Grassroots groups from several countries, including the Cayman Islands, have joined forces to launch the Global Cruise Activist Network, to demand that the cruise ship industry does not return to ‘business as normal’ post-COVID-19.

The fledgling group, which formed over Zoom meetings in recent months, brings together activists and anti-cruise campaigners from coastal communities around the world. GCAN held its first virtual press conference to launch the network on Wednesday, 2 Sept.

Activists from the Cayman Islands; Southampton, UK; Venice, Italy; Charleston, South Carolina; Monterey, California; New York; and Alaska, were among those who delivered brief reports on the impacts of cruise ships in their respective locations.

Some have been fighting air and water pollution issues; others, like those in Cayman, are opposing plans to build or expand cruise ports in their towns or islands; several were campaigning to reduce the frequency of cruise visits and the numbers of cruise ship passengers descending on their neighbourhoods; and still others were battling against the dumping of cruise garbage.

Several of those who spoke at the launch expressed concerns about how cruise ship workers were treated by the operators, and highlighted the plight of some crews that have been stuck on board cruise ships for months because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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“The Global Cruise Activist Network is giving a voice to people living in port communities worldwide. Our organising efforts are giving us the power we desperately need, to better organise in our communities and to demand that the cruise industry doesn’t return to business as usual as it starts sailing again after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Karla Hart, one of the network’s organisers.

She added, “Through the network, our members have been able to support fellow activists in demanding additional noise restrictions; better understand how ports and cruise terminals are being financed; share what works for community-led air and water pollution monitoring; learn from locations dealing with referendums and legal actions; and track where and when cruise ships are returning.”

Linda Clark, from the Cayman Islands, spoke at the conference about the work that Cruise Port Referendum Cayman had done in opposing a plan to build a cruise and cargo dock in George Town. CPR Cayman organised a petition that was signed by enough voters to force the government to call a people-initiated referendum on the issue.

The Cayman Islands government subsequently said that it would not go ahead with its plans to build the port, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, during which all cruise ships have been barred from stopping in Cayman and the tourism industry effectively collapsed.

Clark said CPR Cayman was still waiting for the government to honour the referendum. “So far we have not been told we will have that,” she said.

“Now, we have a pause in cruise tourism,” she added. “We have been told by the government that the project is on hold; however, we know that the cruise industry will likely want to get back as soon as possible. They started asking for people to book cruises to the Cayman Islands and they don’t even have the permission from the government to dock here.”

Premier Alden McLaughlin announced last month that the ban on cruise ships in Cayman would be extended till the end of this year.

At its launch Wednesday, GCAN introduced a global set of guidelines called the ‘Principles of Responsible Cruise Tourism’ which they want companies to follow before cruise ships start sailing again.

The introduction to those principles states, “For decades, the cruise ship industry’s business practices have put the social fabric, economic integrity, public health, and environment of port communities, as well as passengers, crew, coastal and marine ecosystems, and the climate, at risk. The latest example of this, cruise companies’ recent mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, shows that the industry is unwilling to protect the public interest absent legally binding regulation.”

The principles document calls for a cessation of the cruise industry’s “ongoing history of exploitive business practices” by implementing policies that maximise the retention of revenue within home ports and ports of call; the creation of a “safe, just, and equitable environment” for cruise workers; addressing climate-change concerns by publicly committing to achieving zero carbon emissions across the entire global fleet; and stopping air and water pollution by developing a universal shore power system, ceasing the use of scrubbers, and ceasing the dumping of all waste near shore.

In light of COVID-19 outbreaks on a number of cruise ships, the group is also calling on ships to implement measures to control the spread of disease; and when an outbreak occurs, to cease all travel immediately and provide real-time reporting of infectious diseases. it also wants cruise operators to notify passengers of the potential health risks of breathing ship exhaust fumes.

“The Global Cruise Activist Network calls on cruise companies to delay their return to operations until they address these principles. The network is calling for an equitable and responsible system of leisure travel that optimizes economic benefits to all stakeholders, while eliminating the negative social, public health, and environmental impacts of cruising on port communities,” the group stated in the press release accompanying its official launch.

Hart, who is based in Juneau, Alaska, explained about the founding of GCAN, saying that last summer she had decided to organise an international, in-person conference, but the coronavirus crisis had changed those plans.

She said the group had instead reached out and expanded via Zoom and connected with many new interested parties. “It’s very grassroots,” she added.

During Wednesday’s Zoom press conference, it emerged that Cayman was not the only place that had turned to a petition to sway decisions on cruise ship activities.

Evan Haskill, a member of the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Cruise Ships, said the group had been fighting to restrict the size of cruise ships and the passenger counts visiting Key West in the Florida Keys. It collected enough signatures, 2,500, to get the issue placed on the 3 Nov. ballot.

The Global Cruise Activist Network has also launched a website, which it says will enable disparate activist groups and individuals around the globe to share information and resources.

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