QE2- HAS THE TIDE TURNED?

Twilight Of The Goddesses- the magnificence that is QE2

Twilight Of The Goddesses- the magnificence that is QE2

After months of silence from Dubai, words of sort finally emerge on the future of the QE2.

Those in charge at DP have been moved to say on record that the great lady will ‘not be scrapped’ and that a ‘new plan’ is extant for her future.

Of course, we have heard words from these people before. Over time, a conga line of preposterous pronouncements, followed by awkward silences, came and went to such an extent that, in the end, people (myself among them) lost all faith in anything that these gentlemen either said or did. Talk, after all, is the cheapest thing on tap in Dubai.

But, this time, actions came before words. And there lies perhaps the crucial difference.

After years of being allowed to gradually gather dirt beneath that pitiless sun, QE2 was gradually cleaned the other week. on the exterior from bow to stern. This was done quietly, and without any fuss. There was no immediate word from Dubai as to the reason for this much needed TLC. No, I don’t know what prompted the change of heart, either, though I do of course welcome it. It was almost as if the old girl flashed us a wry smile after years of grimacing in quiet, dignified agony.

What I do know is that any potential scrappers would not care if the ship appeared unkempt or not. Rust streaked, unsightly steel is no less valuable than the pristine equivalent. This gives me the first, vague hope that the great lady is not being smartened up simply for a final stroll to the scaffold. More seems to be going on here.

After the PR disasters of the supposed initial refit, then the bruited stint in South Africa, and finally the intended voyage to the Far East, I am still more than a little wary of any pronouncements on the future of QE2. Once again, talk is cheap.

‘A new plan’ is, of course, about as vague and unspecific an announcement as can be made. Thinner in substance than a snow carpet in Satan’s living room, it hints, but does not deliver anything of substance. And, until we see flesh on bones, none of us that treasure QE2 will wholly believe it.

But that was then, and this is now.

Don’t get me wrong; we are entitled to be cynical, and lacking in either faith or trust in light of the past. But- against my better judgement and all logic- I cannot help but feel the first, faint stirrings of hope for the ship since November of 2008.

QE2 is a big, feisty lady, and getting her moving- either actually or in another sense- will be a long, ponderous job. And, as ever, it will all come down to mindset. The current mindset in Dubai remains an unknown, inscrutable thing.

But some of us can sense the first, tentative tremors of life beginning to run through her again, something like a flower that slowly opens and blooms after a long, suffocating winter, Any recovery will be slow, stubborn, controversial and, of course, never to everyone’s liking.

There may very well be tears, stubbornness, miscommunication and sheer intransigence to come in the months ahead. But, like the Queen that she has always been, QE2 herself will continue to rise serenely above it all.

I, for one. owe her nothing less than the same courtesy. So, Dubai- it’s over to you. Work with us to help restore, preserve and promote the lady. I’m game if you are.

The ball is firmly in your court.

GENTING HK BUYS GERMANY’S LLOYD WERFT SHIPYARD

It’s now official; Genting HK, parent company of Crystal Cruises, has bought Germany’s hugely prolific Lloyd Werft shipyard in a 17.5 million Euro deal that gives the company something like fifty percent of the land area, and a full seventy per cent of any new  build business.

The deal is the precursor to the construction by Lloyd Werft of a trio of new, 100,000 ton ice strengthened cruise ships for Crystal itself.

In recent years, the yard has been instrumental in either building, refitting or lengthening some six cruise ships for Norwegian Cruise Line. Set up as far back as 1857, the yard has a whole slew of building and refitting work to its credit.

Among other things, Lloyd Werft carried out regular refits and periodic overhauls of both the QE2 and the SS. Canberra. And, over the winter of 1979-80, the yard also carried through the ground breaking conversion of the SS. France into the SS. Norway- the first true mega cruise ship.

The acquisition of Lloyd Werft allows obvious synergies in respect of constructing vessels for both Crystal and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s part partner under the Genting banner.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft's greatest achievements

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft’s greatest achievements

MARCO POLO TO THE BALTIC- DEPARTURE FROM NEWCASTLE

Sailing day; it still leaves me with that ‘kid-on-Christmas-Day’ feeling….

