An Ethical Triumph?PR Ethics Case Study of the Carnival Triumph Ashley Crockett-Lohr PR 605
About the Carnival TriumphO Carnival Triumph entered service for Carnival Cruise Lines in 1999.O Carnival Triumph is registered as a Bahamian vessel. Though Carnival Cruise Lines has its headquarters in Florida, many of the cruise line’s vessels are registered in countries other than the U.S. (like the Bahamas or Panama) because regulations are less stringent and they don’t have to pay U.S. taxes.O The vessel is 893 feet long, and it holds up to 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members.O The ship’s home port is in Galveston, TX, and its voyages to the western Caribbean are usually four or five days in duration.
Timeline of EventsO Thursday, Feb. 7 – Carnival Triumph departs Galveston, TX for four-day Caribbean cruise.O Sunday, Feb. 10 – Fire breaks out in Carnival Triumph’s engine room. Though the fire is extinguished, it disables the ship’s propulsion system, knocks out some of the power, and leaves the vessel adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Carnival Cruise Line dispatches tugboats to pull the stranded vessel to shore in Progreso, Mexico.O Monday, Feb. 11 – Carnival Cruise Lines abandons original plan to tow Carnival Triumph to Progreso, Mexico because the vessel has drifted north 90 miles due to Gulf loop currents (see next slide). Officials tell tugboats to head toward Mobile, AL.O Tuesday, Feb. 12 – Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, issues a statement apologizing for the crisis, announces plans to arrange travel for all passengers, and commits to compensating the individuals aboard the ship.O Thursday, Feb. 14 – Carnival Triumph arrives in Mobile, AL at 9:15 p.m. CT.
Carnival Corporation’s Troublesome PastCarnival Corporation and its cruise linebrands (particularly Carnival Cruise Linesand Costa Cruises) have experiencednumerous disasters similar to the engine fireon the Carnival Triumph in recent years.Three of the most noteworthy incidents(other than the Carnival Triumph’s) tookplace on Carnival Splendor, CostaConcordia, and Costa Allegra.
Carnival Corporation’s Troublesome Past 2010 – Carnival Splendor An engine fire left the Carnival Splendor stranded in thePacific Ocean without power. The Splendor was pulled by tugboats to San Diego Bay after three days.
Carnival Corporation’s Troublesome Past 2012 – Costa ConcordiaIn this recent tragedy, Captain Francesco Schettino ran hisItalian cruise ship into a reef off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, toppled the ship onto its side, and caused 32 deaths.
Carnival Corporation’s Troublesome Past 2012 – Costa Allegra An engine fire knocked out power in this Costa Cruisesvessel, leaving it adrift in the pirate-infested Indian Ocean. After three days of towing, the ship arrived safely in Seychelles.
What is Ethics?“Ethics is concerned with what constitutesright and wrong human conduct, values,beliefs, and attitudes in light of a specific setof circumstances. The best time forindividuals to consider the ethics of theirbehavior is while they are selecting a courseof action and before they actually take theaction.” Warren Plunkett, Raymond Attner, and Gemmy Allen Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations
What is Ethics?O Ethics is not one-size-fits-all. Each person’s individual moral code is comprised of unique values and beliefs. Morality, in turn, shapes a person’s belief of ethics, of what’s right and wrong.O Business is a team effort. Though people come with their own backgrounds and moral codes, a business must level the field by defining a single, unified ethical standard for its employees.O This is where a code of ethics comes in. Many professions establish codes of ethics to offer concrete guidance on tricky situations and foster clear understanding of what is expected of professionals in these situations.
PRSA Code of EthicsThe PRSA code of ethics shares values that guide behavior and decision-making of public relations practitioners and individuals acting in a publicrelations or crisis communications role. The code focuses on these six values:O ADVOCACY – Acting as responsible advocates for those we represent and providing a voice in the marketplace of ideas.O HONESTY – Adhering to the highest standards of accuracy and truth.O EXPERTISE – Acquiring and responsibly using specialized knowledge and expertise. Advancing the profession and building mutual understanding among a wide array of institutions and audiences.O INDEPENDENCE – Providing objective counsel to those we represent and being accountable for our actions.O LOYALTY – Being faithful to those we represent while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.O FAIRNESS – Dealing fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, media, and the public. Respecting all opinions and supporting free expression.
