Cruise ships arrive as Haiti suffers (Feature)
By Manuel Schwarz Jan 19, 2010, 15:04 GMT
Hamburg - Cruise ships are disgorging tourists to relax on Haiti's spectacular sandy beaches as the Caribbean nation struggles to cope with a devastating earthquake.
Vessels of the US-operated Royal Caribbean International (RCI) are berthing at the relatively unscathed resort of Labadee on the north of Haiti as the capital, Port-au-Prince, sinks in chaos.
In its publicity brochure, the shipping line offers tourists their own 'private paradise' where they can swim, take it easy or go scuba diving against a 'breathtaking background.'
Luxury liners arrive on different days in Labadee and spend several hours at private beaches screened from the violence and poverty that dominates the rest of the country.
A high fence and armed security guards ensure the cruise ship passengers can enjoy their cocktails or take jet ski rides in the calm of the picturesque bay.
The cruise operator says it has no reason to avoid Haiti because of the earthquake. On the contrary, staying away would add to the hardships facing Haitians.
'Being on the island and generating economic activity ... helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help,' says RCI chief executive Adam Goldstein in his blog www.nationofwhynot.com/blog.
'Also, the north is going to bear a good part of the burden of the agony of the south, and the more economic support there is to the north, the better able the north will be to bear this burden.
'People enjoying themselves in Labadee helps with relief,' Goldstein says.
Three Royal Caribbean liners are paying or have paid calls this week to Labadee, just a few kilometres from the port city of Cap- Haitien.
The Navigator of the Seas dropped anchor on Monday, followed a day later by the Liberty of the Seas. On Friday a visit is planned by Celebrity Solstice, operated RCI subsidiary Celebrity Cruises Haiti.
The Liberty of the Seas has berths for 3,600 passengers, the other two for 3,000 each. RCI declined to say how many passengers were actually on board this week or whether their had been cancellations because of the January 12 earthquake.
Since last week, the cruise liners have been carrying relief supplies of drinking water, bread, rice and powdered milk, which are then sent to Port-au-Prince, 260 kilometres to the south.
RCI also said it had donated 1 million dollars to organizations involved in the relief effort.
Although the cruise operator is determined to stick to Labadee, some passengers have expressed their reservations about such trips in internet forums.
'I can't imagine eating a hamburger there in such a situation,' wrote one guest.
Another said he couldn't bear to lay on the beach or splash in the water, while elsewhere 'tens of thousands of corpses were piled on the streets and survivors fight for food and water.'