The Carnival Dream, currently stranded on St. Maarten thanks to a generator failure, is just the latest ship in the cruise line's fleet to be crippled by prolonged exposure to sea water. In the wake of the Carnival Triumph debacle and the sinking of the Costa Concordia -- owned by Carnival Corp. -- the latest mishap at sea is yet another black eye for the cruising industry, which may be regretting allowing Carnival to join the fraternity right about now.
Carnival Cruise Lines is the largest cruise line on Earth and a poor representative of a diverse industry. To understand the company and its propulsion problems, it is probably best to look at its founder, Micky Arison, who sports fans probably know as the owner of the much reviled Miami Heat. Arison, an Israel-born businessman, helped his company grow by incorporating in Panama, avoiding literally billions of dollars in U.S. taxes. Panama, it should be noted, doesn't have an excellent record of monitoring labor practices.
It should be further noted that Arison doesn't live there.
If that all sounds incredibly tacky, it is for the simple reason that it is. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took the company to task in 2011 for paying a Federal Income Tax Rate of 1.1%. Not a typo.
Dodgy tax practices aren't what is turning Carnival's massive ships into glorified rafts, but they are indicative of the company's commitment to lower overhead and high returns. The cruise line made a gross profit of roughly $5,377,000,000 in 2012. Given that Carnival is known to pay its employees rock bottom salaries -- a Guardian investigation found employees making roughly $1.20 an hour -- it would hardly be surprising if the company was limiting its spending on, well, boats.
Given that Triumph simply stopped functioning while in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and that the Dream lost a generator, it is probably fair to say that if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and floats aimlessly around like a duck, someone probably didn't spend enough making sure it sailed like a ship.
The question then becomes about consequences. Cruise bookings are surprisingly resilient, even just after disasters -- thanks to the efforts of industry groups like Cruise Lines International Association -- and are generally covered in the context of the industry, where it is fair to say that they are the exception to the smooth sailing rule. Cruising is safe and fun, the argument goes. Don't worry about it.
Here's an alternative argument: Don't go on a Carnival Cruise. Choose to avoid Carnival because you object to it not paying taxes, offering terrible wages or because you don't particularly enjoy the sensation of having feces puddle around your ankles.
These are all perfectly valid reasons.
And if you do decide to take a Carnival Cruise, remember this bit of wisdom the passengers riding chartered jets home from St. Maarten learned the hard way: Lawyers are the new life preservers.