By Shannon O’ReillyMore than 4,000 passengers and crew from the ill-fated Triumph cruise ship are finally en route home today after the ship touched land early this morning in Mobile, Ala.
What was supposed to be a fun-filled four-day cruise from Port of Galveston, Texas to Cozumel, Mexico, ended up in yet another PR disaster for Carnival Cruise Lines as the ship was left immobile in the Gulf of Mexico for five days.
Last year, the cruise line was involved in another horror story when the Costa Concordia hit a rock off of Italy which resulted in 32 dead.
Chaos on the Triumph broke out last Sunday when a fire in the engine room knocked out power, the propulsion system, sewage, and heating and air conditioning, according to the Guardian.
All on board faced unimaginable conditions as toilets overflowed with sewage and edible food became scarce.
“It’s like being locked in a Porta Potty for days,” said Peter Cass, a physician from Beaumont, Tex., to the NY Times. “We’ve lived through two hurricanes, and this is worse.”
For five days many passengers had to sleep on the deck because the smoke from the fire was too thick to breathe through. Others were able to remain in their rooms, but also faced sewage-drenched bedding and sheets. Near the end, passengers were being encouraged to use plastic bags as makeshift toilets.
The nightmare came to an end this morning as passengers disembarked the ship, a five-hour process due to only one elevator left in working condition, and were met with blankets, food, and cell phones and the chief executive of Carnival, Gerald R. Cahill.
“One of the things they did well was have the company president meet the ship as it docked in Mobile,” said Kalene Morgan, professor and program coordinator of Humber’s Post-Grad Diploma in Public Relations. “The president was quoted as saying ‘we pride ourselves on giving an excellent experience and clearly we failed.’ In a crisis we always want to get the president there and admit failure and apologize.”
Waiting were 100 charter buses to drive the passengers the nearly 800 kilometres back to Galveston, Texas. Carnival Cruise Lines also decided to reimburse the passengers in full and pay out another $500 in damages.
“I think it’s fair compensation,” said Mary Lendway, MBA, professor at Humber’s school of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism. “This was an unfortunate accident where no one died or got hurt. Carnival did everything humanly possible to take care of passengers, including flying them home upon arrival.”
“Bad stuff happens to every company,” added Morgan. “It’s sort of how you deal with the bad stuff. As a PR person, you don’t deal with it today because people are mad. But you definitely have to build up a case to go on a Carnival Cruise.”
Morgan suggested digging up numbers and stats to build a positive case for continuing to chose the Carnival company.
“How many people travel on it a week? Have had a good experience? Pull out numbers for satisfied custumers,” said Morgan. “A good news story will counter balance this horrible story.”
Lendway believes that the company handled the situation correctly, but would also suggest a few ways to do things differently.
“They should have had the CEO speak sooner and address the situation,” said Lendway. “Carnival can turn this event into a long term positive PR by offering these 3,000 plus passengers some type of discount for life – this would, in my opinion, create a positive image.”
The full effect the debacle will do to Carnival Cruise Lines is still unknown, but the company has already cancelled 14 Triumph journeys. This will likely reduce earnings by 8 to 10 cents a share in the first half, the Toronto Star reported.
“I think the long term impact will be minimal,” said Lendway. “Cruising is a growing industry and popular way to travel – accidents do happen – travel is a privilege and each traveler must take responsibility and understand that things can go wrong and there is always a risk. In this situation everyone got back alive and safe, that is what’s important.”
Morgan also added that the fire was not significantly talked about in the media, but perhaps could be used as a good PR spin.
“It’s a nightmare when this happens but from working in PR, this is an operations issue,” said Morgan. “Operations need to make sure ships are safe. We haven’t hear a lot about the fire itself, but clearly it was very serious situation but there as no loss of life.”
“It appears a very black and white story,” added Morgan. “But there are shades of grey and it’s hard to report the grey.”