Reasons The Cruise Business Should Go To The Bottom
Before Coronavirus totally cratered the entire industry, cruise tourism had been on the rise for the past decade with more and more millennials warming to the idea of spending enough money to buy and legally murder a sea turtle for the privilege of playing shuffleboard on the piss-washed decks of a smog-farting leviathan adrift like a lost icebreaker two days before cannibalism sets in. But before Washington D.C. decides to bail out an industry that doesn't pay U.S. income tax, the following facts should give just about everybody not named Mr. Carnival pause.
Cruise Ships Use Loopholes To Remain Environmental Hazards
As we've been made aware of again, cruise ships are such hotbeds for pandemics you're less likely to catch something by licking a rotting whale carcass than by touching the soft-serve machine handle on the dining deck. What fewer realize, is that the cruise industry isn't just a threat to the well-being of anyone who pays them to play Norovirus roulette but to the entire planet as well.
At the bottom of the toxic pile are the tsunamis of shit. The average cruise ship produces up to 210,000 liquid gallons of human waste every single week. And while there are strict guidelines on how to carefully dispose of all this sewage, cruise lines are constantly getting caught just dumping out with the reckless abandon of one of their customers after a misguided third go-round at the buffet. Meanwhile, the ships themselves couldn't fart out more carbon emissions if they were actively on fire. In 2017, the ships chugging along the coasts of Europe emitted more carbon dioxide than all of the continent's cars combined, each metal whale blowing out more unfiltered CO2 than a million Citroens.
Much of this pollution can be attributed to the cruise industry's reliance on cheap and incredibly toxic diesel fuel. Its fumes, which cause lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, poison the air quality in and around the ship so much it's worse than in smog cities like Beijing. Meanwhile, its runoff constantly leaks ungodly amounts of sulfur into the water creating acid rains that burn through the local fauna, flora, and historic ruins alike.
This rampant pollution came to a head when the International Maritime Organization told the cruise industry it had until 2020 to clean up its act. Instead, they figured out a loophole referred to as "emissions dodging." Refusing to switch to cleaner but more expensive fuel, 90% of all cruise ships have now installed much cheaper scrubbers which "wash" the fuel clean by flushing seawater through it to absorb the pollutants. That way, they don't dump toxic fuel into the sea, which is illegal, but instead dump toxic water back into the sea -- which is not the kind of illegal they were being punished for. Problem solved!
Most Workers Are Underpaid And Overworked
When we think of working on a cruise ship, we tend to picture some wide-eyed 22-year-old teaching waterobics to melting seniors. But like in Titanic, the favorite movie of every single person who has ever booked a cruise, we tend to forget the invisible workers, those packed into the bowels of the ships like sardines working themselves to death for the comfort and enjoyment of their betters.
Cruise ships typically overwork their employees like they have to overwork the chlorine pump in the kiddie pool. Anyone except the upper echelon can expect to work 80-hour weeks with the remaining time spent in shared quarters so tiny you can't even do a jig in them. When, not if, those medieval working conditions finally break someone's back, injured employees are often told to self-medicate with painkillers or, preferably, getting wasted. Those too injured to properly work finally get sent to a corporate doctor whose only fields of expertise are treating shuffleboard elbows and hot-tub resistant strains of herpes and who'll fast track workers for active duty like their paycheck depends on it.
How do cruise lines get away with such terrible labor practices? While the big lines are all headquartered in Miami, cruise liners incorporate in or "raise the flag" of developing nations where tax and labor laws are non-existent and they can pay less for human labor than for the frozen shrimp slowly thawing in the back of their Soviet-era merchant ship freezers. Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia, where the minimum wage is $4 to $6 per day; Carnival calls Panama, where the minimum wage ranges from $1.22 to $2.36 per hour, home while Princess Cruises and Norwegian (naturally) are proud Bermudan companies, a country that doesn't even have a minimum wage yet.
So while the 5% of all cruise ship workers that are American get all the breezy, high-paying, high-viz jobs like playing officer, dance instructor or resident wig designer, the real grunt work is done by exploited laborers from farther afield. One-third of all cruise workers are Filipino, who can make as little as $4.60 a day back home. To the likes of them or the rest of the majority of crew members, the prospect of earning $500-$800 a month (a typical rate for a cruise worker from a poorer nation) blinds them to the realities of having to abandon their family for half a year, putting themselves into thousands of dollars of debt buying a spot in the first place and only getting the kind of finger-numbing hard work that involves cleaning 5 decks' worth of toilets after Frozen Sushi Saturdays.
Wherever Cruise Ships Land, They Contribute To Overtourism
One of the main selling points of a cruise is that you don't have to be on it. Liners offer package deals to many coastal destinations, letting their passengers feel more like proper tourists and less like shipping cattle. But although cruise ships make up a significant portion of the tourism in coastal cities, these are starting to realize that having a whole ship of buffet-logged cruise passengers flood your coastal town is more destructive than the average Viking invasion.
