The Wild Sows of the World Seas

„Speed 2“? No: MSC Armonia performing a hard landing😉

Welcome to the Chaos Club!

As you know, my dream job is to lead bike rides on a cruise ship. Now there is not only TUI, but also other cruise lines. For example Italian MSC whose full name is Mediterranean Shipping Company. It has even more and more magnificent ships than TUI. And they were looking for a Bicycle Leader, see!

So I applied immediately. The procedure was fully online and had to be the most strenuous application of my life. And there were quite a few of them😉 The application portal appeared highly professional:

I had to upload all my qualifications and documents. Most important, of course, were my certificates. Then answer a hundred questions. A whole battery of online tests: German, English, text comprehension, combining numbers, logical thinking, responsiveness, multitasking, values ​​and ideas and so on. When I was done, I had to answer three questions in as many languages in 90 seconds each in a video ​​that was recorded. This was followed by a 45-minute live video interview on Skype with an MSC HR manager from Sorrento called Mario. Mostly in English with language tests in Spanish, Italian and French. What should I say: I was accepted!

A few weeks later, Mario had created a deployment plan for me: On-boarding on 2 December in Palermo on the MSC Splendida headed to the United Arab Emirates. There I was to get an induction before I would sail to the Caribbean in mid-January on the brand new MSC Seaside. The salary would be slightly higher than TUI’s, but I would have had to pay 250 € (£225) towards the uniform and be accommodated in a double cabin. Employment contract, airplane ticket, Welcome Aboard Guide and everything else I received by e-mail, including a form with which I had to confirm the receipt of the complaint procedure (a special email address: Hm. Did they have so many complaints that they needed a special department for handling them?

Better an end with horror …

And why am I blogging from a popular holiday island in the Mediterranean instead of sailing the seven seas? The day before my departure when I just wanted to start packing my suitcases, I have received the following e-mail:

Of course, I complained immediately at the above address (and left negative feedback on some web portals). The answer was – an error message: They had blocked my mail address😮 What good is a complaint centre that hides away when you need it? Only a registered letter to the CEO Gianluigi Aponte in Geneva provided an answer. Of course, he does not care much about foot soldiers like me, but told his Fleet Personnel Director, Marco Maresca in Sorrento, to answer me:

I clarify to you that our Company, in completion of your profile and background, gathered more information about your previous background as bike leader and details which are not matching the position you applied for. Therefore, I’m here confirming you the decision previously communicated to do not proceed with your enrollment.

That does not say much more than Mario’s mail. So I asked to get access to my data and even found an Italian law that substantiated my claim. Marco Maresca was not impressed by it. He refused and pretended they had only data from me which I had entered or uploaded myself. This was not particularly credible:

  • Every year, MSC hires thousands of new crew members and has developed the sophisticated application portal described above which checks all candidates thoroughly. Why should this lead to wrong decisions?
  • Why should an established company with well-defined procedures re-check an applicant’s qualifications for a rather unimportant position after they have decided, hired him, planned his assignment, sent him the signed employment contract and booked his airplane ticket?
  • Why should they reach precisely the opposite conclusion in a second analysis of the same data?
  • If the company has nothing to hide, why do they stubbornly refuse to give me my data? Especially if they are legally obliged to do so?

… than a horror without end

I could easily reckon that a cruise company that blocks any information must be hiding something. This fact has really aroused my curiosity. If I had gone aboard as planned, I might never have thought of asking Aunt Google. Not to mention the lack of time and uncertain internet connection onboard. What I learned outstripped my worst fears. There were abysses, deeper than the Mariana Trench😮

