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I am never getting on a cruise ship again
AKA why industry regulation matters
I will never set foot on a cruise ship again. There are just so many reasons.
I am, of course, concerned about another wave of COVID. It’s a virus that evolves quickly and is still circulating. There were 211,000 identified cases of COVID around the world in the last seven days (You can assume no more than one in ten cases is identified). That’s more than enough of a reservoir to allow new variants to evolve. Europe CDC is currently tracking four COVID variants of concern. (I remember when the US CDC used to track things. It was so nice.)
Next up, I remain worried about the emergence of other pandemic pathogens. As I keep saying, our use of animals for agriculture and our need to farm and mine every last scrap of wilderness on the planet has not changed. The conditions that created COVID are still in place, and they’ll create more deadly diseases. Goats and Soda has a handy list of things to dread. Added bonus: the ability of AI to help everyone do anything, also means people can use AI to learn how to make their own pandemic pathogens.
And finally - the emergence of COVID on cruise ships taught me things about our global (lack of) governance. There were no plans or protocols for massive shipboard illness. The flag state (ship registry) of many, possibly most, cruise lines is far from the locations they cruise. If a disease hits passengers and crew, they cannot expect to get back there. If they did get back to their flag state, most cruise lines are headquartered somewhere else. And their passengers probably hail from countries that are neither the country of registry nor the corporate home.
In practice, then, if a cruise ship develops an epidemic of a new disease, who has to let it dock and treat the patients? No one. Remember when Ron DeSantis wasn’t going to allow American citizens with COVID to disembark at the port of Fort Lauderdale because they weren’t from Florida?Actual DeSantis quote: “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources.” No one cares about you, fiber artist from Ohio.
If you’re on a cruise ship right now and you get COVID, they’ll drop you at the next port and leave you to find your own way home. I am not making this up.
My point is this: poorly regulated industries like cruise lines, or sea travel in general, are generally okay when times are calm. Not having good crisis protocols doesn’t matter if there are no crises. It’s okay if no one is in charge when you only face minor challenges. But when things get ugly, regulations matter. Policies matter. Governance matters. COVID showed us what cruising looks like when things get ugly.
When you take a cruise, you are betting that nothing unusual will happen. That any problem that comes up is minor enough that an industry with no effective regulation can handle it. For a long time, that was true. This pandemic world we live in now is not what world. Climate change and human use of the planet have put us in a new context.
This new world we live in is a space where pandemic illnesses happen often. Where the storm of the century happens every few years. We need to force good governance of all the things we’ve been letting slide. And we need to stay the hell off cruise ships.
A brief digression on cruise ship flag states: Both Disney and Norwegian cruise lines register their ships in Bahamas. Disney’s annual revenue is 90 billion dollars. The GDP of Bahamas was $11.22 billion in 2021. You tell me - does Bahamas have the ability to govern and regulate Disney cruise ships? Norwegian cruise line had a revenue of $6.144 billion from March 2022 - March 2023. Maybe Bahamas has a shot at regulating NCL then? This is important because you cannot trust cruise lines. (Summary of that link - they knew COVID was spreading and they just kept sailing anyway.)