Cruise ship corporations are capable of treating others with dignity and kindness, as I wrote about in yesterday’s post about Oasis of the Seas‘ discovery of a raft of Cuban refugees, and they are famous for providing economic opportunities for workers from disadvantaged nations. But just as often, they seem to be caught up in murkier accusations of unleashing environmental mayhem, obscuring independent investigation, and exploiting poorer economies in order to staff their megaships at a cheap price.
Those horror tales have been well documented, and the lines often counter the accusations with reminders that they adhere to the laws as currently written. An excellent place to find sourced documentation of watchdog stories in the cruise industry is CruiseLawNews.com, a site that happened to notice my Cuban refugee tweets two days ago.
Royal Caribbean came to Labadee, a somewhat isolated coastal town on the north coast of Haiti, in 1985. On a lease, it converted a peninsula of jungled farmland into a beach paradise sealed by a fence from the rest of this desperately impoverished nation. The cruise line affixed an SM service mark to the name of the village to protect its investment. It’s now in the first years of a renewed, 99-year lease on the property.
Other cruise lines, including Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival in the Bahamas, also maintain contracted areas in the Caribbean. By scheduling a day at one of these areas instead of a public port, cruise lines can control the beach experience while keeping most of the passengers’ expenditures for themselves. Going to ports with poor free foot exploration options (for example, Falmouth, Jamaica, the next stop after Haiti for Oasis of the Seas) is a clever new method cruise lines are using to keep tourists either on board or on shore excursions, both of which keep profits in the family.
In the notoriously corrupt nation of Haiti, 80% of people live below the poverty line, and two-thirds of the population has no job. Port-au-Prince, recently obliterated by an earthquake that killed tens of thousands, may be 85 miles away as the crow flies, but the twisting and poorly maintained mountain roads place it more like 140 miles distant. Not that Royal Caribbean’s tourists have the option of seeing it, or even the smaller city of Cap-Haitien, which is just six miles from Labadee. Armed guards patrol the cruise line’s idyll just out of sight of the pampered cruisers.