|Cruise ships still find a Haitian berth
Luxury liners are still docking at private beaches near Haiti's
devastated earthquake zone for holidaymakers to enjoy the water
SIXTY MILES from Haiti's devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners
dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jetski rides,
parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.
The 4,370-berth Independence of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean
International, disembarked at the heavily guarded resort of Labadee on
the north coast on Friday; a second cruise ship, the 3,100-passenger
Navigator of the Seas is due to dock.
The Florida cruise company leases a picturesque wooded peninsula and
its five pristine beaches from the government for passengers to "cut
loose" with watersports, barbecues, and shopping for trinkets at a
craft market before returning on board before dusk. Safety is
guaranteed by armed guards at the gate.
The decision to go ahead with the visit has divided passengers. The
ships carry some food aid, and the cruise line has pledged to donate
all proceeds from the visit to help stricken Haitians. But many
passengers will stay aboard when they dock; one said he was
"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water,
eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince]
there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the
streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water,"
one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.
"It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before
the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving," said another. "I
can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''
Some booked on ships scheduled to stop at Labadee are afraid that
desperate people might breach the resort's 12ft high fences to get
food and drink, but others seemed determined to enjoy their
holiday."I'll be there on Tuesday and I plan on enjoying my zip line
excursion as well as the time on the beach," said one.
The company said the question of whether to "deliver a vacation
experience so close to the epicentre of an earthquake" had been
subject to considerable internal debate before it decided to include
Haiti in its itineraries for the coming weeks.
"In the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti's recovery; hundreds of
people rely on Labadee for their livelihood," said John Weis,
vice-president. "In our conversations with the UN special envoy of the
government of Haiti, Leslie Voltaire, he notes that Haiti will benefit
from the revenues that are generated from each call …
"We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport
vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti. Simply put, we
cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most."
"Friday's call in Labadee went well," said Royal Caribbean.
"Everything was open, as usual. The guests were very happy to hear
that 100% of the proceeds from the call at Labadee would be donated to
the relief effort."
Forty pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water, and canned foods
were delivered on Friday, and a further 80 are due and 16 on two
subsequent ships. When supplies arrive in Labadee, they are
distributed by Food for the Poor, a longtime partner of Royal
Caribbean in Haiti.
Royal Caribbean has also pledged $1m to the relief effort and will
spend part of that helping 200 Haitian crew members.
The company recently spent $55m updating Labadee. It employs 230
Haitians and the firm estimates 300 more benefit from the market. The
development has been regarded as a beacon of private investment in
Haiti; Bill Clinton visited in October. Some Haitians have decried the
leasing of the peninsula as effective privatisation of part of the