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Politics rears its ugly head, NCL refuses to buckle

Norwegian Jade crossed Tunisia off the line's itinerary after the government refused to let Israeli passengers disembark.
Norwegian Jade crossed Tunisia off the line's itinerary after the government refused to let Israeli passengers disembark.
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

By Bob & Sandy Nesoff

Members: North American Travel Journalists Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Our first cruise was nearly 40 years go on a ship that was state-of-the-art at the time, Norwegian Caribbean Lines Starward. Today NCL is known as Norwegian Cruise Line to reflect its greater reach and the Starward would be considered antiquated.

Since that time NCL has been a favorite of our and we’ve watched its growth with a personal affection. It is known for its modern ships, numerous amenities and the care and concern for its passengers. It also holds passengers in great respect.

Our fondest memories are of the ship’s staff entertaining our young children and making the cruise an especially memorable one for them. As grown women today they still remember the experience they had sailing into such diverse ports as Port au Prince in Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica. The staff, from a multitude of nations, were as one.

Politics rarely, if ever, was a consideration in a cruise line setting its itinerary. The main concern was the enjoyment of passengers once on shore, interesting locales, local flavor and, of course, their safety and comfort.

The Tunisian government has changed all of that and NCL has reacted in a most praiseworthy manner, one that should bring it great respect.

As the NCL Norwegian Jade pulled into the port of La Goulette in early March, Tunisian port officials refused permission for Israeli nationals to disembark.

NCL hesitated not a moment and immediately announced that it has canceled all remaining stops in Tunisia and will not return. NCL called a spade a spade and referred to the Tunisian action as a “discriminatory act.”

“We want to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests,” commented Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO.

“We are outraged by this act and the fact that we were not notified in advance of this practice,” he continued. “We apologize sincerely to our guests who were affected and want them to know that we have taken the appropriate action in response”
In fact, there was no need for Sheehan to apologize to anyone. NCL acted without hesitation and did the right thing. If anyone should apologize, it should be the bigots running the government of Tunisia.

Had NCL caved to this outrageous act of bigotry it would have opened the doors to a wave of discrimination. In a world of petty dictators anyone who “The Leader” did not like would be forced to remain aboard ship while other passengers brought hard currency income to the country.

The ones who will suffer the most here are ordinary Tunisians who are not in a position to lose millions of tourism dollars. In a country with a relatively poor standard of living every missed dollar will have a tremendous impact.

NCL employs people from some 90 different nationalities and is welcoming to people of all nationalities, races and religions aboard its ships. There is no ethnic litmus test before a passenger boards.

Perhaps due to this policy of inclusion and concern for passengers, NCL is growing in leaps and bounds. Celebrating its 47th year of traditional cruising, the lne continually looks for ways to enhance the experience.

“The company does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any type and with these cancelations hopes to send a message to those who do condone, that such acts are completely unacceptable,” NCL said in a statement.

NCL introduced Freestyle Cruising t give passengers more freedom and flexibility and was quickly followed by other lines. Today NCL has 13 cruise liners, recently taking delivery of its most modern and innovative liner, the Norwegian Getaway, the largest ship to homeport in Miami.

The editors of Cruise Critic named the Norwegian Breakaway the “Best New Ship of 2013” and readers of Travel Weekly called it the “Best Rookie Cruise Ship.” It is the largest cruise liner to homeport in New York.

NCL has two 4,200 passenger vessels on order at the Meyer Werft ship yards, the Norwegian Escape (with delivery slated for fall of 2015) and Norwegian Bliss (delivery in spring of 2017).

Norwegian Cruise Line will continue on to other welcoming ports with a full passenger manifest while Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia’s president can explain to all those merchants in his impoverished nation why a major source of their income has vanished.

With any good luck other cruise lines will follow the example set by Kevin Sheehan and Norwegian Cruise Line.