Add in the fact that I’m sailing on one of my favourite ships-the magnificent Marco Polo, celebrating her 50th anniversary this year-and you’ll perhaps understand why my adrenaline was running like tap water as we pulled up at the North Shields passenger terminal.

Originally designed to service the overnight ferries sailing to and from Amsterdam, the terminal- used for Newcastle/Port Of Tyne sailings- doubles up for cruise use on seasonal summer sailings from the Tyne. And, for someone used to making the long treks down to Southampton, Dover and Harwich to board a ship, the sheer ease and convenience of being able to rock up at my local home port never fails to amaze me.

Check in was arranged deck by deck and, though the ship had sold out (Capacity 800, adults only), the boarding process took exactly twenty five minutes. That’s from entering the terminal to walking into the warm, Balinese themed lobby of the Marco Polo. Pretty damned good, that.

Though she is as pretty as a postcard, the Marco Polo remains refreshingly intimate. More comfortable than luxurious, the feeling of boarding her is akin to sagging gratefully into a pair of favourite, comfortable slippers. There’s a feeling of gentle, contented ease that comes from being cocooned in something that is at once instantly welcoming, and yet wonderfully familiar. On both counts, the Marco Polo hits the bullseye.

A thorough but relatively short lifeboat drill follows, by which time my luggage is already outside my room. I have time enough to check out the daily programme, before being pathetically overcome by the need for that first, invariable ‘bon voyage’ drink.

Almost inevitably, I take this on the gorgeous, curved terrace that frames the outside of Scott’s Bar, overlooking the stern. Sat back on cafe chair, feet braced against the deck railings- the classic Marco Polo cruising stance- I tip my vodka and cranberry briefly in the direction of ‘Rudy’, the statue of Rudolf Nureyev that forms a focal point on the aft lido deck. Rudy and I have become well acquainted over the course of three decades.

This contented little reverie is gently shaken by a muted trembling that passes through the deck rails; one that always sends a shiver of delight running up my spine. I glance to port and, to my sheer, infantile joy, the Port Of Tyne terminal is already falling away like a fading souffle. The gangway is gone, as are the ropes. Those last, little tenuous links with reality are no longer needed.

Poised and perfect as a swan, the Marco Polo gives a first, tentative surge forward. Her whistle roars out a stately triple salute to the Tyne as a squadron of gluttonous, over fed gulls shriek, scream and swoop in her wake like so many demented dive bombers. People on house balconies lining the stately, steel grey river look over and wave as this fantastic floating time machine surges majestically past them, almost close enough to touch. Another vodka and cranberry appears at my elbow. I can’t help but smile.

Now out, past Tyneside’s historic breakwater, following in the wakes of the Mauretania, the QE2, and many other famous legends of yesteryear. Out of the Tyne, on a ship still writing chapters in her own, imperishable legend. One we are sharing, even as we savour it.

The North Sea welcomes us with benign skies, and sparkling sunlight dancing on languid, lapping waves that seem to speed the lady on her way. A stately, gentle roll begins to assert itself; the immutable overture to our voyage up ahead. Feet back up on the railings, I sit staring at the clouds, drifting by in the sky like fleets of ghostly galleons.

A sense of freedom dances in the ether around me. It clinks the ice cubes together in my glass as if in celebration. At least, that’s how it seems right at that moment.

And so, we are off. It begins again….

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo- 'Rudy' is centre stage

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo- ‘Rudy’ is centre stage

QE2- THE ENDURING EXILE.

Listening to some of the commentary regarding the end of the Second World War in Europe this coming week prompted a pretty unsettling realisation in me.

That being the deeply perturbing fact that QE2 has now spent longer laid up in Dubai than the entire duration of the mainland war in Europe and the Soviet Union. Stunning, but true.

In less time than she has slowly spent suffocating to death in the fly blown hell hole that is Dubai, Adolf Hitler conquered an empire that stretched from the North Cape to the African continent, and then lost it again.

So, should anybody ever again have the sheer, rank stupidity to complement the ridiculously fawned over sheiks of Dubai on their alacrity and business acumen, simply remind them of that slightly less than unfortunate truth.

There she lies, her fate in the hands of a shabby cabal of clueless, posturing fools who wanted her as a trophy, a status symbol. Now, they do not know what to do with her. Perhaps they never did in the first place.

