Nemesis List: Cruise Ships

When 35 passengers perish within shouting distance of shore, we have a Nemesis.

An oil removal ship approaches the grounded Costa Concordia cruise ship off the west coast of Italy at Giglio Island. (Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Subject: International Cruise Ship Fleets

a/k/a: Cities on the Seas

Occupation: Filling deckchair adventurers with all-you-can eat calories and delivering them by the multitudes to remote and often fragile global ports.

Crime: Habitat destruction, general environmental pariah, floating purveyors of food-borne illness, manslaughter.

Mode of Operation: A $27-billion-a-year industry, cruise ships host more than 18 million people annually on ever-bigger vessels, exemplified by the Royal Caribbean International Oasis of the Seas, a 5,400-passenger leviathan. These mega-boats disgorge temporarily invading populations that can shore up shaky local economies, and are also likely to overburden environmental-usage thresholds.

Passengers described disembarking from the sinking ship as a terrifying cluster of delays and unclear directions delivered by a crew that appeared to be untrained in lifesaving procedures.

Common Gut-Busting Stowaways: In November 2011, an American woman died aboard the MS Veendam, a luxury liner owned by the U.S. cruise company Holland America Line. Stomach flu had down 86 of the 1,800 people aboard. Norovirus outbreaks plagued four consecutive voyages of the Fred Olsen liner Boudicca. Norovirus is a pathogen that causes “unrelenting” vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is most commonly passed through contaminated food and water. The Vision of the Seas, a ship operated out of Norway by Royal Caribbean International, treated passengers to unrelenting symptoms on three separate cruises during a three-month period. Three Alaska cruise ships hosted norovirus outbreaks in the first half of 2011. The list of recent and repeat norovirus outbreaks extends well beyond this article’s allotted space, and is already nauseatingly repetitive.

Common Leave Behinds: Environmentalists nicknamed waters off British Columbia the “toilet bowl of North America” in honor of the sewage dumped by dozens of cruise ships chugging to and from Alaska. Unfortunately, the cruise industry’s toilet swirl extends well beyond British Columbia. The cruise ships collective spews into the sea, on a daily basis, 30,000 gallons of blackwater (treated human waste) and 225,000 gallons of graywater (runoff from laundries, showers, sinks, dishwashers). Roughly 75 to 80 percent of the trash generated aboard ships is incinerated on board, and the ash dumped at sea. Additionally, an average ship generates eight tons of bilge water (a mix of seawater and oil from routine maintenance) per day. Bilge water is supposed to be offloaded in port, but seriously. Could you hold it that long?

Most Recent Notoriety: The 4,200-passenger Costa Concordia, of the Carnival Cruise Line, floundered upon a reef and capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the Tuscany coastline. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, admitted to veering off course with the intention of showboating his vessel to a former colleague who was situated upon the craggy shores of Giglio Island. Eleven persons are confirmed dead and 24 people are still missing. Rescue efforts have been stopped. Passengers described disembarking from the sinking ship as a terrifying cluster of delays and unclear directions delivered by a crew that appeared to be untrained in lifesaving procedures. The Costa Concordia’s captain, by his own admission, “tripped and I ended up in one of the lifeboats. That’s how I found myself there.” At the captain’s side in that lifeboat, as reported by La Repubblica? Dimitri Christidis, the ship’s second in command, and the third officer, Silvia Coronica.

Collateral Damage of Recent Notoriety: The Costa Concordia, lodged on its side in the middle of a marine wildlife sanctuary, is a leaking time bomb loaded with 500,000 gallons of fuel. The Dutch company SMIT Salvage, which has been contracted to siphon the fuel and 200 tons of oil off the Costa Concordia, says two to four weeks will be needed to save the day. For all its technical wizardry, SMIT is powerless to keep weather and shifting tides from busting the ship open during that time and unleashing a flush of pollutants.

Disturbing Ratio: At least two-thirds of the Costa Concordia’s 1,023 crewmembers were entertainers, bartenders, casino and swimming pool attendants, cooks and waiters, heavily outnumbering qualified seamen.

Passenger Recourse: Cruise ships are often registered to Panama, Liberia or the Bahamas. These “flags of convenience” can leave legal rights and remedies of U.S. passengers flapping in the wind.

Chances of Nemesis Rehabilitation: Without international legislative overhaul? Slim. The global cruise industry’s system of governance operates with minimal interference from courts and regulators. Crime, pollution and safety and health violations often go unpoliced. No single authority is in charge.

Sources: Bloomberg | Reuters | The Telegraph | CruiseResearch.org

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