Carnival Corporation’s Response to Past DisastersIn the case of the Carnival Splendor, Carnival Corp. reimbursedpassengers for the amount of the cruise and arranged (and paidfor) transportation home for every passenger. In addition,passengers on Carnival Splendor received a voucher for a freecruise of equal value.This type of compensation (offering a voucher for a future cruise inlieu of monetary compensation) was typical in a time where enginefires were relatively common, when passengers were unharmed,and before the Costa Concordia disaster. In it, PR practitionersshowed a great deal of loyalty to the cruise line (in minimizingadditional costs while also incentivizing future cruising) while alsodemonstrating some fairness in reimbursing passengers andpaying for transportation.
Carnival Corporation’s Response to Past DisastersThe Costa Concordia crash changed things for the cruise industry.For the first time since 1915 (when the S.S. Eastland tipped over inport and killed 800 people), a cruise accident resulted in deaths. Itbecame clear that these disasters were not just mere matters ofinconvenience; cruise line accidents could cost lives.Carnival Corporation made several mistakes in the ethical handlingof the Costa Concordia crisis that have changed the way theyrespond to future disasters, like that of the Carnival Triumph.According to the guidelines set by Robert Solomon and KristineHanson, Carnival Corporation’s mistakes were in not consideringother people’s well-being and not thinking of themselves and thecompany as a part of the whole.
Carnival Corporation’s Costa Concordia MisstepsO Before Carnival Corporation announced their compensation plans for passengers of Costa Concordia, rumors circulated that the cruise line would offer passengers 30 percent off future cruises. This sparked a media firestorm that Carnival had to fight to contain. These rumors made the cruise line appear like they were minimizing the damage caused by the disaster and that they valued profits more than the well- being of their passengers.O Instead of apologizing for the fatal disaster, Carnival Corporation got ensnared early on in a blame game with the captain. Though the captain was clearly at fault for abandoning the ship, the cruise line should’ve also taken more responsibility for the passengers’ well-being from the outset instead of getting caught up in finger-pointing.
Carnival Corporation’s Costa Concordia MisstepsO A few days after the Costa Concordia crash, Carnival Cruise Lines announced they were taking a break from social media. While some understood the sentiment, in this social-media-driven society, it actually made Carnival look like they were avoiding and ignoring the public’s response. In this action, Carnival Cruise Lines acted out of its own self- interest instead of as a part of the greater society.O Carnival Corporation’s CEO, Mickey Arison, also was hard to find during this crisis, instead letting its Costa Cruises line be the public face. Though the ship was a Costa Cruises vessel, the line was still owned by Carnival Corporation, so the leader of the parent company should have at least made a statement of condolence to the families who lost a loved one. This hiding from the media made Carnival seem like they were only looking out for themselves and not the greater good of the industry and society.
Carnival Corporation’s Response to Past DisastersIn the end, survivors of the Costa Concordia received the following:O Refund of the entire cost of the cruise and of all on-board purchases made during the cruise.O Reimbursement of travel expenses home as well as medical expenses incurred as a result of the crash.O $14,500 in a lump sum to each uninjured passenger, including nonpaying children.O Program of psychological assistance for surviving passengers who need it.This compensation package was far more substantive than that ofpast disasters like the Carnival Splendor, and it set the stage forfuture crisis response from Carnival Corporation.
Carnival Corporation’s Response to Past DisastersIn the case of the Costa Allegra, Carnival Corp. refundedpassengers the full amount of the cruise and arranged travel homefor every passenger. In addition, the company reimbursedpassengers for all on-board purchases made during the cruise andoffered indemnity equivalent to the cost of the cruise andassociated travel costs.This was the first time Carnival Corporation offered monetarycompensation for an engine fire disaster in which there were noinjuries, and this approach was clearly impacted by the high-visibility case of the Costa Concordia. It is also noteworthy thatCarnival Corporation did not offer a voucher for a free cruise. Indoing so, PR practitioners demonstrate more of an interest inindependence and fairness to the customers than loyalty to thecruise line.
Carnival’s ResponseO Quick to act. Carnival Cruise Lines dispatched a tugboat to the Triumph before they knew for certain it would need to be towed to shore. Carnival also contacted guests scheduled to depart on the ship the following day to advise them of possible delays.O Committed to safety. The very first thing Carnival announced was that there were no crew or guest injuries. Passengers with emergent medical conditions – such as Rachel Alderete, 54, who needed emergency kidney dialysis – were transferred to other Carnival ships that diverted their courses to help. Though conditions were unpleasant, crew members ensured that every guest on board was kept safe.O Responsive. Unlike their response to the Costa Concordia crash, Carnival was very active online through their website and social media. They posted updates regularly, explained decisions, and proactively communicated any and all changes to existing plans.
