NOTE: I have bolded sections that some might find most relevant.
July 10, 2009
Adam M. Goldstein, President & CEO
Royal Caribbean International
1050 Caribbean Way
Miami, Florida 33132
One of your publications contains the following statement: “Safety and security are everyone’s responsibility. Should anyone become aware of unsafe or possibly illegal behavior during their cruise, they should immediately report this to the ship’s Security Staff or other ship management.” Hence this letter.
Upon paying about $14,000 for us and our 9 children/grandchildren to cruise on Freedom of the Seas from June 28 through July 5, 2009, we received your booklet entitled “Adventure Awaits” in which I found these words under the heading What Not To Bring:“…knives with blades longer than 4 inches<>lock back serrated knives of any length.”
About three months after the 9/11 terrorist attack on our country, my wife and I cruised on Carnival Spirit and they inspected my folding pocket knife on boarding and passed it as being OK. Later, on returning from a shore excursion, the ship’s security personnel confiscated the knife, saying it would be returned on docking. I argued the point, but as with most functionaries, logic plays no part. It was not until two days later did I recover my knife after a face-to-face meeting with the Chief of Security who admitted it should not have been confiscated in the first place.
It was with this experience in mind that I read and re-read your statement above pertaining to which knives would be permitted onboard Freedom. I’ve carried a pocket knife since my Boy Scout days, so I am quite aware of what a useful tool it is, plus now at 74 years of age I use it to cut my pills in order to take the dosage prescribed by my doctor. When I read your restrictions my thought processes were these: (1) My knife has a blade that is 2 15/16” long, but what if Security decides the 4” figure means overall? So, I also packed a much smaller knife that is a lock back, but is not serrated. (2) But what if Security doesn’t make that fine a distinction and places a comma between the words lock back and serrated, and takes it to mean either? (3) So, I also packed an even shorter non lock-back knife so that whatever happened I would at least wind up with one knife I could cut my pills with.
During the boarding process I placed my pocket knife in the tub with my change, keys, etc. and immediately the McRoberts Maritime Security person seized my knife and had another officer open my bag in which I had packed the other two. When I questioned why the book containing my confirmation number, reservation ID#, and stateroom number said I was allowed to bring my knife, I was told, “The Captain does not allow any knives onboard this ship.” Not being born yesterday and knowing that even though maritime law may allow the Captain that prerogative, he would not make that decision without communication with the company. I asked when that decision was made. “About three weeks ago, I think. Something must have happened to cause it,” was the reply. If that was indeed the case, and I am almost certain it was not, then it begs the question of why your passengers were not informed of the change? Could it have been because you already had our money and therefore felt we couldn’t do anything but submit, no matter how inconvenient this might be to passengers?
A simple and inexpensive e-mail would have sufficed, and those unwilling to accept the new terms (the old terms being in effect when you accepted our money) could then have opted for a refund, but we were not offered that opportunity. That kind of business practice bespeaks a total disregard for fairness and guarantees this to be two cruises in one for me – my first and my last with Royal Caribbean.
From a legal standpoint I would have to ask the following: Since I had the company policy IN WRITING, IN HAND, why should I consider what someone tells me to be more than rumor, unless they can show me IN WRITING proof of the new rule dated later than my copy? They offered nothing more than their interpretation.
All of the above to get to the crux of my complaint. From all the information you require from your clientele you must certainly know their profiles better than I, so I am taking your implied advice that I am aboard with inebriates, possible felons, brawlers and perhaps even terrorists who would employ their knives, were they allowed aboard, to do bodily harm to me and my law abiding cruise partners. While on the surface this would seem prudent to most shallow thinkers, I did notice a serious omission in your plan. The 6” serrated blade steak knives that are served to anyone at the evening meals who orders beef in any of its many forms, are there for the taking, rendering your confiscation of pocket knives absurd in the extreme. Now, if I were bent on bringing my knife on board to commit mayhem, settle an old grudge, storm the bridge, or wrest control of the ship from your 1400 man crew, I would be so much better equipped to do it with a big knife from your dining room(s) than with the piddling little pill cutter I tried to bring aboard WITH YOUR WRITTEN PERMISSION.
