Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Caught Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

3,299 paying customers and 1,167 crew members found themselves literally between the devil and the deep blue sea when the Carnival Cruise Liner Carnival Splendor was disabled by an engine room fire and left adrift 55 miles from the coast of Mexico.

Fortunately no one was injured. Unfortunately the fire left the big luxury liner adrift without power, steering, air conditioning, hot food, hot water, telephone or Internet service.

Tug boats were originally dispatched to tow the ship to Ensenada in Baja.

From Carnival Cruise Line’s public relations perspective, they faced two potential "bad choices" -- a disabled ship or having to tell more than 4,400 people they are going to be towed to Mexico. With the daily headlines about drug wars, Mexican shoot-outs and entire Mexican police departments either being murdered or quitting their jobs before they are murdered, many on board that ship might rather endure the dark and lack of air conditioning for a few days.

Within hours Carnival’s website had updated a message to friends and family of the passengers and crew, and future customers, about what had happened and what the company was doing to make good for those who had paid to take the seven day cruise.

Then, a day later, the company and Coast Guard announced they were changing plans and the big ship would be towed to San Diego. That avoided the potential negative reaction of all those people going ashore in Mexico, but the ship, under tow, is moving at about four-miles an hour, and the trip to San Diego was expected to take two to three days.

We maintain that two-thirds of all crises are preventable, but every now and then something will go wrong that cannot be avoided. That’s when you have to have anticipated those kinds of things and have three plans to deal with it.

The first plan is the operational plan: how to fight the fire, how to keep everyone safe.

The second plan is the communication plan: how to communicate with the people directly involved, how to communicate with their families, and others.

The third plan is the continuity and recovery plan.

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