Carnival’s ResponseO Constantly evaluating. Carnival got a lot of heat early in the week for deciding to tow the vessel to shore instead of transfer each of the passengers to a working ship. They directly addressed this question via their Facebook page, saying towing was determined to be the safest and the quickest option. In addition, Carnival abandoned their original plan to tow the ship to Mexico on Monday because the ship had drifted north 90 miles while waiting for tugboats to arrive.O Devoted to service. Carnival took care of contacting families as well as future travelers, and they brought 200 employees to Mobile, AL to help arrange travel accommodations for every single passenger aboard the ship. In addition, the crew aboard Carnival Triumph was praised for unwavering professionalism and tireless service.O Apologetic. Unlike with the Costa Concordia, Carnival executives never got caught placing blame. They apologized publicly in the very first press conference and continued until the ship was home.
Compensation for TriumphIn the end, passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph willreceive the following:O Refund of the entire cost of the cruise and of all on-board purchases made during the cruise (apart from gift shop).O Arranged travel home and complimentary hotel room in Mobile, AL (if desired).O Credit for a future cruise of equal value to the Triumph cruise.O $500 in a lump sum to each passenger.Though the package is fairly standard, many believe thecompensation is a positive public relations move forCarnival.
A Few Minor MisstepsThough Carnival did a lot of things right in this crisis, learning fromtheir past public relations mistakes, they did have a few PRblunders in this instance as well. They were:O One tweet that was in poor taste.O The CEO of Carnival Corporation’s decision to attend a Miami Heat game on Tuesday evening. This decision made it look like the crisis was not a priority to Mickey Arison. Though Arison is a managing general partner of the team, he probably should’ve watched this game – which happened to be scheduled in the middle of a crisis for his company – at home to demonstrate to the public that the Triumph was his top priority until it was safely home.
Did Carnival Act Ethically?O Did they act as responsible advocates for their clients? By maintaining an unwavering commitment to safety and by working tirelessly to meet the basic needs of the passengers (food and water was delivered when supplies ran low, for example), Carnival was a responsible advocate for the passengers aboard its ship.O Were they honest? Carnival’s leaders were unfailingly honest and open throughout this crisis. They updated the public whenever they had information to share, and they were forthright about the decisions they made.O Did they reasonably use their knowledge and expertise? Carnival relied on the expertise of its engineers to decide if the ship was safe. Plus, Carnival enlisted the help of the U.S. Coast Guard to make some decisions about getting passengers safely home.
Did Carnival Act Ethically?O Did they act with independence, and were they accountable for their actions? Carnival employees never blamed anyone for this accident, and they took ownership from day one. They acted in the best interest of their passengers regardless of pressures they faced from media or the public.O Were they faithful and loyal to those they represent? Carnival maintained its loyalty to the passengers and their safety throughout this crisis.O Did they treat everyone fairly and respect all opinions? In a crisis, everyone has an opinion. Thousands of people called, wrote, and tweeted about this disaster, and Carnival employees worked long hours to ensure everyone was heard and treated with respect. They let the passengers tell their stories without becoming defensive.
An Ethical TriumphSure, the conditions aboard the Carnival Triumph were gruesome.It was not the vacation any of those passengers would’ve chosen.But Carnival did what they needed to do in light of intense scrutinyto keep people safe, and that alone qualifies as ethical.More than that, though, Carnival executives wereopen, responsive, and apologetic about the crisis and theconditions. They treated passengers and public alike with dignityand respect, and in the battle between doing what’s right andwhat’s wrong, I think most can agree Carnival did far more rightthan wrong considering the circumstances.And for that reason, I consider the Carnival Triumph to be anexample of an ethical triumph.
SourcesO PRSA Code of EthicsO Carnival Cruise Lines Facebook pageO Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer ExpectationsO “Carnival Doesn’t Shy Away from Triumph Crisis – But Is Damage Done?” (AdvertisingAge)O “The 8 Worst Cruise Ship Disasters” (US News & World Report)O “Carnival Fails Crisis 101 in Costa Response” (FOX Business)O “Key moments in the voyage of the Carnival Triumph, which lost all power after an engine fire” (The Republic)O “Costa releases compensation plan for Allegra passengers” (Travel Weekly)O “A Glance at Carnival’s Decisions for Disabled Ship” (ABC News)