While your food is, on a good day, a step above that customarily served with plastic utensils, I would submit that if your safety concerns are to be taken seriously, promulgated with a straight face, and administered even-handedly, then you must lock up the 6” serrated steak knives, table knives and sharp-tined forks, seize all straight razors, razor blades which can be adapted to make knives, scissors, knitting needles, nail files, rat tail combs, sharpening stones to put an edge on almost any thin metal object, the relatively new ceramic knives which have no metallic signature and which are available at kitchen ware shops and at Wal-Mart, plus the hundred and one other things a fertile mind could turn into weapons. Do you realize that a small pair of Vice Grip pliers (not prohibited to my knowledge) and a regular safety razor blade (also not prohibited) can make a much sharper knife that 99% of the pocket knives carried in the average person’s pocket? Of course you didn’t, because your knife policy is not the product of rational thought, it is simply for show. Do I expect you to follow all, or even any, of my suggestions regarding your dining hardware? Of course not, because you know that would have a negative effect on passenger convenience, which could translate into reduced revenue and we all are smart enough to know greed, not safety, is your god. Once begun, a program like this grows exponentially and will ultimately be derided out of existence from its sheer silliness.
To further illustrate the folly of your no knife policy, consider the following: My son, who received the same official RCI booklet as I, packed his folding pocket knife in his back pack. Since we did not board the ship at the same time, he was not aware of my contretempts with McRoberts Security, and had his back pack run through the x-ray machine without a hitch. Not only that, his back pack was scanned twice more; once when returning from a shore excursion to St. Thomas/St. John, and again when returning from St. Maarten. Is an eye exam a normal part of physicals given your Security personnel? Or is it possible that your crew is as confused by your yes/no/maybe policies as your passengers are? On the fourth day of our cruise my wife discovered that her little Victorinox knife that includes scissors and a toothpick was in her overnight bag that she normally puts in check baggage when we fly. McRoberts missed that one too. Were it not so pitiful, it would be funny.
On boarding day, Sunday, June 28, after missing two medication cycles because I could not cut my pills in half, I made a tour of your shops on Deck 5 trying to buy a pill splitter. I do not own one, you see, because I have a knife, which I brought WITH Y0UR PERMISSION IN WRITING. No one sold such an item. At 10 PM I went to Guest Services Officer Reyno Varkvisser and explained my problem. He supposedly left word for someone from Security to call me before noon on Monday. I stayed in my cabin Monday morning so I would not miss the call, but it had not come by 10:05, so I went back to Guest Services since I was about to miss my third medication cycle. This officer, Miguel Nolasco, listened to my story, repeated it to a female officer who then proceeded to tell me I was not allowed to have a knife. While I deeply appreciated that news flash, it somehow didn’t solve my immediate problem. I then asked to see the Chief Security Officer. Mr. Nolasco spoke on the phone and told me, “She will be here soon.” Fifteen minutes later he called them again and was told they were “busy” and couldn’t send anyone. But, he said, he was told that while I could not have one of my knives back, a knife would be sent to my room that I could use. That promise however was made with the same sincerity as your promise that I could bring my knife aboard, as it never happened either.
At 3:45 PM I went to Deck 1 as it was evident that my problem was not important to anyone but me, and found Sagi Rosenblatt who returned one of my knives with the stipulation that I not let it leave my room, to which I of course agreed. He had his assistant follow me to my cabin where he changed the quantity of seized knives from 3 to 2 on the McRoberts orange form. From start to finish that process only took 18 non-medicated hours. I count it as a real blessing that I was only needing my pills and not having a heart attack, for I firmly believe that would have been treated with the same studied indifference.
While walking on Wednesday morning, July 1, I noticed that the next-to-top tread on the port side steps leading to the Helo deck was loose when I stepped on it, rocking back/forth a half inch or better. I immediately reported this to Guest Services Officer Aleksandra Stojkovic at 6:40 AM. She said the maintenance crew began their work day at 7 AM and it would be repaired shortly after that. I checked it again at 8:15 AM and found it had not been repaired. I suppose the maintenance crew was as “busy” as the security crew had been on Monday.
Since you seem to go to such great and contorted lengths to insure my safety re your knife policy, I decided I would return the favor by doing a quick visual inspection of your Viking Life Raft canisters at Life Stations #35 and #37. At #35, Viking Life Raft Serial 10236783 is missing both the side and end rubber grommets where the Quick Release Line exits the canister. This leaves the line bearing against the sharp bare fiberglass edge of the hole in the canister. A severely chafed release line could break when pulled “HARD” as per written instructions on the canister, thus rendering the Life Raft useless since it would not inflate. Also, Serial 35DFK+_10291589 is missing the same two grommets. At Life Station #37 one canister with no visible serial number is missing only the end grommet.