Perhaps the robed mandarins of the desert kingdom simply over indulged themselves like the spoiled, pampered kids of unchallanged oligarchs to whom money is no object. A kind of bratterati if you will, spiritual paupers on an epic scale that can recognise a glittering trophy, purchase it, and suddenly not know what the hell to do with it.

So there they sit in their glitzy splendour, embarrassed and unsure what to do with what was once their most prized, heavily lauded prestige project. Fantastical, fulsome claims have given way to a veil of shameful silence that hangs over the suffocating Queen like a funeral pall.

There is no question that she deserves better; a ship that broke new ground as the first ocean liner cum floating resort. One that served her country in time of war and, most spectacularly, one that came to emphasise everything ‘great’ about Great Britain for three decades along with her true travel partner, the supersonic Concorde. This ship- breathtaking, elegant and groundbreaking- came to be adored and revered like none other, either before or since.

Sadly, what she deserves is most unlikely to be what she will get.

While she floats, there is always hope. But people need to get out there and ask awkward questions. The pompous, embarrassed burghers of Dubai need to be heckled, ridiculed, and held to account over their inept, ruinous, directionless and completely disastrous stewardship of one of the most singularly significant maritime icons ever to cut salt water.

How much time does she have? Who knows? Even the fickle, capricious clowns who hold ther life in their hands cannot say. Can not, or will not.

Let’s hope 2015 will provide smoother seas and kinder breezes for our loved, languishing lady. And yes, more than ever before, let’s pray the God does, indeed, save our gracious Queen.

Because the one thing you can bet on is that the cash sodden, status obessessed clowns in Dubai most certainly will not.

 

LITTLE GEMS; SHIPS I’M GLAD THAT I ENCOUNTERED…..

For someone like me, born and blessed with a deep and abiding love of the great ocean liners, it has been an incomparable thrill, privilege and pleasure to sail on many of my favourite ‘ladies’ over the years.

The likes of Norway, QE2, Canberra and Rotterdam were all wonders that did not disappoint. And yet, in so many ways, I am just as enriched by sailing on many of the smaller, more traditional ships that have now mostly sailed on beyond the breakers. Many of these ships were- or are- just as big on character as those grand dowagers that have now rang down ‘finised with engines’ for the last time.

There were the two wonderful, heavily rebuilt sister ships that sailed for Classic International Cruises; Princess Daphne and her near identical twin, Princess Danae. I sailed on the Danae twice, and her sister ship just the once.

They were long, low seaboats, with a hull that curved slightly upwards at both bow and stern like some kind of wry, supine smile. The aft lido decks were some of the biggest and most expansive of any ships afloat. Each boasted huge cabins with thick, chunky furniture, and a suite of public rooms that ran out to the hull along both sides, a window walled, heavily mirroed promenade that made strolling a true delight. And, despite being only around 17,000 tons each, they were both superb as sea boats, proper 1950’s paragons that were as elegant as they were warm and unassuming.

The Ocean Countess was definitely of the next generation. Sleek with her swept back, aerodynamic funnel, rakish bow and squared off stern, she was as ‘seventies modern’ as it was possible to get back in 1975. Her cabins were so small that they would have left the average pygmy in agonised contortions.

She had a lofty oberyvation lounge with glass walls that afforded fabulous views out over the bow. To her last days, engraved Cunard ‘lions’ remained etched into the glass doors that led into this room.

There was a centrally sited pool and hot tub lounging area midships, perfectly shaded from the wind, and a fabulous indoor/outdoor night club that extended out over the stern. On warm summer nights in the Aegean, there were few more perfect places anywhere for watching a mellow sunset. She was a fine, funky little ship, one whose heart and character more than made up for her shoe box sized accommodations.

The Marco Polo, happily, remains with us. Now in her fiftieth year, she is literally unmistakable for any other ship, with her glorious, curved prow, stately single funnel and series of elegantly stepped terraces cascading down her stern in a veritable torrent of immaculate teak.

Inside, a run of perfectly proportioned Art Deco lounges and bars allow for a stately evening’s progress through a series of softly lit venues, suffused with wonderful live music. The trim blue hull and sparkling white superstructure truly mark her out as a thing apart. Whether stealing into a magnificent, mist shrouded Norwegian fjord at dawn or lounging off the hot spots of the French Riviera, the Marco Polo looks- and feels- utterly different to anything else out there today.

