Is the cruise industry finally out of its depth?

She looks sad-eyed and baffled into the camera: “We don’t really know.” Perhaps, she muses, the problem is something to do with the “diverse mix of people onboard ourships” and is “being magnified by our core values to respect, protect and connect the world”. She implores her “guests” with a “simple request”: “We ask you to book a future Princesscruiseto your dream destination … as a symbol to the world that the things that connect us are stronger than those that divide us.” Her company does seem to have been terribly unlucky. And this to say nothing of the Caribbean Princess, which hastwicethisyear had to end cruises early, due to hundreds falling ill from a quite different infection, the vomiting bug norovirus. New South Wales police have launched a criminal investigation into the Ruby Princess, to see whether its owners were “transparent in contextualising the true patient and crew health conditions relevant to Covid-19”. Professor Kentaro Iwata,aJapanese expert on infectious diseases who went on to the Diamond Princess, described the onboard response to the virus as “completely chaotic”. It is one of several lines owned by Carnival Corporation, a giant and aggressive company, which as long ago as 1996 was reported by David Foster Wallace, in an epic article on the cruise experience, to be nicknamed “Carnivore”. A rather obvious question is whether Covid-19 is simply an act of God, or whether its impact on their passengers, crew and host ports has been magnified by the practices of cruise companies. They vigorously push back against this suggestion: a spokesman for Carnival tells me that “the cruise industry took action before most other industries on land took actions”, that “cruiseships are social gathering places, but no less risky than any other social gathering venue”, and asks “when was the last time you were asked to fill out a health record before beingallowedto enter a concert?” In the case of the Diamond Princess, say Princess Cruises, they were following instructions from the Japanese health authorities. Trust is furtherweakened by the cruise industry’s long history of environmental and safety lapses, and their special skill at minimising the consequences to themselves. All of which might be good, clean fun, if the growth of cruises weren’t accompanied by reports of pollution spills, outbreaks of disease, accidents, mistreatment of workers and sexual assaults and other crimes. “They only change when they have to,” says Ross Klein, a sociology professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, whose website chronicles the mishaps of the cruise business. Perhaps a stern talking-to, but otherwise nothing.” Cruise companies’ aversion to responsibility can be seen in a legendary court filing following the “poop cruise” of 2013, in which failing generators on the Carnival Triumph caused a backup of raw sewage into the passenger areas. Carnivals’ lawyers, CNN reported, said that the “ticket contract makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate andwholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions.” Equally striking was the legal outcome to the 2012 wreck of the Costa Concordia, when the party atmosphere of cruises mixedfatallywith questions of navigation: the owner Costa Crociere (another part of the Carnival empire), with the help of a plea bargain and €1m fine, and despite clear failings on itspart, wasfreedof any management and operational responsibility. In 2019 they were fined a further m. If a combined penalty of m sounds like a lot, it is as Klein points out a small portion of the bn or so annual profits of Princess’s owner, Carnival. And you have Venice, the actual city rather than the theme versions, where for years what are effectively multistorey hotels have been looming over its historic architecture, their mighty parps competing with church bells, their diesel smoke polluting the air, damaging the ecology of the lagoon and, say protesters, the foundations of buildings with the water they displace,and discharging thousands-strong fluxes of tourists on highly managed six-hour trinket-and-selfie binges in the city. Eleonora Sovrani, of the local campaign group We Are Here Venice, argues that the cruises’ “guests” – on their brief visits, following itineraries proposed by the ships, visitingoutlets suggested by them – never leave the cruise “bubble”. In pre-virus Sydney, successive ships would be moored near the considerably smaller Opera House, almost permanently blocking certain views, while others would be waiting their turn out in the bay. Cruises have shown increasing enthusiasm for invading the Arctic and Antarctic, their paths eased by the melting ofglobally warmed ice, with many thousands of gawpers descending on tiny Inuit settlements. In New Zealand, Princess Cruises – hello, my old friend – were obliged to apologise fortheircrassness, after some non-Maori men with DIY skirts and scribbles on their face were hired to perform an am-dram version of a traditional Maori welcome to passengers on theGoldenPrincess. The CDC, however, is only able to obtaininformation on ships that visit US ports, so can’t give global statistics, which limits the usefulness of any conclusions that might be drawn. Just supposing that the tourist dollar were not so relentlessly hoovered up by cruises, might it not be generating other, maybe more rewarding jobsinbusinesses that don’t have the same breaks on taxes and regulations? Which, not least because Carnival’s chairman Micky Arison is a friend and backer of Trump, the company having been a sponsor of The Apprentice, you can besurehe willtry very hard to do. “The infantile part of me,” wrote David Foster Wallace, “is by its very nature insatiable.” However much gratification and pampering it will receive, it “will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.” He could as well have been describing the cruise business as its customer experience.