In reading the launching instructions that appear very visibly on the canister, which I assume are put there for passenger use in case ship’s help is not available during emergency situations, I noted the following: Instruction #7 says “…loosen bowsing line or use a knife.” Instruction #10 says “Cut painter line.” Instruction #10 is necessary to separate the Life Raft from the sinking ship so it doesn’t carry the Life Raft with it, or in case the ship is on fire and separation is necessary for that reason.*
With my knives being seized on entry to the ship and my returned one being restricted to my cabin, it appears you prohibit me from saving myself or my family in the above emergency situation. You are a plaintiff attorney’s dream come true.
I think you are treading on very thin ice with your current knife policy, whatever that may be at any given moment in time. It is not enforced with any real accuracy by McRoberts Security on entering the ship, nor by your own Security force on reentering the ship from shore excursions, nor by your own complicity in placing 6 inch serrated blade knives where they may be taken at will from the dining rooms, not to mention the above listed dangerous items you never considered. I was taught as a child that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Too bad you were not so gifted. In addition, your present knife policy is plainly disadvantageous to those who have grown to depend on them over a lifetime, and may even be an abridgement of one’s civil rights, since some have them while others are not allowed. While on that subject, I will have to ask your policy regarding crewmembers being permitted to carry knives, since I observed several Leatherman-type knife/screwdriver/pliers tools being worn by crewmembers. Is this limited to those with a need-to-carry, or is it optional with crew, just not with passengers? And if it is not mandatory that they carry a knife, how will they “Cut the painter” in the above-described emergency situation? And if they are permitted/required to carry a knife, how safe are passengers supposed to feel in the presence of 1400 multi-ethnic laborers, part of whom are in and out of our rooms with their own keys? Are we guaranteed they have been screened and are certified to be of higher ethical standards than the inebriates, possible felons, brawlers, and perhaps even terrorists that make up your passenger lists?
The fueling operation in St. Maarten was a real eye-opener. I observed that no oil spill booms were employed by the ship nor the fuel barge, nor were they even visible on deck if they were needed quickly. Realizing the tremendous economic impact that Royal Caribbean has on the port at St. Maarten, I am not surprised that the local authorities are less than demanding, but such actions will not win you any applause from the environmentalists, nor probably from your insurance carriers. The embarrassment you suffered in the mid to late 1990’s when you were fined for violations of the Clean Water Act for discharging oily bilge water through removable plumbing lines kept hidden for that purpose was evidently not a lesson which provided much learning potential.
I regret that I was not able to spend more time on my quick once-over, but this was supposed to have been a vacation.
I almost forgot to mention a couple of minor nuisances that are easily confirmed by your records. On entering the ship on Sunday, June 28, I found that water would not drain from our sink, so I called maintenance and they sent someone I had trouble communicating with, but I was finally able to understand that it was fixed. It worked better, still bubbled a lot, but was OK until Friday night July 3. When it again malfunctioned I looked underneath to see if it was a problem I might could fix, and saw what I thought was a condom tying the push rod to the horizontal lever that opens the drain. Being concerned with sanitation issues I immediately called maintenance and asked for not just a repair person, but someone higher up the ladder so I could be sure the problem would be fixed with proper parts and not whatever just happened to be in someone’s pocket. At 5:20 PM came Andres Chaves and Arnulfo Canales who looked at the problem, spoke to each other in what I took to be their native tongue, laughed and unwound a rubber glove from the stopper/plunger joint. They found that a small gray plastic sleeve with a screw in the end was stripped and that it needed a new one. They apologized for the problem and left after I told them I did not need to trap water in the sink, just needed it to drain. They said the drain pipe was too small for the volume of water that flows into the bowl, and when I asked if they all did that, they said “Yes.” The second item was that two of our party complained that the noise coming from above their cabin (2419 I think) was keeping them awake for the last two nights so someone was kind enough to move them to another cabin on Saturday night.
My wife, who tries to put a good spin on even the most pathetic situations, demands that I mention the positives of the cruise, so here goes: Olena Fan and Kadek Rahmawan were waiters/assistant waiters beyond compare. They really took great care of our family, remembered our names and how we liked our food prepared, were personable, efficient and would be great assets on any ship.
On a “Tight Ship” scale of 1-10 with 1 being the loosest, I would give Freedom a 6.
You will note that I have asked many questions in this letter. Were they not of concern to me and my family, I would not have asked them. Having spent money with you, I would think it reasonable to assume my questions deserve answers.
* A reader points out that the life rafts, when they inflate, have a small knife attached to the inside of the raft structure by the hatch, which is really nothing more than a small strip of metal with a slightly sharpened side. These are used to cut the painter line and anything else that might need attention.