I remember the stately little Odysseus, too. Built in 1962, she endded her days with Epirotiki, which then became Royal Olympic Lines before it went bankrupt in the wake of 9/11.

She, too, had a long and low hull, swathed in shades of pristine royal blue. Her funnel- small, domed and slightly swept back- seemed out of all proportion to that seemingly endless, long hull.

Truth be told, she had quite a short superstructure and, like the CIC twins, she boasted an enormous, seemingly excessive amount of outdoor deck space aft, running all the way to the fantail. My most vivid impression of this quirky, quite intersting little ship was that she felt a hell of a lot bigger than her supposed 12,000 tons.

So, there we go- just a few of the ships that flit in and out of my memory like patches of Atlantic fog. If this article appeals, please let me know, and I’ll look at the possibility of a follow up piece in similar style.

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

APPROACHING MANHATTAN; THE CAVALCADE AT DAWN

Hey Manhattan....

Hey Manhattan….

Today being September 11th, there seems no better day to recall one of the most perennially magical and awe inspiring experiences that any traveller by sea can ever experience.

The approach to Manhattan.

Long before the completion of the World Trade Centre in 1973, New York was a city as uniquely wedded to the sea as, say, Venice. Manhattan was, and still is, a cluster of stupendous, dreaming spires, rising from the Hudson River. A shimmering, symmetrical confection of glass, steel and concrete that clawed at the sky, but one whose feet were, inevitably, always wet.

It was this unique communion with the sea that gives Manhattan its dramatic, almost mystical stance. And the only way to approach it- to truly get it- was by ocean liner.

Let’s first put this into context; we all know that air travel is mass transportation in this day and age. The jets won on speed, as they were always going to do.

Every few seconds of the day, a commercial jet airliner comes in to land at one of the city’s three principal airports- JFK, Newark and La Guardia- from all over the globe. Except for the pilot and the flight controller on the ground, nobody bats an eyelid at the sight.

Inside, the passengers see nothing but the back of the seat in front of them. The only thing they feel is that uniquely unsettling sensation in their ears as the plane descends, and then that sudden, abrupt thump as screaming rubber connects with cold concrete.

Close enough almost to touch...

Close enough almost to touch…

But arriving by ship? Oh lord, how very, very different…..

How often I stood on the little bit of waist below the bridge of the QE2, shivering in the pale light of dawn as the great ship edged into the sudden stillness of the Hudson at the end of a five day, often storm tossed crossing from Europe. Stood there, with the adrenaline running like tap water. For this was the moment of theatre that nobody wanted to miss; the ceremonial procession into Manhattan.

First came the tips of the World Trade Centre; splintering the horizon like twin, skeletal fingers as the first rays of dawn ghosted across the blackened canvas of the sky. A few lights twinkled, shimmering on the ink black river; a river so still and silent that it could have been made of glass.

That first contact was like a sucker punch; hugely emotional, a deep intake of breath. Here was the culmination of an epic adventure; the arrival in the New World, as generations of our forebears experienced it.

And now, as if pushed from below the sea by some gigantic, unseen hand, the whole of Manhattan rose from the river to starboard, a ragged forest of gleaming spires, squat, hulking office buildings and, looming above it all, the unmistakable twin spires of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. A twin pair of global icons, their facades dusted a shade of blush red as the rising sun sluggishly heaved its way towards a sky so still and silent that it might have been some painted canvas.

To port, the Statue Of Liberty was now in view; a deceptive, diminutive waif clad in copper, torch held aloft. Patient, pale and perennial.

The Empire State Building still dominates midtown Manhattan to this day

The Empire State Building still dominates midtown Manhattan to this day

History is etched into every fold of her gown. On a warm , spring morning in April of 1912, the same great lady waited patiently for the Titanic to sweep proudly past her, making the same, age old procession as we now undertook. She is still waiting to this day.

Meanwhile, the magnificent vision of Manhattan is now so close as to be almost overwhelming. And we are no longer alone, either.

A trio of Moran tug boats are now riding shotgun on the QE2, like three respectful ladies in waiting. They are there to swing us into Pier 90 when the moment is right.

Now we can see cars, looking like madly animated beetles as they scurry along Twelfth Avenue, their headlights making them resemble tiny glow worms. And we can see lines of them, coming down the canyons that have opened up between the ranks of serried skyscrapers that now loom almost above us.

