In defense of the cruise lines

Richard Turen

Opinion columns are never supposed to be written in anger. If I feel I am angry about something I wish to share with you, I will wait on it a day or two so I can try to see the other side.

But I am angry right now, and I am not looking for a filter.

Cruise lines have been denied participation in the Covid-19 stimulus package after an amendment was added by Congress that blocks companies that aren’t incorporated in the U.S. from receiving aid. That has opened a floodgate of opposition to the industry based on the feeling that they should be paying U.S. taxes and allegations that cruise ships are, as was recently portrayed in media, “floating petri dishes.”

Let me address the matter of taxes first. It is a fact that the largest three lines use “ports of convenience” like the Bahamas and Liberia to avoid paying U.S. taxes and, perhaps more importantly, to avoid having U.S. labor laws applicable to their workers.

But let’s examine “They pay no taxes” in a broader context.

The majority of cruise lines are publicly held corporations; we know what they earn and where they are incorporated. Compared to politicians who feel their tax avoidance strategies are evidence of their intelligence and who won’t release their tax returns, cruise lines are models of transparency.

And if Congress is truly upset about perfectly legal ways that taxes can be avoided or reduced — well, they wrote the laws.

Beyond politicians, are you, as a citizen, ready to boycott Apple products because the company has been based in Ireland, a notorious tax haven, for years?

In a 2018 study, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy identified 91 major U.S. corporations that were profitable but had an effective tax rate of 0%. These companies included Amazon, Starbucks and Chevron. I assume that those who criticize the cruise industry for taking advantage of tax havens do not purchase goods from Amazon, lattes at Starbucks or gas up anywhere where the mother ship takes advantage of offshore tax incentives.

Taking advantage of tax loopholes is allowed in capitalism and democracy as practiced in the U.S. You may not like it, but it is legal. If Starbucks or Apple were operating cruise ships you can bet they would be registered overseas. (And they would likely have better broadband and uniformly better coffee.)

Then there’s this constant “petri dish” analogy. That one gets to me. In my 44 years selling and marketing cruises, I have never encountered a guest or a client who felt their health was being compromised aboard a ship. And my practice includes a larger-than-normal percentage of physicians and surgeons.

Over the past decade, I have devoted large portions of my life to researching and maintaining an online list of the world’s Top 10-ranked cruise lines that carry fewer than 1,000 passengers. Not one of those ships has had a Covid-19 outbreak. Not a single one.

Let’s look next at the real “petri dishes” in our society.

‘ll do just that in my next column.

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