The revelation of numerous sexual assaults on board Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships has produced waves of bad publicity for both the company and the industry. Beyond the initial reports of 62 incidents, the cruise line has revealed that further less-serious accusations actually increased this total to 108. And with each announcement, the media has questioned the safety of passengers on cruise lines.
The revelation of numerous sexual assaults on board Carnival Cruise
Lines’ ships has produced waves of bad publicity for both the company
and the industry. Beyond the initial reports of 62 incidents, the cruise
line has revealed that further less-serious accusations actually
increased this total to 108. And with each announcement, the media has
questioned the safety of passengers on cruise lines.
Carnival’s efforts to diffuse the shock caused by its announcements were
not very effective. The world’s largest cruise company appeared to spin
the statistics as meager, in comparison to the 6.5 million passengers it
carried during the five years, but the media kept its collective focus
on the negative aspects of the story.
Carnival lawyer Curtis Mase served as the company’s primary spokesman,
defending its record: ’When compared to FBI uniform crime
Carnival ships are incredibly safe. In fact, 40 times safer than
anywhere in America (ABC, July 15).
But this safety argument was drowned out in the media. Even before
Carnival raised its tally to 108 accusations, the New York Times, US
News and World Report, ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN and NBC had already described
the statistics as ’shocking’ or a ’surprise.’ The lawyer for one assault
victim noted the number only reflected assaults by crew members. ’Keep
in mind,’ he said, ’these statistics don’t include rapes by other
passengers’ (CBS, July 15).
One item included in many reports implied that there could be more
revelations to come. It was noted that the lack of specific statistics
was largely due to the fact that foreign-registered cruise ships serving
the US market are not bound by US law to report assaults at sea.
The failure to report these assaults earlier produced the
least-favorable coverage of all. One network reported that ’there has
been a pattern of cover-ups to protect the reputation of Carnival by
coercing or buying the silence of the person involved, or possibly
shielding the perpetrator’ (CNN, July 14). An editorial in the Ft.
Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (July 20) added, ’Withholding those records from
the public does nothing to discourage the perception that the cruise
industry has something to hide - and will go to some lengths to do
There was some indication that the industry was taking the criticism to
heart. Prompted by the disclosure (and the ensuing bad press) Carnival
and the International Council of Cruise Lines voted to establish an
industry-wide ’zero-tolerance’ policy for crimes, with vessels that call
on US ports mandated to forward all reports of crimes to the FBI.
Carnival also adopted a somewhat more sympathetic public image. ’Even
one allegation is too many,’ president Bob Dickinson told the media (The
Wall Street Journal, July 29).
While Carnival and the cruise industry appear to have taken steps to
shore up their image, they should make sure that their cruise ships
follow through on the industry’s new guidelines. Otherwise, the
allegations aired to date may become only the tip of the iceberg that
sinks the industry.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www. carma.com.