What strikes you most is the silence; though the deck is crowded, there is almost a sense of reverential awe, one not dissimilar to the feeling of entering some huge, impassive cathedral. And, in a sense, that is exactly what we have just done.

The sudden, exultant boom of the QE2 siren shatters that mood as completely as a brick thrown though a window. It’s a thrilling, spine tingling sound that touches something deep and intangible in the soul. It echoes like fading fog down those same, long canyons. They seem almost close enough to touch now.

Then comes that sudden, abrupt stop. A sharp intake of breath, and then the slow, ponderously elegant swing into Pier 90. After what seems like a lifetime, the matchless, elegant beauty of QE2 kisses the pier in Manhattan. Gangways are down, and we are once again physically tethered to what someone once aptly called ‘the hard, clear vigour of New York’. It was never better put.

Journey done. But we have not merely entered a city. We have arrived. And how.

Almost there...

Almost there…

With thanks to both QE2 and the great city of New York for such a series of priceless, immortal memories. And also with deep respect and remembering the victims in New York and elsewhere of the appalling events of September 11th, 2001.

QE2 LATEST, JUNE 4TH 2014 (UPDATED JUNE 6TH)

Still stalled and shackled

Still stalled and shackled

The shabby, demeaning charade that is the Oceanic Group management of the QE2 continues to drag on and on and on. This is the situation as of today, June 4th, from information supplied by a source on board the shackled ocean liner.

Information supplied to Louis De Sousa allows us to see events on board as they are, rather than as others would no doubt like us to. The situation of the crew on board QE2 is nothing less than desperate.

You will recall that they went on strike as of May 15th in protest at two months’ unpaid wages, and the non issue of promised air tickets home for twenty of the mainly Ukrainian crew, right at the time when events in the Ukraine itself must have exacerbated their distress to intolerable levels. At that time, a crew of forty-eight- five Burmese cooks and cleaners, and forty- three Ukrainian technical and engineering staff- were still on board the QE2 in Dubai. 

Without money or means of leaving, these men were, essentially, hostages.

When the news broke, the ivory tower dwellers in Dubai got their cashmere knickers in something of a knot, to put it mildly. A day or so after the story broke on the internet, the BBC came lumbering into the fray, and the shocking story gained fresh momentum. Wounded in the one place that really matters to them- their collective egos- the nonplussed paladins of Oceanic Group burbled out a series of promises, designed to lance the story at one go. To boot;

Wages would be paid for the months of April and May.

* Seven of the crew would be flown home ‘within days’.

* The other thirteen crew members scheduled to leave the QE2 for home would be issued with flight tickets ‘soon’…

And, after a few days, Oceanic Group did, indeed, pay wages owed for the month of April. At the same time, five crew members were flown home, leaving a remaining skeleton staff of forty-three on board the QE2.

As a result of these moves, the crew formally called off the strike, and went back to work. That was then…..

Now- in June- the situation on board is as follows;

Wages for May have still not been paid, despite Oceanic Group’s promises. and wages for June are now also in default. The crew are, once again, two months in arrears.

* Two men have still not had their flight tickets issued, despite promises that this would be done. 

* The other thirteen, promised their flight tickets ‘soon’, have still had no definite date for their onward travel.

In other words, Oceanic Group has delivered just over half of what it promised. Do they honestly think that this is in any way acceptable?

The Queens Room, QE2

The Queens Room, QE2

This kind of mendacious, half hearted wheeling and dealing simply damages the corporate image of Oceanic Group in the eyes of the international community. In time, it must have an adverse effect on how people perceive them as trustworthy people to do business with.

I could live with that, as it stands. But when it still leaves forty-three men stranded in a foreign port, uncertain and unpaid, understandably worried about the events still engulfing their own countries, and having their strings jerked at random by a shabby cabal of filthy rich black holes of morality, then it becomes a different matter.

If there are any updates, I’ll post them as soon as they become available.

JUNE 6TH UPDATE FROM ON BOARD QE2

Word has come through from on board the QE2 that some eighteen of the remaining forty-three crew still on board will sign off and leave the ship on June 10th (next Tuesday) and will be fully paid when they do so. The remaining twenty-five will remain on board. These will only be paid up until April. There is no word on any replacements arriving for those slated to leave the liner.

