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Industry Leader Defends Cruise Calls in Haiti

The cruise industry’s largest trade organization let loose on critics of Royal Caribbean International today, saying that the cruise line is bringing relief aid to Haiti despite the ridicule and disdain that has been heaped on the company in the press and online message boards. Richard Sasso, chairman of the marketing committee of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told a press conference this morning that RCI should be praised for its efforts, not criticized.

The controversy began soon after last week’s earthquake in Haiti, when the cruise line announced that it would continue visits to the undamaged port of Labadee and its private resort on the north side of Haiti, about 60 miles from the ruins of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The port calls have been characterized by some in the press and in the blogosphere as an out-of-touch decision to allow sunbathers and umbrella-drink aficionados to lollygag in the tropical sun while the number of dead and dying increased daily on the other side of the country. In fact, according to Sasso, the decision was driven by the need to deliver food, water, and other supplies at a time when the country’s main port has been nearly destroyed and its airport hampered by having only one working runway.

“They didn’t have to go back to Labadee,” said Sasso, his voice rising in outrage as he addressed a crowd of reporters at the annual CLIA media update in New York City. “Not now, not next year, or in three years. They put themselves out there despite all the criticism.”

Sasso pointed out that RCI is continuing its calls at Labadee at the request of the Haitian government. A press release issued by RCI quoted Leslie Voltaire, special envoy of the government of Haiti to the United Nations, to that effect. “Given the terrible economic and social challenges we now face in Haiti,” said Voltaire, “we welcome the continuation of the positive economic benefits that the cruise ship calls to Labadee contribute to our country."

RCI said it plans to provide $1 million in humanitarian relief aid to the stricken country. Supplies are being picked up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for delivery to Haiti and include rice, dried beans, powdered milk, water, and canned goods. Supplies, along with passengers, were brought in by the Independence of the Seas on Friday, January 15, the Navigator of the Seas on Monday, January 18, and by the Liberty of the Seas on Tuesday, January 19. This Friday the Solstice of RCI’s sister line, Celebrity Cruises, will offload more relief supplies. After the provisions are taken off the ship they are being distributed to those in need by Food for the Poor, a charitable agency that Royal Caribbean describes as its “long time partner” in Haiti.

Royal Caribbean said that it will contribute 100 percent of its net revenue from the Labadee private resort during the crisis to the relief effort.

Mark Orwoll is the international editor at Travel + Leisure.

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