Crippled Cruise Ship Crisis

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    Did Carnival learn anything from a similar 2010 incident?

    As passengers stranded on Carnival Cruise’s Triumph share stories of disgusting conditions, including cabin carpets soaked with water and urine, overflowing toilets, sewage leaking down walls and four-hour lines for hot food, one has to wonder just how seriously Carnival takes its crisis management planning.

    The ship was left floating after a fire took out its propulsion system, but that was the least of Carnival’s concerns. Apparently it also caused a ship-wide power failure that took out the climate control systems, virtually all onboard lighting and, for some reason, threw a wrench in the ship’s sewage system as well.

    It’s not as if Carnival is a stranger to fire-related problems on its ships either. In 2010, the Carnival Splendor was left without power following a fire, and the brand took a major reputation hit as horror stories from travelers aboard that ship made news across the country.

    Tugs are still pulling the Triumph as of this writing, and it is expected to finally make landfall in Mobile, Alabama sometime tomorrow. At that point, you can bet that passengers are going to be lining up to share their distress with anyone who will listen, including morning shows, local news and, of course, the Internet.

    For Carnival, we would recommend making everyone’s return home as comfortable as possible. First-class air accommodations and travel to and from the airports would be a good start, as well as assigning plenty of staff to be physically on-hand when the ship arrives in port to at least partially absorb the litany of complaints that are certain to be on the tip of every disembarking customer’s tongue.

    At the same time, the cruise line needs to take a serious look at how its on-ship systems can be better protected from fire, and prepare contingency plans that better cope with system failure.

    There are plenty of options available for people looking to take a cruise, and in a competitive business world it doesn’t take too many major problems like this one to swing the advantage to another organization. At this point Carnival is risking its name becoming synonymous with a disastrous trip, and that’s not a reputation it wishes to become ingrained in the public consciousness.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]