Public Relations in the Internet Age

Damage to Anthem of the Seas from the storm. Credit: Flavio Cadegiani

    Supposedly, the Coast Guard only contacted Anthem of the Seas after passengers and crew had begun to post images of the severe weather on Twitter. The result of the storm was a complete loss of power to one of the two azipod propellor systems, as well as damage to numerous safety barriers and cosmetic details around the ship. There were a few injuries, though none were life-threatening. The ship turned around and limped back north to Bayonne, New Jersey.
  After news of the damage to Anthem of the Seas broke to the public, Royal Caribbean held firm on their position was that the storm had not been accurately forecast. Almost immediately, their stance was attacked by numerous weather professionals; even the Captain used data from PassageWeather in his statement to the ship’s company, which had accurately predicted the storm. The decision to sail should never have been made, and ultimately the captain was removed to answer questions when the ship returned to port.

Anthem’s galley after the storm. Credit: Cassie Lauterette

    RCCL’s public relations team continued to blame the reckless decision on inaccurate weather information as more images and videos were uploaded onto Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. When the scope of the incident began to overwhelm them, Royal Caribbean announced they would refund the passengers for the cruise, and offer half-off prices on future trips. They also removed the expensive fees on internet access for the passengers, so they could contact their loved ones free-of-charge. They did not do this for the crew. The result of this decision was hordes of crew members gathering along the bottom of passenger stairwells to reach the weak signals of the passengers’ internet network.
    The ship took three days getting back to New York. Divers began emergency “wetdock” work on the azipod so that the ship could travel at full speed on the next cruise. Broken areas of the ship were repaired. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew wandered around the empty ship, waiting for the next cruise.

Video still of the 2015 Freedom of the Seas fire. Credit: Kevin Chambers

     In 2015, the Freedom of the Seas caught fire while arriving to the docks in Falmouth, Jamaica. Royal Caribbean’s CEO, Michael Bayley, released a statement on the incident:

...The fire, which broke out in one of the ship’s mechanical spaces while the ship was pulling into Falmouth, was contained to that area and was quickly extinguished...

    This statement was directly in contradiction to the videos, images, and the captain’s own broadcast about the fire to guests onboard Freedom which was later uploaded to YouTube. Guests ran to their lifeboat stations through smoke-filled stairwells, and the crew spent ninety minutes fighting the fire.
    Amazingly, the ship continued on its itinerary to the Cayman Islands and Mexico without any delay, and wasn’t inspected by the coast guard until it returned to the United States at the end of the cruise. If fire extinguishers were used, it is unlikely they were replaced in Falmouth before the ship departed.

Scrubber sludge at Berth 4 in Ketchikan, Alaska. Credit: City of Ketchikan

    In August 2018, the Star Princess discharged sludge from its exhaust system scrubbers into the water by Ketchikan’s cruise berths. It was the latest in a series of similar incidents from Princess ships, and this time, city officials were prepared. They photographed the discharged materials and alerted the ship to shut down its scrubber systems. Princess’ response to the published images was this statement:

Our experts believe what was viewed and photographed is most likely sea foam discolored by natural microorganisms such as algae in the seawater, which is commonly experienced in northern climates in the summer season.

    The statement was incorrect. Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) found that nine cruise ships, including the Star Princess, violated Alaska’s water quality standards during the 2018 season. It also found eight ships to be in violation of Alaska’s air quality standards.