Yesterday, Carnival cruise ship Triumph completed the evacuation of the passengers in Alabama after a less than triumphant cruise. An engine fire disabled the ship early in the cruise, setting it adrift for days, and then it took days more for rescue ships to tow the massive city on the water into dock.
What's worse, the passengers tell stories of long lines for onion sandwiches, sewage seeping through walls, horrible odors from below deck, and a situation so desperate that some passengers panicked and started hoarding food, obviously in fear that food might run out. Diabetics complained that they had trouble receiving their injections after the ship was disabled, and the crew, by all accounts, seemed harried.
In short, while the incident was less than deadly, it was a horrible experience, and it's yet another news story that creates a black eye for the industry. When things go wrong on a camping vacation, it's all part of the fun. What would a camping trip be without a little rain, or a midnight raid by an hungry raccoon.
But when bad things happen on a cruise ship, it can be pretty terrifying. And people on a cruise ship are there to be pampered, well fed, and to sleep in a cozy bed. They expect luxury.
After all, the sinking of the Costa Concordia, which struck a large rock off the coast of Italy a little over a year ago, is not such a distant memory. That was a deadly incident, claiming the lives of 32 people. The hull of that ship still sits in the sea, awaiting clean up.
Unfortunately, there have been other incidents as well in recent years:
*Carnival Splendor was disabled in November of 2011 after an engine fire in the Pacific Ocean. After three days in open water, the Splendor, and over 4,000 passengers, were towed back into San Diego Bay.
*Seaborn Spirits was attacked by pirates in 2005 off the coast of Somalia. The pirates fired on the ship, including rocket-propelled grenades. Fortunately, the ship's captain was able to flee. The ship was damaged in the attack. None of the passengers were injured, although it must have been terrifying.
*In 2010 the Celebrity Mercury suffered a microbial innovation, as the norovirus boarded 400 of the 2,600 passengers and crew on board and caused widespread illness.
It's bee a long time since the S.S Eastland in Chicago and the R.M.S. Titanic created front page headlines with large death tolls, but this string of much more recent less-deadly cruise ship incidents reminds us that cruise ships are ladened with so many evacuation boats and emergency equipment for a reason. And when people are reminded of that by these repeated incidents, they might start to be nervous about laying down a couple thousand dollars for a small cabin on a ship. They may elect to fly to the Bahamas next time.
After all, while cruise ship disasters make headlines regularly, the airline industry makes headlines for its increasing safety and for price wars that sometimes can result in extremely low-cost plane tickets. While the airline industry gave up any claim to luxury decades ago, it has successfully reinvented itself as the world's most popular and safest people-moving industry.
The cruise industry has to be concerned about the prospect of losing it's reputation for luxury, because that's the cruise industry's thing. If people start thinking of oozing sewage and three-hour lines for onion sandwiches when they see a cruise ship, the industry is sunk. Without luxury and romance, nobody would ever board a cruise ship again. And that would be a shame. Let's hope the these horrible incidents go on vacation, so we can all feel safe crossing the gangway far into the future.