unknown contest between Seattle and Vancouver for the finite cruise business. When I embarked for Alaska in 1968, Vancouver was the only choice the port was small and uncongested. In 2002, more than one million passengers passed through the Port of Vancouver in 2002 a fifty percent increase over 1996. The Port of Vancouver recently spent $89 million to expand Canada Place. Seattle, in contrast, has grown from 7000 passengers in 1999 to 250,000 in 2002. The number of passengers will double to close to 500,000 in 2003. The cruise lines have already outgrown the $110 million Bell Street Pier, so a new cruise ship terminal is being built at Pier 30 for the 2003 season. The cost of the project estimated to be $18 million is more than three times the $5 million cost for the original plan which would have converted the building at Pier 90 into a passenger terminal. The project is at the root of a 37 percent increase in the tax rate on King County property owners for the Port of Seattle.
New ships able to cruise faster initially fueled Seattles growth as a port. Norwegian Cruise Line was the first with the Norwegian Sky in 2000, and Royal Caribbean and others followed. Growth is supported by sufficient air capacity via Sea-Tac International Airport (a major drawback for Vancouver). Cabotage laws that prohibit foreign-flag vessels from carrying passengers between domestic ports without visiting an international destination, which previously made Vancouver the focal point for Alaska cruises, are satisfied by cruises from Seattle by a stop at either Victoria or Vancouver en route to Alaska.
Future growth looks promising for Seattle. But such growth depends either on increasing numbers of cruise ships going to Alaska something that is not anticipated by the cruise industry or by redeployment of ships from Vancouver to Seattle. The second source of growth has uncertainties. The Port of Vancouver will undoubtedly work to recover business lost to Seattle. And the cruise lines will be happy to play one port against the other for the deal that serves them best.
Though the result of such conflicts is unknown, environmental issues will continue to be an issue in any case. For some, the decision to construct a cruise terminal at Pier 30 rather than convert unused Pier 90 to an interim cruise ship facility is an environmental issue. Because Pier 90 would have required underwater renovation, the Port needed to conduct an environmental review. The review would have addressed environmental impacts of the renovation and potentially broader environmental impacts such as spills and dumping, but it also would have delayed the project and the new terminal needed to be ready for the 2003 season. Thankfully, ships docking at Pier 30 will be required to burn low sulfur fuel while in port the typical ship produces the same volume of exhaust as 12,240 automobiles. But there is no such requirement at the Bell Street Pier, even though the same ships may dock at both. Other wastes, either discharged at sea or offloaded at Seattle, can also be an issue. These include 100 gallons of wastewater and sewage and 7 ½ pounds of solid waste produced daily by each cruise ship passenger, as well as oily bilge water, hazardous and toxic chemicals, medical waste, and plastic. Preventing discharge of these wastes into Puget Sound (and beyond) is one concern; ensuring that they are properly labeled and handled when off-loaded at Seattle is another.
Ross A. Klein is the author of Cruise Ship Blues (New Society Publishers, November 2002) and a Professor of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Visit his website at <www.cruisejunkie.com>.
A typical cruise ship with 2600 passengers on a one-week voyage produces on average: 245,000 gallons of sewage, 2.2 million gallons of grey water, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, 141 gallons of photo chemicals, seven gallons of dry cleaning waste, thirteen gallons of used paints, five pounds of batteries, ten pounds of fluorescent lights, three pounds of medical waste, and 108 pounds of expired chemicals. Some of this ends up in the ocean, either intentionally or because it is mixed with grey water. Plastics, as well, make their way into the ocean when incinerator ash is discharged there is no guarantee that all plastic and dioxins have been eliminated and when it goes down the toilet or the pulpers in the galley.
The cruise ship industry is the fastest growing segment of leisure travel. Even after the September 11 tragedy, it is on track for approximately a three- percent increase from 2001. Since 1970, the number of people taking a cruise has increased more than one thousand percent. Worldwide, the figure for 2000 was over 12 million passengers. This pattern of growth is expected to continue. Within the next four to five years, Holland-America forecasts a 73 percent increase in capacity. Carnival Corporation is anticipating an 18 percent increase per year for the next several years. By 2006, the industry is expected to have increased capacity by more than 100,000 beds since 2000. Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, Star Cruises, and P&O Princess control almost ninety percent of all berths on cruise ships.
More than 25 ships plied the waters of Alaska in 2002, accounting for more than 430 cruises. During the summer months, cruise ships collectively are the third largest city in Alaska. Carrying 730,000 visitors per year, these ships impact the Inside Passages local economies, communities, and environment. Not all of these impacts are positive.
1998: Holland America Line fined $2 million for a discharge of oily bilge water in Alaskas Inside Passage. The same year, Royal Caribbean International was fined $9 million for falsifying records of oily bilge discharges in Florida and Puerto Rico.
1999: Royal Caribbean International fined an additional $18 million for 21 counts of dumping oil, dry cleaning fluids, photographic chemicals, and solvents from the print shop, and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard. These cases were all in Federal court.
2000: Royal Caribbean was fined $6.5 million by the State of Alaska for dumping toxic chemicals and oil-contaminated water into the states waters. As part of the plea agreement, Royal Caribbean agreed not to discharge wastewater within three miles of Alaskas coastline.
2002: Carnival Corporation was fined $18 million after it admitted to dumping oily waste from five ships operated by Carnival Cruise Line. It also admitted that employees made false entries in record books from 1998 to 2001.
2002: Norwegian Cruise Line was fined $1.5 million for discharging oily bilge water and other waste overboard the SS Norway and at least one other ship. The fine was considered lenient because the cruise line turned itself in to the Department of Justice.
Given expansion and staff turnover, the cruise industry requires as many as 100,000 new workers every year, the majority of them drawn from countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, The Caribbean, and Central America. Many are seduced by the idea of getting paid to travel the world on some of the most modern and beautiful ships, but that image is often not the reality. As the ITF reports, "below decks on virtually all cruise ships, there is a hidden world of long hours, low pay, insecurity, and exploitation. Those who work continuously below deck, like in the galleys (ship kitchens), rarely see the light of day, let alone the shimmering sea of the Caribbean." Workers commonly work 10-13 hours a day, seven days a week. A shipboard waiter may work as many as 16 hours a day, every day. Remuneration is low by North American standards. Wages for salaried workers who receive no tips can be as low as $400 a month. Sexual exploitation (of male and female staff by superiors) is not uncommon.