To the Editor:
I have been reading a book from the Northeast Harbor Library’s new bookshelf called “Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism” by Elizabeth Becker. It has a whole chapter on cruise ships, including a couple of references to Bar Harbor. You can learn from this book how the cruise ship industry has managed to be legal and unregulated.
For example, it has long been a fixture of maritime transportation that ships based in the U.S., Great Britain, Norway, Greece and Japan may be registered and carry the flag of so called “flag of convenience” countries like Liberia, where Royal Caribbean is registered, and Panama, where Carnival Cruise Line is registered. The IRS exempts from taxation ships registered in these countries. The trade organization Cruise Lines International Association succeeded in having rules meant for ships transporting goods, not floating hotels, apply to cruise ships. For example, Carnival Cruise Line can be headquartered in Miami, use the port as its home base, and operate as a foreign company exempt from paying minimum wages to its wait staff.
There are also environmental protections the cruise ship industry has managed to skirt. Cruise ships create a large amount of waste, including human sewage, bilge wastewater with hazardous chemicals, batteries, medical waste, plastic bottles and pollution from the cheap diesel fuel they burn. Cruise ships got exemption from wastewater disposal discharge permits by arguing that they are mere commercial maritime vessels, like container ships or fishing ships, whose waste disposal is regarded as incidental to the operation of the ship. Responsibility for policing falls on Liberia or Panama, and neither the U.S. government nor the public know how the waste is disposed of. Indeed, ships are not required to follow any state or national laws once they are in international waters. It’s up to the cruise ship to voluntarily comply with environmental protections.
By keeping costs, especially wages, low and adding as many people as possible to their ships, the cruise ship industry has created a new concept, the “fun ship” where the ship itself is the destination, and the ports of call are mere perks thrown in. By keeping their tickets inexpensive they can claim to be un-elitist. Only thing is, they tend to trash their ports of call.
This book, “Overbooked,” is an eye opener. You can read about other places in the world that have handled the tourist business well or been ruined by it. Practices that would not be permitted on land go unregulated because they happen at sea. We have drifted into a relationship with an industry that is out of control and threatens our precious island. Whether we have the will to regulate this industry and do what the government won’t do for us remains to be seen.