I have read a number of stories and countless twitter posts recently about the the “Haiti cruise ship scandal”. The issue is that here less than one week after Haiti has suffered a major earthquake and while people are still digging out what may total 200,000 bodies, Royal Caribbean is disembarking cruise ship passengers on Haiti at its private beach at Labadee. That is clearly wrong and immoral! Right?
MIAMI – January 15, 2010 – Royal Caribbean Cruises, one of Haiti’s largest foreign investors for almost 30 years, today announced its plans to provide at least $1 million in humanitarian relief to Haiti in response to the catastrophic earthquake in Port-Au-Prince. Royal Caribbean will be partnering with charitable organizations – such as Food for the Poor, Pan American Development Foundation, and the Solano Foundation, the company’s foundation in Haiti – to provide additional assistance to the people of Haiti. Royal Caribbean will also be delivering much needed goods and supplies to Haiti via their cruise ships.
Leslie Voltaire, Special Envoy of the government of Haiti to the United Nations said, “Given the terrible economic and social challenges we now face in Haiti, we welcome the continuation of the positive economic benefits that the cruise ship calls to Labadee contribute to our country.”
The benefits start with Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas’ call today to Labadee, Haiti, which includes much needed supplies for the country. The supplies were loaded on the ship during its call in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and include items such as rice, dried beans, powdered milk, water and canned goods. In addition, 100 percent of the company’s net revenue from the destination will be contributed to the relief effort.
If Royal Caribbean started docking in Port-au-Prince and running “let’s go see the bodies” shore excursions then I think there would be general agreement that they were just exploiting the disaster and were getting in the way of the rescue efforts, but that is not what they are doing.
I think it is a fair bet that cruise ships docked this week in Jamaica and Puerto Rico with no controversy at all (or at least the usual controversy about cruise ship travel). From what I can tell ships like the Grand Princess from Princess Cruises docked in Santo Domingo on the same island as Haiti in the neighboring Dominican Republic this week and that fact was not considered news worthy.
Royal Caribbean’s private beach at Labadee is 83 miles from Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo is 153 miles from Port-au-Prince. Is there something about that 70 mile difference that should make Royal Caribbean detestable and Princess just another cruise line. Certainly the fact that Royal Caribbean is coming back to Haiti itself seems to make the difference for many people.
I live in California and have never been in an earthquake that killed 200,000 people but I was in the Loma Prieta earthquake that was almost as powerful as the Haitian quake. We ran into the same question about when is it OK to return to normal life. The quake happened in the middle of the World Series which was postponed for a week but even then it was controversial to continue the series. Should real life continue? Sure, but when and for whom? I can tell you that most people I know went to work the day after the quake. While they were still finding bodies most of us were doing what we did every day and I lived much closer than 83 miles to the epicenter of that quake.
Haiti is poor. Haiti is dirt poor. In fact 2 years ago MSN wrote a story about the poorest of the people in Haiti eating dirt for nourishment. There are many factors as to why Haiti is poor including colonialism, bad governments, over population, a scarcity of resources. Most of us don’t like to see poverty.
Some of the fuss about Royal Caribbean is that how can they bring rich cruises to such a poor island where poor people might watch rich people over-eating at the lunch buffet. Isn’t that tasteless at best? As I see it that emotional response is based on 3 things:
- Poverty is unseemly. Royal Caribbean is a cruise company and they are paid to take people some place. So they can decide to take them to Haiti or they can take them some place else. If they take them some place else then the rich and poor won’t have to rub elbows. That does not make the poverty of Haiti better, it just ignores it.
- Cruising is unseemly… at least to some people. For some the issue is not with Haiti but with cruise ships in general. The midnight buffet is a metaphor for a society based on over consumption and excess. I get that point of view even if I don’t completely agree with it. I have taken 15 volunteer trips to build housing and 1 cruise that stopped at a private beach (in the Bahamas). Let that ratio inform you of my personal travel preferences.
- Profit is unseemly… at least to some people. My first job after college was at Hewlett-Packard which had the reputation at that time as one of the most enlightened companies that was doing great things in its local communities. Knowing that, I was surprised when I learned that the number one item in the famous “HP Way” was “be profitable”. An aid worker can be of no help if they are not nourished. A company can be of no help if it does not make money. So we can cry that Royal Caribbean should donate all of its cruise ships or give more than the million dollars* that it has already pledged to earthquake relief but we need to understand that it is able to donate a million dollars because it takes people on cruises. It is naive to think that it will, could or should stop doing that.
Royal Caribbean has brought jobs to 230 Haitians at Labadee. All of those employees are safe and accounted for. Jobs actually do help bring people out of poverty. Royal Caribbean has been involved in Haiti for nearly 30 years, before it was fashionable to do so, and will likely be involved still when the world’s attention moves on in a week or so. In my mind, whether you like cruising or loathe it that still makes Royal Caribbean part of the solution more than part of the problem so can’t we cut them some slack?