“Undercover” Reporter Goes Cruising – Other Cruise News: Italian Cruise Statistics – FCCA Conference Opens in Curaçao

by Kevin Griffin

A debate has broken out in the UK in advance of tonight’s airing of the latest Channel 4 Dispatches documentary “Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck,” with most of the public so far seeming to be sceptical of the sensationalist television producers and supportive of Celebrity Cruises, the cruise line that is the target of this program. This is, after all, the 21st Century and not the 17th and “slave” wages are a thing of the past. Elsewhere, we look at the latest cruise passenger projections for Italy and the opening of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association conference in Curaçao today.


Undercover” Reporter Goes Cruising

From time to time the media get it wrong when it comes to trying to portray the cruise industry, and journalists, perhaps from a sense of envy, often seem to get fun from targetting cruise lines with sensational headlines and reports when they have difficulties. Shipboard wages differ substantially from shoreside wages, and most especially from UK shoreside wages.

And it is not a secret that crew from third world countries are paid less than British workers. But the media often forget, or perhaps choose to ignore, the fact that most of these shipboard workers earn more in two or three months on board than their brothers and sisters do back home in the Philippines or India in a year.

Shipboard workers also receive, in addition to their pay, transport to and from their home countries, shipboard accommodation, all meals on board and in many cases the opportunity to augment their wages with gratuities. Indeed, many are able to return home at the end of their shipboard careers and start up small businesses of their own.

Celebrity Eclipse

Celebrity Eclipse

Nevertheless, the UK’s Channel 4 Dispatches program has apparently become the latest to try to tar and feather the cruise industry when it runs a television program tonight at 8 pm UK time.
Apparently set on the Southampton-based 2,850-berth Celebrity Eclipse, here is how Channel 4 is introducing that program, called “Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck”.

Almost two million Brits took a cruise last year. For many, it’s the holiday of a lifetime with hard-earned savings going in to a dream adventure.Glossy marketing films and brochures depict a cheerful workforce dedicated to making a cruise a five star experience.

Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate the reality of life below deck for the multi-national workforce who toil behind the scenes of glamorous ocean going holidays. The cruise industry generates billions of pounds in revenue each year and working on a ship provides many people from around the world a much-needed source of income.

However Dispatches reporter Tazeen Ahmad – travelling as a passenger on a European cruise – and an undercover reporter working as an assistant waiter discover working conditions below the legal minimum in the UK.

Ahmad has made a bit of a reputation for herself as a “crusading” reporter. I should not really use that phrase as she is a Muslim, but subjects she has covered in the past have included exposés on the world of fashion, credit cards and the cosmetics industry, as well as British school meals, not to mention more sensational subjects such as the Pakistani practice of marrying cousins and British-Pakistani gangs grooming young girls for sex in the UK.

The reaction from Celebrity Cruises when told that this program would appear was quick, and came from Jo Rzymowska, associate vice president & general manager, UK & Ireland for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity and Azamara.

“On Thursday, September 20, we were informed by producers for Channel 4 Dispatches that covert and unauthorised filming took place on Celebrity Eclipse by one of their reporters who was hired as an Assistant Waiter.

The show will air on Channel 4 at 8 pm on Monday, October 1 and sadly, we are anticipating a biased and unbalanced programme about the labour and wage issues in the cruise industry – with Celebrity Eclipse as the show’s primary example.

We are committed to our employees, both shipboard and shoreside.  Moreover, as a business, we operate totally within the letter of the law when it comes to employment practices.

Celebrity Cruises has taken immediate steps to investigate all of the allegations made by the undercover reporter to determine their basis and validity. If we discover that anyone within the company, or at the hiring and placement agencies we work with, violated our procedures and requirements, we will take swift and corrective actions.

We believe it’s the hard work and dedication of the thousands of crew members onboard our ships that is the main reason why Celebrity Cruises has consistently ranked at the top of the premium cruise category since the line was founded 20 years ago.”

Even though the program has not yet run, Travel Weekly UK has already done a story under the title “Celebrity Cruises saddened over ‘biased’ documentary,” and much more coverage will no doubt follow after tonight’s broadcast. But as one poster has already observed on Cruise Critic, “I’ve been subject of one of these undercover scams (by the same company) and yes they set up to fail all of the time. The lengths they go to are unbelievable, but would love to see someone do it to them!”

Tazeen Ahmad, meanwhile, wrote a piece for yesterday’s “Observer” following up on her original Channel 4 Dispatches program on Muslim gangs grooming underage girls fof sex in the UK. This is a criminal activity that should be stamped out immediately. But while it is admirable that a British woman of Pakistani origin should “spill the beans” on her own, we do wonder what on Earth cruising might have to do with sex gangs?

On a milder note, Ahmad is also the author of “The Checkout Girl,” published in 2009 and based on six months she spent working at Sainsburys. One reviewer said the book would have made a good magazine article but should never have been made into a book.