Like overfishing, both in disastrous long-term erosion and smell, overtourism is becoming an increasing concern of coastal spots. A major contributor to this is the cruise industry, whose floating tenements can be larger than the UNESCO World Heritage sites they routinely beach onto. Since 2003 the 13,510 inhabitants of the historically intact and Insta-worthy town of Kotor, Montenegro saw cruise arrivals increase tenfold, with 500,000 cruise passengers waddling through its few and ancient streets in 2019 alone. Slightly up the coast, Dubrovnik, now best known as one of the shooting locations for Game of Thrones, has turned from a functioning city into the gaudiest tourist trap next to an M&M store as cruise tourists drown the economy with a strong demand for set tours and cheap "I went to the bone gardens of Qarth and all I got was this T-shirt" memorabilia.
But even grand tourist icons like Venice are having a hard time dealing with the constant influxes of thousands of sea legged tourists rushing down their historical centers as their ride home leaves the engine running -- literally. To keep their unlimited supply of deviled eggs refrigerated cruise ships refuse to power down even while docked at historical landmarks, leaking all of its pollutants into the pretty soil, sea and air as readily as they leak Americans into these old city centers. Both ecologists and historians warn these Hawaiian shirt-wearing troop carriers are slowly eroding the very natural and cultural beauties that have made these places tourist attractions in the first place. Sometimes, it's not even that slowly, as in 2019 a cruise ship lost control and with great speed (or at least Speed 2) crashed into the old town docks.
As a countermeasure to overtourism, many local governments are now considering practicing "sustainability," only taking in a manageable amount of cruise tourists and throwing the rest back into the sea where they belong. Some tourist cities are now discouraging cruise ships by imposing additional taxes and keeping them at (and out of the) bay. After all, how much more metric tons of tourists can cruise ships dump onto places like Venice before they sink the entire place into the sea?
They Don't Support Local Economies Nearly As Much As People Think
If the quantity of cruise tourists is an issue, they sure don't make up for it in quality. While it would make sense that thousands of moneyed goofballs descending upon your town would be a godsend for the local economy, unlike the dangerous chemicals and the metric tons of human feces, all of their cash tends to stay safely on the boat.
Locals are often fed the lie that when cruise tourists drop anchor they'll drop coin with the same reckless abandon they did spending a small fortune to wander around a floating food court. In reality, cruise hoppers are the most unprofitable tourists aside from those weirdos who pack their own lunches. Since they arrive with their own tiny sleeping quarters they don't need local accommodations, one of tourism's major moneymakers. And they barely visit restaurants either, as marked up local delicacies are no match for the free buffet of three-year-old frozen beef wellington that awaits them back on board.
Tourist boards have estimated that cruise arrivals barely spend a third of what a regular tourist does. And that's not even taking into account how the cruise industry pressures local communities into building expensive landing docks or waving taxes by threatening of taking their business up the coast. Or that tourist boards' legitimate fear these human seagulls scare off the good kinds of tourists, who aren't as keen on spending all of their money on a single holiday destination if they know their beaches are going to be stormed by thousands of boat dwellers.
Even if they spend money on land-exclusive features like shopping and attractions, most of that money still finds its way back into the soggy pockets of Big Cruise. Ships use onboard advertising to herd its droves of tourists to places they have made deals with and who'll hand a majority of the profits back to the cruise lines, with anyone who can't afford to pay their Neptunian masters unlikely to see a nickel from the thousands of tourists streaming into the port.
Cruise Ships Still Have A Sexual Assault Problem
Of course, all we've talked about is cruises being a danger to landlubbers. No wonder, then, that cruise tourists themselves, the kind of people who on regular vacation hide money belts under their shirts and refuse to go down any street that doesn't have a TGI Fridays, tend to drop their guard when on the open seas. Trapped on their floating Alcatraz of fun, they believe themselves safe from any and all crimes, forgetting that there is one kind of monster that sees a place with lots of alcohol, women in bathing suits and nowhere to run and couldn't wish for a better hunting ground.
While cruises are generally low on violent crimes (no kidnappings, go figure), sexual assaults remain a major threat, outnumbering all other serious crimes by a wide margin. In 2017, nearly 70% of all cruise crime reports were related to sexual assault, which includes gang rape, with 62 reported cases just on U.S. bound ships alone. According to one statistical analysis, 20% of those sexual assault cases involve children, as cruising parents often don't see the harm in letting their kids roam the decks of their all-expenses-paid paradise unsupervised.
And why wouldn't they assume it's safe? After all, the cruise industry has done its level best to cover up its sex crime wave for decades. While things were bad before, in 2016 the number of reports on sexual assault cases on cruise ships spiked by 550% -- and not for the same reason every other place saw a spike in emboldened sexual predators in 2016. It was simply the first year ever that the cruise industry was legally forced to disclose all of the sex crime investigations that occur on their decks to the public.
Still, those numbers are merely the occurrences that show up in the files. Sexual assault, already a notoriously underreported crime, has many more hurdles on the open seas. Due to the murky juridical nature of international waters, assault victims are often not made aware of the legal resources they have. Without proper interference, maritime law allows cruise lines to leave the sexual assault investigations in the incapable hands of their "flag countries," i.e. the tax shelters they've chosen specifically because they keep their noses out of the cruise business. As a result, despite committing a crime in an enclosed space with a passport in their cabin, rapists can get away with it.
And yet still, cruise reps are correct when they point out that the chances of being sexually assaulted on their human ant farms are lower than on land. But to know how low your chances are of receiving swift justice when it does happen, you'd have to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
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Top Image: Pixabay/addesia