Among the twenty leaving the ship are both the Captain and the Chief Engineer, both of whom will, apparently, be replaced. The other eighteen supposedly leaving the QE2 have no replacements lined up. 

That will leave a skeleton staff of just twenty five men in total on board the moribund vessel.

This, again, is in direct contravention of yet another ‘promise’ that all crew would be paid up to May. And, with the wages for June also overdue, the remaining staff will, once again, be two months in default.

I wonder exactly how the posturing, pretentious buffoons of Oceanic Group expect these men- quite literally hostages to fortune- to take this latest kick in the teeth?

What it does go to show, yet again, is that the word of these shabby egotists in Dubai has as much worth as Monopoly money. Shocking and disgusting treatment of helpless men.

29TH MAY UPDATE: QE2 ON BOARD CREW- UNPAID AND STRANDED ON THE SHIP

CNV00128Just when you thought that the capricious, gilded buffoons that control the destiny of the Queen Elizabeth 2 could not be any more callous or mendacious, word surfaces from the shackled liner that her skeleton maintenance crew have not been paid for two months.

The crew is now effectively on strike, as of May 15th this year.

Forty eight men remain on board the one time Cunard flagship. Twenty of them were due to leave the ship two months ago, but Oceanic Group- the front organisation for original buyers, Nakheel- have not paid for the airline tickets.

At present, there are forty two Ukrainian deck and engine staff on board, and a six man galley and house cleaning team from Myanmar.

God alone knows what the Ukrainians stranded aboard the QE2 are going through right now, with the volatile situation in their own country at present. It is not even clear whether they have the ability to contact relatives and friends back at home. Combine that with the indifference of the owners towards all on board, and it is to be marveled at that this has not got far uglier.

All of this has to be seen in context against the backdrop of two things.

The first is the continuing efforts of this small band of men to keep the QE2 as clean, safe and secure as is humanly possible, against increasingly stark odds. And now we know with just what respect, courtesy and consideration their obscenely rich employers view those efforts.

Second, the endless stream of misinformation, bombast and simple, lengthy periods of silence that the paladins of Oceanic Group have maintained from the Olympian heights of their collective egos.

All of this- indifference on the part of the owners, and the perfectly understandable withdrawal of labour by a crew pushed way beyond the brink of anything even remotely acceptable- has combined to put the QE2 in more real- and immediate- danger than anyone at Oceanic Group can either excuse or justify.

Is there anybody with an IQ in excess of one that cannot see the true crime here?

Responsibility rests solely, totally and undeniably on the shoulders of Oceanic Group. If not for the efforts of Louis Da Sousa, none of this would have come to light at all.

Lies, prevarication and a totally insular, cavalier attitude have typified their actions from day one. Whatever good will they once might have garnered has long since evaporated.

And now, having hopelessly betrayed, abused and disgraced the memory of one of the greatest maritime icons in history, the same company has now betrayed, short changed and abused the small handful of dedicated men who have fought so valiantly, against a tidal wave of disinterest and disrespect, to keep the QE2 in some semblance of working order.

Disgraceful and disgusting does not even begin to cover it. And, if any of us needed final confirmation, these recent actions tells us everything we need to know about the mentality of those who hold the power of life and death over our ship.

My thoughts, prayers and good wishes go to those still stranded on board the QE2 in Dubai. They are, effectively, hostages. Nothing less.

UPDATE 19/5/2014

Reports from on board the QE2 today state that the crew have been paid the wages owed to them for the month of March but not, as yet, for their work in April. It appears that seven of the twenty men due to leave will be flying back home ‘soon’- whatever that means- and the other thirteen will go ‘later’.

Any relevant updates will, needless to say, appear here. Thanks to all concerned for your support and kind comments.

 

UPDATE 26/5/14

One week after the last update, there has been no change in the situation of the forty eight men still on board the QE2 in Dubai. The salient points are as follows;

* The crew has still only been paid wages for the month of March, despite Oceanic Group promising that they would also be paid their wages for April. And, of course, their collective wages will soon be due for the month of May as well.

