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Foreign Policy takes on the cruise ship industry

It’s not pretty (or that ethical).  I don’t even know if it is that safe.

Unfortunately, ship accidents are not the only safety concerns facing cruise passengers. Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, the FBI received 421 reports of onboard crime from cruise ships, including 115 simple assaults, 16 assaults with serious bodily injury, 101 thefts, and 154 sex-related incidents. Cruise ships made these crime reports following March 2007 congressional hearings in which the cruise industry made a commitment to report to the FBI all crimes against U.S. citizens (though the data also include some reports regarding foreign nationals). The rate of sexual assault on Carnival Cruise Lines in 2007 and 2008 was a surprisingly high 115 per 100,000 passengers.

Of course it a profitable industry based on really low wages.

The cruise industry’s atrocious environmental record is matched, perhaps, only by its disregard for workers’ rights. Workers on foreign-flagged vessels, even those owned by U.S.-based corporations, generally work without union protection and are frequently subjected to arbitrary wage cuts. As Paul Chapman, founder of the New York-based Center for Seafarers’ Rights, told the Los Angeles Times: "A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it’s a piece of cake."

Although the U.S. minimum wage was extended to ships registered in the United States in 1961, Congress left intact the exemption for foreign ships. A 1963 Supreme Court decision extended this exception by ruling that U.S. labour laws, including the right to organize, do not apply to foreign vessels engaged in American commerce, even if the owners of these ships are from the United States. This is the context in which the modern cruise ship industry developed and took hold. Today, as reflected in records disclosed in discovery in several court cases, the typical worker on a cruise ship has a mandatory 77-hour work week, can work for 10 to 12 months without a day off, and can earn as little as $450 per month.

Keeping these practices in place requires that cruise lines violate long-standing U.S. law. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, provides U.S. maritime workers with the right to sue for pain and suffering damages from job-related injuries. But in the mid- to late-2000s, following settlement of Borcea vs. Carnival, the cruise industry began including arbitration clauses in cruise-ship workers’ contracts — they are now commonplace. These clauses have dire consequences for crew members. They mean that a foreign cruise-ship worker on a U.S.-based ship has limited right to sue his or her employer in U.S. courts because the ship and the company operating the ship are both foreign-registered.

To make a long story short, the cruise industry pays essentially no taxes, flaunts the laws of the sea and then when it is in trouble, relies on the navies and coast guards of the world to bail it out.

The cruise industry enjoys an enviable position. The corporations are registered offshore, thus avoiding U.S. taxes and regulations, but they benefit from many services paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. For instance, as disclosed in Freedom of Information Act requests, one disappearance from a cruise ship can cost the U.S. Coast Guard more than $800,000; the Carnival Splendor’s engine-room fire that left it adrift off the Mexican coast in November 2010 reportedly cost the U.S. government $1.8 million. By registering ships under flags of convenience, the corporations also dodge U.S. labor laws, even though their passengers are mainly Americans. In effect, North Americans taking a cruise enjoy an economic vacation on the backs of the foreign workers employed on these sweatships.

I have never been on a cruise for the primary reason that I prefer to drive but their labour rates have driven me crazy for years.  Sadly as I read of a 77-hour work week and work for 10-12 months without a day off for the privilege of earning $450 a month, I am turned off by the prospect.

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