Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

There was some interesting back-and-forth last week in federal court between Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison and U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz that started out predictably but veered into unexpected territory.

Arison had been summoned to a status conference in the ongoing probation proceedings that Carnival is involved in as a result of Princess Cruises pleading guilty to environmental crimes in 2016.

Seitz was there to hold Carnival's feet to the fire, in a bid to stop continuing violations of environmental laws that have put her in a position of having to harangue Carnival about the problems.

Then she took a less confrontational tack.

"What do you love about being in your business, Mr. Arison?"

Arison, one of the few people in a room full of lawyers and consultants who has actually worked on a cruise ship, recounted his 50-year career at Carnival, which included 32 years as its CEO.

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," Arison said. "Obviously we wouldn't be here if we were perfect."

Seitz then expressed her admiration for how Carnival reformed some of its processes after the sinking of the Costa Concordia on Jan. 13, 2012.

"That was the worst day of my life," Arison admitted in a hoarse voice.

Arison told Seitz that the Concordia illustrates some of the unique dilemmas in the cruise business that are not always understood by those outside the industry. As an example, he said, Carnival Corp. trains its bridge officers to work as a team. But the Italian Coast Guard, which trains Carnival's Italian officer corps, had a different approach.

That meant that creating a uniform safety culture across Carnival's 10 brands was hard to achieve.

"The Italian rules at that time were archaic," Arison said. "The captain was the master. Other team members [on the bridge] could not question the captain." Arison said Carnival lobbied hard with the Italian government to change the rules, but only after the Concordia accident were the changes made.

Seitz also had praise for the Arison Maritime Center, which Carnival opened in 2016 in Almere, the Netherlands. There, the company trains 6,500 bridge and engineering officers annually, in state-of-the-art simulators. That also gives the company a roadmap for change, she said.

Arison said that his family -- and himself personally -- was proud of having created the training center. "We never put our name on a building in Miami," he added, despite plenty of offers. "That was one building we were proud to put our name on."

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