Friday, September 25, 2009

Modern Shipbilding Demonstrated

Yesterday's installment of Cunard's blog (which is really hitting its stride) is particularly interesting. Blogger Alastair Greener visits the Fincantieri yard at Monfalcone (Italy) for an update on the construction of Cunard's next vessel, Queen Elizabeth. This installment shows the reader how the prefabricated blocks fit together to form the cruise ship.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Passenger Missing from Sapphire Princess

updated Sept 24, 8pm
A 67-year-old woman has been reported missing from Sapphire Princess. She was last confirmed onboard Monday afternoon when the ship departed Ketchikan, but did not disembark when the ship arrived at its next port of Vancouver early Wednesday morning at the end of the cruise.

Princess employees found the California woman's belongings still in her cabin Wednesday morning but did not find her aboard. At that point they notified the appropriate authorities, and the US Coast Guard and Canadian authorities began a search of the entire area between Ketchikan and Vancouver.

According to the Coast Guard, Princess reviewed their surveillance footage from the cruise, and it contains an image of the woman going overboard about 6am on Tuesday morning, which would have put the ship in open water 57 miles east of Graham Island, in Canadian territory.

Based on the location, the USCG suspended their search this afternoon. Based on survivability, the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Center told CND they to have now suspended their search.

The ship was on a 4-night round trip cruise which departed September 19 from Vancouver and called only at Ketchikan.

Details appear in the September 24 edition of Cruise News Daily.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Passenger Medevaced from Carnival Spirit

The US Coast Guard performed an interesting medevac from Carnival Spirit on Monday evening as the ship sailed between Vancouver and Hawaii.

The Coast Guard received a call from the cruise ship Saturday afternoon advising them they had a critically ill 63-year-old man aboard while the ship was still hundreds of miles away from Hawaii. Arrival in Hawaii wasn't scheduled until Tuesday, and it was much too far for Coast Guard helicopters to meet. Saturday evening, the crew reported the man's condition was deteriorating.

On Sunday afternoon, the ship again contacted Coast Guard advising them the ship's medical center was running low on a vital medication that the man needed, and they would run out by Monday afternoon at 2pm. The problem was that Carnival Spirit wouldn't be within range of the Coast Guard's helicopters until late Monday afternoon.

The solution the Coast Guard devised was to make a drop of the medication by one of the Coast Guard's long range C-130's Monday afternoon at 12:30pm when Carnival Spirit was still 200 miles northeast of Oahu. The man was later medevaced from the cruise ship about 5:40pm when it was about 100 miles off the Oahu coast. The crew of a Coast Guard HH-65 rescue helicopter then delivered the man to a shoreside medical facility about 6:20pm.

The Coast Guard provided video of the unusual medical drop. In the short video, you can see the crew of the C-130 in silhouette against the open back of the aircraft as it was making the precision drop. As the C-130 is pulling away, you can see how incredibly close it was to Carnival Spirit, shown to the right.

This, of course, proves the Coast Guard delivers as well as making pick ups.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cruise Lines Take Action in Alaska

There's a new suit in Alaska today, and it's not a parka. The nine cruise lines forming the Alaska Cruise Association filed suit in US District Court in Alaska seeking relief from the $46 head tax that the state imposed as part of the Citizens' Initiative in 2006.

While there's much more to the issue that's causing the ships to leave Alaska, this suit deals only with the one. In the last couple of days that led up to the actual filing, the Alaskan media has run several stories, and the quotes they choose to use tell a lot about how things have gotten this far.

The ACA suit has several points on which it says the $46 head tax is not legal. (Even though it is commonly referred to as a $50 head tax, by the way, the ACA is not disputing $4 of it which pays for the Ocean Ranger program to monitor cruise ship discharges.) First the suit says that the fee is essentially a fee for entering Alaska, something that is not allowed under federal law because it discriminates against interstate trade. The suit says the fee also raises much more money than it costs the state to provide services to cruise ships, and in setting it, it doesn't take into consideration any specific services to cruise ships. Another point of illegality, according to the suit, is that it is distributed to cities that aren't even on the ship's itinerary. And finally, it is being used to fund projects that have no direct benefit to the passengers who paid the fee.

The bottom line, in the cruise lines' view, is that it is illegal according to federal law to charge admission to the state, and any taxes charged are to go directly to costs incurred by the state to handle the cruise ships or to fund specific projects directly related to the cruise passengers, and they should not be excessive of those costs.

They also cite several precedents, and to the amateur, it would seem that the cruise lines have a good case. The state's lawyers, no doubt, have arguments to counter the cruise lines', but of course, they have yet to be heard from.

The proponents of the Citizens' Initiative and legislative leaders interviewed by the local media in Alaska have used phrases like "We welcome the suit" and "We've been waiting for this," and questioning why the cruise lines don't work with the legislature to resolve their issues.

That last point was answered by Carnival chairman Micky Arison several months ago, when during an earnings call, he said they have been unable to find any legislator who wants to sit down with them to seriously discuss the issues. It seems that Alaska's elected leaders and most of the citizens are simply dug in and don't want to work with the cruise lines.

As CND has reported before, the head tax is only a small part of the full issue. With the enactment of the Citizens' Initiative in 2006, along with the $50 in taxes paid by the cruise passengers came a bunch of taxes imposed on the cruise lines themselves and some very stringent regulations which are very expensive for the cruise lines to comply with. The issue in total is that the State of Alaska has made it become vastly more expensive for the cruise lines to operate in Alaska at the same time as the economy has made consumers unwilling to pay higher prices for cruises (to offset the lines' increased costs).

The cruise lines are now in the process of setting the 2011 deployments for their fleets. As more profitable markets are identified and developed, more ships will be redeployed elsewhere. Every year, Alaska does nothing to decrease the cruise lines' costs, it's likely more ships will be withdrawn from Alaska.

The sad part is that Alaska's tourism industry, which is such a major part of the state's economy, is about to crumble. The state's leaders and most citizens don't understand they have a product to sell, and the cruise lines are their customers. If they don't do something to make their product more competitively priced with their competition (other destinations), they won't have any customers left.