The Dark Side of the Cruise Industry


Cruise ships are often associated with wealth and vacations, taking their passengers to ports all over the world for land excursions and providing luxurious amenities onboard. However, this lucrative industry has always been subjected to criticism related to a variety of problems that are often the result of the complex law systems by which the liners abide. From ethical dilemmas and crimes committed on board to their contribution to pollution, cruise ships are far from the picture-perfect dream that many people envision them to be. The purpose of this paper is to outline the criticisms the industry is subjected to and deliberate whether there is any truth to them.

Cruise Ships and the Jurisdiction They Abide By

Cruise ships are not to be confused with ocean liners whose main purpose is the transfer of people and goods from one place to another across a large body of water. For the cruise industry, the primary goal is to provide their clients with guided tours at several water-adjacent cities and entertainment onboard the actual vessel. The amenities on the ship typically include restaurants, bars, pools, waterparks, courts designated for sport, casinos, escape rooms, movie theaters, and many more, which naturally raises the price for this type of holiday. Considering the sum one has to pay to go on a cruise, it may seem that this industry provides its clients with an experience that is safe for them, the employees, and the environment, which is often not the case.

A significant contributor to the problems that arise from the cruise industry is their geographical location during the voyage. While at open sea, the laws that one has to abide by can be not as transparent as they are on land, allowing for certain leeway. Typically, a ship and all the people aboard it are under the jurisdiction of the state under whose flag the voyage is happening. However, if the vessel enters waters that belong to a different country, this nation’s laws immediately take effect on board the ships. This complex system becomes even harder to follow if you consider the fact that most cruise lines are incorporated in a separate state that has little to do with where the company itself is located. This results in passengers having to abide by laws that they are not familiar with as they are implemented in a country that is in no way connected to the current voyage or the organization itself.

Problems Associated with the Cruise Industry

Exemption from Taxes

Taxes are the main reason why many cruise lines issue their ships under a different nation’s flag. Like other companies, organizations that offer cruises have to give back to their government in the form of a compulsory financial charge derived from the revenue sum. However, cruise lines use the fact that their business often happens in international waters to be incorporated in a different country to earn tax exemption.

While this loophole has always been controversial, it has particularly become a topic of interest lately due to the ongoing pandemic. With the state of almost global quarantine, industries that profit from tourism have found themselves without their usual revenue. Distressed companies that are experiencing this lack of income are “eligible to receive relief through the bailout fund” (Miranda and Soisson 1). However, due to cruise lines finding loopholes not to pay taxes, the general public is not taking kindly to the idea of using funds to help this lucrative industry.

Unethical Employment

Working on a cruise ship that provides many luxurious amenities and travels from one vacation spot to another may seem like a dream. However, the reality is very different from this perception as the employees are typically overworked and underpaid with 12 hours of work and a salary lower than the hourly minimum wage. Another issue is that despite the labor being often arduous, most of the workers do not get sufficient medical help when it is required.

At first, it may seem like no one would choose to be employed under these conditions. However, these members of the workforce “are recruited from countries with limited economic opportunities” (Matousek 6). Therefore, these people often see these jobs aboard cruise ships as their only way to a better life without realizing how distressing the working conditions are.


With cruise ships having such prosperous life happing on board, it is not surprising that the disastrous effect they have on the environment is comparable to that of cities on land. As they are giant moving vessels, they emit exhaust fumes that are proportionate to their size. On top of that, “cruise ships have been caught discarding trash, fuel, and sewage directly into the ocean” (Ellsmoor 2). This industry once again uses the constantly changing geographical location of its vessels to find loopholes around laws that one would abide by on land.


Behind the idyllic picture of cruise ships with all of their exotic destinations and luxurious amenities, hide greedy corporations that find leeways in order to get away with all sorts of crime. This is achieved by implementing the confusion one feels when the vessel enters territories where one has to abide by different laws. This results in cruise lines being the breeding ground for such problems as tax evasion, unethical employment, and pollution that harms the environment.

Works Cited

Ellsmoor, James. Forbes. 2020. Web.

Matousek, Mark. Business Insider, 2020. Web.

Miranda, Leticia, and Soisson, Isabel. NBC News, 2020. Web.

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