While thousands of rescue workers from around the world mobilize to bring aid to some two million earthquake-ravaged people of Haiti, others are coming via cruise ship to enjoy a vacation.
Royal Caribbean cruise line has taken a “business as usual” stance for the company’s private island destination in Labadee, about 100 miles from Haitian capital city Port au Prince. Luxury liners have long enabled tourists to bask in comfort, far away from the violence and poverty that Haitian residents face every day. Advertising materials call the area a “private paradise” and tout a relaxing environment and adventures including scuba diving as attractions. When piles of corpses continue to grow, and people are struggling to even have basic food and water, questions are being raised about whether such cruises show blatant disrespect for the dead and dying.
The U.S. alone has mobilized more than 11,000 military personnel, both on the ground and in ships off shore, to support rescue and recovery efforts following Haiti’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake Jan. 12 and a secondary 6.1 temblor Jan 19. One of the worst earthquakes in history, the quake has caused an estimated 200,000 deaths, injured more than a quarter million people and left more than a million people homeless.
Travel writers, bloggers, media outlets and even late night comics have harshly criticized Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. On CruiseCritic.com, one blogger wrote, “I understand that if you have paid for a cruise you will want to visit the ports, and Labadee is very beautiful ... but that should not stand in the way of decency and, for decency's sake, the ships should stay away, at least until all those loved ones have been buried and put to rest and the people given food, water and shelter."
Another blogger posted, “…As the song says- there is a time for every season-would you want people frolicking at the cemetery, while you are laying your loved ones to rest - staying on board ship while it is in Haiti, would be for me even worse-as I would feel even more helpless, so close and yet immobilized to help-I'd feel compelled to go and jump ship to help with the rescue efforts.”
Yet another passenger said, "I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water."
In a formal press release and in media statements, Royal Caribbean executives have defended their business practices and noted the company’s contributions to the Haitian economy on both a regular basis and in this time of crisis. Calling their company “one of Haiti’s largest foreign investors for almost 30 years” the company pledged to provide at least $1 million in humanitarian relief to Haiti and is partnering with multiple relief organizations to deliver supplies to Haiti via their cruise ships.
"The effect of the earthquake on Haiti has been catastrophic, leaving the country in need of not only immediate support, but assistance in their long-term recovery," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "Royal Caribbean wants to do its part to help out not only the general response, but also our hundreds of Haitian employees and their families through this disaster. In addition to our financial contribution, Royal Caribbean will continue to provide economic support through the continuous business we bring to Labadee.”
Leslie Voltaire, Special Envoy of the government of Haiti to the United Nations said, "Given the terrible economic and social challenges we now face in Haiti, we welcome the continuation of the positive economic benefits that the cruise ship calls to Labadee contribute to our country."
What do you think? Does the continuation of tourism help support Haiti’s economy or is it showing disrespect for the dead? Should the cruises continue since the ships can bring in supplies, or should they be stopped? What would you do if you scheduled a vacation and your destination suddenly became a disaster area? We’d like to know your opinions.