Many others found it a good read although some found it boring and repetitive because it was presented in diary style. Many of those who gave it the best reviews had themselves been check-out girls. But nothing was ever found wrong with Sainsburys.

While we can expect to hear more after tonight’s airing, the question is will the old saw that there is no such thing as bad publicity still be true? If enough present and former Celebrity passengers continue to voice their opinions most probably it will be.

The fact that Channel 4 felt it necessary to send an “undercover” reporter on board a ship owned by such a well-respected company has made sensationalist nonsense of the whole program and will probably go against them

Judging by the reaction on the web site of the Southampton newspaper the “Southern Daily Echo,” even before the program has aired, most seem to be suspicious of Channel 4 and supportive of Celebrity. Here is a typical comment: “This ship is not registered in the UK.

The crew are not UK residents, so why does it surprise anyone that the employment structure on this ship doesn’t conform to UK employment law. It does however, give a better way of life to many of the crew, both financially and work conditions wise than being employed at home in their home countries.”

While most cruise ships workers are not paid UK wages, as will probably be “revealed” by this program, posters on different web sites have not been slow to pick up on the point that this really misses the point. None of the major cruise ships calling on UK ports falls under UK wage legislation as none are under UK registry. The Celebrity Eclipse, for example, is registered in Malta, a member of the European Union.

In fact, P&O ships operating from the UK were some time back re-registered in Bermuda, something that was also done with the Cunard fleet last year. The only large cruise ships that still fly the British flag are three that are operated from Australia by P&O Cruises, where they don’t fall under UK shoreside employment law.

There is another story here that might be more interesting, involving as it does the UK’s role within the European Union and how it affects UK laws, as well as the role of militant UK trade unions.

Hopefully for Celebrity, however, the public will be on to Channel 4 and, as Oscar Wilde once said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”


Italian Cruise Statistcs

Cruise activity in Italy 1995 - 2013. Source: Sergio Senesi - Cemar Agency Network

Cruise activity in Italy 1995 - 2013 and traffic in the Italian ports: Source: Sergio Senesi - Cemar Agency Network

Cemar Agency of Genoa presented its annual report on the Italian cruise market and it is worth having a look at some of the results and the projections for 2013. This year, cruise passengers using Italian ports are expected to number almost 10.8 million, of which 60% will be embarkations and 40% disembarkations.

This is expected to rise in 2013 to just under 11 million passengers, a rise of 1.6%, when numbers will return to their 2011 level. Despite the loss of the Costa Concordia this January, these numbers indicate good stability.

The number of ships calls is expected to decline every so slightly, from 4,897 in 2012 to 4,884 in 2013. That passenger numbers still rose is due to the fact that ship sizes keep increasing as cruise lines try to take even more advantage of economies of scale.

Sergio Senesi - Cemar Agency Network

Sergio Senesi - Cemar Agency Network

On the port side, Civitavecchia is expected to come top of the league in 2012 with 2.45 million passengers, followed by Venice, Naples and Livorno with about 1 million each. Because Genoa must now compete with the relatively new (and still expanding) Costa port at Savona, it will take fifth position among Italian ports in 2012.

In 2013, however, with new business from non-Costa lines, Genoa is expected to rise to 1.1 million cruise passenger movements, regaining second place among Italian cruise ports.

Just as these figures were released, Costa Cruises announced that it would be home-porting two ships in Malta in 2013. These will be the 3,012-berth Costa Favolosa, the largest cruise ship flying the Italian flag, and the 1,308-berth Costa Classica.

FCCA Conference Opens in Curaçao

The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) is composed of fourteen member cruise lines that operate more than 100 vessels in Florida, the Caribbean and Latin American waters. Today in Curaçao it opens the Caribbean’s largest cruise conference, the annual FCCA Cruise Conference and Trade Show, which will run from today until Friday. Cruise line ceo’s and Caribbean ministers will meet on Wednesday in advance of a CEO’s Round Table.

FCCA Conference & Trade Show  - Santo Domingo 2010

FCCA Conference & Trade Show - Santo Domingo 2010

This is the premier industry event of the year for local ports and operators to meet key industry players, assess trends and discuss current issues. Because of its unique forum nearly 1,200 cruise industry partners, including about 100 cruise executives, attend each year.

At the show, among others, exhibitors will include cruise ports, tourist boards, destination management companies, tourist attractions, cruise associations, cruise lines, ship agents, hotels, airlines, contract furniture manufacturers, outfitters, marine equipment manufacturers and suppliers of information technology, on-board supplies, food and beverages, restaurant equipment, entertainment and leisure suppliers.

A special pre-conference trip on September 17-19, 2012, meanwhile, saw Martinique hosting a delegation of association members with FCCA president Michele Paige and high-ranking executives of Carnival, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean in attendence.

Martinique is trying to increase its future cruise business with recently-completed capital improvements to the Malecon promenade and La Savane Park in Fort-de-France and upgrades to the Pointe Simon wharf and Tourelles Cruise Terminal that will allow the world’s largest cruise ships to call there.

We will report on the FCCA conference in more detail next week.(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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