* No airline tickets, timetables or follow up information has been offered to the seven crewmen, despite assurances from Oceanic Group that they would be going home ‘soon’. Meanwhile, the other thirteen regarded as superfluous by the company- who were also told that they would be going home ‘soon’- are still in the dark as well.

* In consequence, the strike initiated on May 15, 2014 is still in effect as of this moment.

So, despite the knee jerk, unctuous outpouring of promises and half truths that flowed from Oceanic group when this story broke the other week, the company has still fully honoured NONE of it’s pledges.

The crew are effectively hostages on board the stalled ship, which is herself obviously suffering as a result of the labour stoppage. Calling her situation ‘desperate’ is, sadly, no exaggeration.

Oceanic Group has- yet again- displayed a callous, disingenuous disregard for anything but its own sense of self esteem. And it is ‘self esteem’ because nobody else holds them in anything but contempt. Nothing they have said and done in the last week is going to turn that opinion around any time soon.

29/5 UPDATE

The latest news from on board the QE2 is that five of the initial batch of seven crew who were promised air tickets  home have finally left the ship. There are now some forty three crewmen on board the QE2.

The salary due for April has been promised for pay next week. This would mean that the crew have finally been brought up to date, wage wise. Assuming, of course, that it happens.

In light of these circumstances, the crew has now officially called off the strike initiated by them on May 15th.

Events will continue to be monitored here.

 

ROYAL PRINCESS ON THE TELLY, AND SHIPS ON SCREEN BEFORE HER…..

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one...

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one…

The news today that Royal Princess is to be the ‘star’ of a new, four part ITV television series should not come as too much of a surprise, given the history of Princess Cruises and the world famous Love Boat series of the seventies and eighties. That particular show- mass marketed and seen worldwide- was a massive boon in boosting cruising’s visibility. Needless to say, it did not exactly hurt the coffers of the parent company, either.

Obviously, Princess Cruises is hoping for some kind of bounce one more time in exposing it’s newest, fully fledged star to media scrutiny. Celebrity Cruises endured a similar series of programmes a few years back, when everyday crew life aboard their then Galaxy made an unlikely star of Jane McDonald.  If these things go well, then the benefits are obvious.

But do they always go well?

Certainly, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines got mixed reviews based on a documentary series, filmed aboard their popular Balmoral. That particular programme attracted a lot of negative feedback, although, once again, the company’s bookings are said to have profited quite a lot. And if money is the bottom line rather than perception, I guess Fred still came out way ahead.

These programmes are far more ‘fly on the wall’  than the smooth, mushy goo served up by the Love Boat week in and out. And, even back in the early eighties, the legendary Alan Whicker made a series of documentaries aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 during her first, post Falklands world cruise.

But long before even that extraordinary odyssey, ships on the telly were nothing new. And, of course, one particular ship more than any other……

It was almost inevitable that the Titanic would steam across the screenscape of Upstairs, Downstairs, just as she would also sail across the backdrop of it’s logical successor in the Edwardian melodrama sweepstakes, Downton Abbey. In fact, the lost liner appeared with such regularity as a celluloid backdrop on TV that well known TV presenter, Barry Norman, famously quipped that the Titanic had ‘sailed more miles on film than she ever did in real life’.

Ironically, the constant dragging up for air of the most famous shipwreck in history seems to have had a perversely beneficial effect on cruising, and on passengers embarking on the transatlantic crossing as well. With the retelling of  such a spectacular disaster promoting such a spike in ratings, the irony is obvious.

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

And here we come to the always perennial disconnect between television and cruise line expectations. Each has their own agenda in filming these things. For good TV is not about anything so much as maximising ratings. And, in pursuit of that, if corners get cut or stories/people are misrepresented, well that’s just collateral damage.

And, of course, the ship owners want to display their product and image in hopefully the most flattering light. Which is not always the most accurate picture, either.

So, as Royal Princess prepares to tread the boards, let us all wish her well. But please, let’s take it all with at least a small pinch of salt.

MAKING A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS- MANAGING BAD NEWS

Royal Caribbean engineered a master class in damage limitation

Royal Caribbean engineered a master class in damage limitation

We’ve seen it time and time again in the travel trade; an incident regarding an airline or a cruise line begins to register on the public consciousness; the company concerned goes into damage limitation mode, trying to ride the coat tails of a story that is already spreading like an atomic mushroom cloud, thanks to the internet. That is the stage where it can either be brought back onto an even keel, or go spectacularly wrong. In the last year, we’ve seen classic examples of both.

