April 23, 2002 – Because of crime concerns, two Carnival Cruise Lines ships may cease calling at St. Croix on alternate weeks, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards said Tuesday at a meeting of the Port Authority board.
Richards, who as Tourism commissioner chairs the VIPA board, said she had received a letter from Carnival executives saying they were getting fed up with reports of crimes against their passengers while visiting the island.
Carnival, "may go as far as to make a decision about whether they want to continue porting on St. Croix at all," she said.
Without any discussion on the matter, Richards then called the board into executive session for the stated purpose of considering financial matters
Later Tuesday, a source with close ties to the Port Authority said Carnival could decide within the next day or two to discontinue visits to St. Croix.
Carnival's complaints about crime on St. Croix and its threats to send its ships somewhere safer instead are not new. Last Dec. 27, Gordon Buck, director of port operations, wrote to Richards citing four cases in the preceding two months of passengers and crew "exposed to muggings and robberies." He added, "Due to this persistent problem, our Marketing Department has already begun investigating alternative ports to substitute for St. Croix."
After subsequent meetings with Richards and other government officials, Buck said it was "a little premature to say what we are going to do." (See January story, "Carnival threatens to pull out of St. Croix".)
Police Chief Novelle Francis at the time characterized the reported incidents as "stuff that could have been avoided," including one instance of a crew member who went "looking for women." He said he wanted to beef up the police presence in high-traffic areas when cruise ships are in port but lacked the personnel to do so.
Carnival's Victory and Triumph call at St. Croix on alternating weeks and make up a third of the ships that dock in Frederiksted. On Wednesday nights when the Victory is in port, local business, arts and artisan groups present Harbour Night festivities along the Frederiksted waterfront that include live music and dance, local food and drink, and vendor exhibits.
Richards has expressed her concern about crime against visitors to Police Commissioner Franz Christian. Assistant Commissioner Bruce Hamlin said Tuesday that she did so as recently as "two or three days ago."
Hamlin said police have been keeping tabs on cruise ship passengers who fall prey to crime and have been working with the Tourism Department to make visits to St. Croix safer.
Carnival's Victory and Triumph are among the largest vessels in the fleet of the world's largest cruise enterprise, each with a capacity for more than 3,800 passengers and crew members. Last summer, The West Indian Co. said the number of scheduled St. Croix calls would drop to 103 in the 2001-02 season from 154 a year earlier. It said this was mainly because Holland America line, which is owned by Carnival Corp., had removed St. Croix from its Caribbean itineraries, and because the Nordic Empress was cutting back from weekly to semiweekly visits.
Agreement called for more St. Croix visits
Last year, the territory finalized a long-term agreement with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and its 13 member lines that was intended, among other things, to increase cruise ship traffic to St. Croix. WICO chief executive Edward Thomas Sr. told a Senate committee last August that the agreement called for a 15 percent increase in summer traffic annually, with three of four ships calling per week in season.
The agreement, scheduled to run from May 2001 through April 2006 but not signed by the governor until last October, also called for the cruise lines to target three to four calls per week to St. Croix during the winter.
But all of this was contingent on the V.I. government, within six months of signing the agreement, initiating a plan to market St. Croix "to grow the demand" for more cruise ship visits. The agreement called for the Tourism Department to host the visit of cruise line sales and marketing executives to St. Croix and provide input on "enhanced marketing of the destination, developing a list of passenger activities and events, and required infrastructure improvements."
Carnival fined $18 million for polluting
Meanwhile, on Friday in federal court in Miami, Carnival Corp. pleaded guilty to ocean polluting charges covering the last five years and agreed to pay $18 million in fines and restitution. The company admitted that the Carnival Cruise Lines vessels Ecstasy, Fantasy, Imagination, Paradise, Sensation and Tropicale had discharged oily waste from their bilges in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Federal prosecutors said Carnival personnel keep falsified records on discharges and found a way to get around equipment intended to detect unacceptably high levels of oil in bilge water. In a plea bargain, corporate officials entered guilty pleas to six felony counts of lying to U.S. Coast Guard authorities about the discharges.
Carnival Corp. issued a statement on Friday accepting responsibility for the dumping and expressing commitment "to environmental compliance." It will be on probation for a minimum of three years and has agreed to embark on a compliance program for all ships of its Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Seabourn and Windstar lines that observers say could cost $10 million a year.
Three years ago, Royal Caribbean, Carnival's major competitor, pleaded guilty to similar dumping charges and paid an $18 million fine.
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