The focus of most brands is damage limitation, and that’s fair enough as far as it goes. It’s how you go about it that can determine just how strongly- or otherwise- a company rebounds from something that, all too often, cannot be helped.

A case in point is the current, tragic Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 that came down last week, with over 220 people aboard. Here, the owners really are caught between a rock and a hard place; they have no concrete news to share (or at least none that has been declared fit for public consumption); the result is a nebulous void that has been filled to overflowing with every kind of poisonous quackery imaginable.

The sheer, ghastly impact of all of this on the relatives of those on board is unthinkable. And yet, time and time again, those same relatives are seen to reiterate the same, general theme; anger at Malaysian Airlines, and the constantly repeated mantra that they are not being told the truth.

And nothing is more damaging to any travel brand in a crisis; the perception- right or wrong- that they are not being up front. In the absence of news, perception assumes a life of its own. Rumours feed it. And so, too, does silence from the owners. To use an unfortunate pun, it’s a perfect storm.

Don't want this to be the perception of your brand? Get pro-active....

Don’t want this to be the perception of your brand? Get pro-active….

For example, look at the ongoing, shabby farce that continues to surround the stalled QE2 regeneration project at Dubai. When they have actually deigned to communicate with the wider travel community, the owners have told one half truth after another, as well as making a whole raft of vague, woolly promises that have never materialised. Departure dates have come and gone with the regularity of planes at Dubai International.

The result? A complete and utter disconnect from the mainstream, to such an extent that nobody now believes a word that comes out of the owners’ mouths. The Dubai ownership of QE2 has squandered a huge amount of goodwill- and potential support- in their alleged efforts to revitalise the ship, and invest in her future. And, while the ‘gentlemen’ concerned are certainly awash with money, losing that kind of goodwill is not something that any savvy operator can afford. Once gone, it cannot be bought back.

Does it have to be like that? Nope. Consider the recent incident at Azamara Club Cruises, where the line’s Azamara Journey had a propeller blade problem that resulted in the premature end of one cruise, and an unscheduled dry docking for repairs. It could have gone horribly pear shaped.

Instead, all passengers on board were immediately told what had happened, as well as those scheduled to embark for the follow on cruise. Azamara CEO, Larry Pimentel, flew to meet the ship on arrival, and personally spoke to all those affected guests. The company provided compensation that satisfied all injured parties and- much more to the point- Pimentel did one crucially important thing.

He communicated. 

Pimentel got pro-active, via social media such as Twitter, and sent frequent, on time updates across the internet. Not only that but, as repairs progressed, he sent out photographs of the work in progress.

Head in the clouds?

Head in the clouds?

In so doing, he took the sting out of the story, and turned it right around. While seemingly obvious- and absolutely the right thing to do- this was an absolute master class in how to get it right, and the company deserves huge kudos for it’s initiative. It bought Azamara a priceless return in credibility and trustworthiness; one which will certainly work to the line’s advantage in the long term.

In a similar vein, when Royal Caribbean had a fire last year on Grandeur Of The Seas, the line adopted exactly the same tactic; tweeting updates on social media and Facebook, and dispatching CEO Adam Goldstein to meet the ship and her passengers in Nassau. All passengers were well compensated and, where necessary, put up in hotels and flown home, all at company expense.

And, crucially, all of this information was out in the public domain in real time; as it happened. Royal Caribbean ran with the narrative, pre-empting a tidal wave of potential, adverse press headlines and on line speculation.

Again, this was an object lesson in how to get it right. If only they could bottle and sell some of that savvy to the status conscious paladins of Dubai.

When heading toward the edge of a cliff, best not to floor the speed pedal...

When heading toward the edge of a cliff, best not to floor the speed pedal…

The bottom line? Get pro-active. When potentially brand damaging stories begin to break, don’t just pull down the shutters, and hope that it will all just blow by. It won’t. You can’t grab the reins when you’re sitting in a bunker.

Because, when all is said and done, nothing amplifies the most scurrilous and unfounded rumour quite like official silence from the top. It creates a perception- right or wrong- that you are either aloof, disengaged, in denial or, worst of all, downright callous and/or incompetent.

That’s brand suicide.