  • On the MSC Musica in the port of Rio de Janeiro due to a fire in the engine room both the air conditioning systems and the water supply failed. Which did not prevent the captain from wanting to take off with 3,100 guests. Only when 50 courageous passengers took to self-help and occupied the gangway, the journey was canceled and the ship repaired.
  • After a machine failure, the MSC Opera was unable to manoeuver on the high seas for several days. Guests reported power outages, cold food and water and broken toilet flushes. The ship had to be towed and repaired. After that, it was confiscated by the British Coast Guard because it was still „dangerously unsafe“. MSC spoke of „rumours“ …
  • The same ship collided in Buenos Aires with a dock. The crew apparently had the (useless) instruction to prevent guests from taking pictures or filming.
  • MSC Armonia crashed into a dock in Roatán, Honduras (see video above).
  • The MSC Poesia damaged a coral reef due to its 7.80 m draft off the Bahamas which could only be crossed by vessels up to 4.50 m deep.
  • The MSC Magnifica collided with the pier in Piraeus. The cruise line pretended the damage had been minor and the timetable had been kept. However, a crew member (who was fired for this reason) has published pictures on Facebook showing a large hole in the hull and extensive repairs that delayed the onward journey.
  • No sooner had cruise liners been re-admitted to Venice than the MSC Preziosa was the first incoming barge to take a passenger bridge with it.
  • Also in Venice, an MSC Magnifica security staff member found a loaded pistol in the metal detector. When fiddling a shot went off. No one was hurt, but one guest fainted and panic broke out.
  • On the MSC Musica, a 28-year-old Brazilian MSC employee was strangled by her Polish boyfriend who worked at the bar.
  • On the MSC Orchestra, four crew members fell ill with meningitis. A machinist died.
  • A South African guest on the MSC Sinfonia suffered a heart attack, only received an injection at the boat’s hospital, was left on a stretcher in the harbour with a note (presumably on the big toe), was in a coma for six weeks and has been unable to work ever since. MSC took the position that the doctors were independent and therefore the cruise company was not liable. A court has meanwhile declared this clause void.
  • Eight MSC Orchestra crew members attempted to smuggle 35 kg of cocaine from Brazil to Dover. They were sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison.
  • On the MSC Magnifica, two crew members wanted to smuggle 10 kg of coke from Brazil to La Coruña, Spain, and were sentenced to seven years.
  • The scandal surrounding the infamous illegal refuse dumpings hit high waves all over the world: On the MSC Magnifica and the MSC Poesia (and possibly other ships), once a week at night and fog, garbage bags, shredded pallets and who knows what else were thrown overboard. In one case off the Brazilian coast, the fine was the equivalent of over € 500,000 € (£450,000). When you pay so much, you may easily be misled to hail yourself as the “Guardian of the Seas” in your PR messages…
  • Also on the MSC Magnifica, the Brazilian police had to salvage eleven employees from slave-like working conditions after a hint of a whistleblower: 16-hour shifts, sexual harassment, bullying … Everyone was awarded compensation of around 6,500 € (£5,850) by the competent court.
  • German TV station WDR showed an undercover report on working conditions on the MSC Lirica. A waitress had to invest 1,400 € (£1,260) before she got her first salary. When she had to leave early because of tendonitis, she was deprived of her bonus. From the 49 € (£44) the guests paid in the spa, the masseurs end up with just 2 € (£1.80).
  • MSC Poesia got into a storm near Punta del Este, Uruguay. She rolled violently so in all bars and restaurants hundreds of plate and glasses fell to the floor and broke to pieces.
  • A guest on MSC Preziosa went overboard in the Caribbean. The 69-year-old Dutch woman disappeared between St. Maarten and Martinique. She must have fallen 30 m down. A helicopter, a Navy jet and other ships nearby were unable to find her.
  • Another guest disappeared mysteriously from MSC Divina.
  • A Brazilian crew member went overboard MSC Musica between Venice and Brindisi. She had had an argument with her boss and had just ended a two-year relationship with a colleague. Her body was found later. The Italian Attorney General is investigating a possible murder case.
  • At 1.00 a.m. at night a Filipino crew member went overboard MSC Seaside from deck 7 South-East of the US Virgin Islands. It took three hours until the US Coast Guard was informed. This not only greatly reduced the lifesaving prospects in the area that had meanwhile grown to 4,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi) but also raised the cost for the two rescue helicopters, an airplane, a fast rescue boat, a Coast Guard cutter, another cruise ship and an oil tanker at the expense of the American taxpayer.
  • The new MSC Seaview is to be the new of a new generation of MSC ships with a revolutionary architecture and a cutting-edge technology. At least this is what was boasted at the christening in Miami. It should appeal to American guests. When two of them boarded for their honeymoon they were shocked: There was a Blackface hanging on the wall, a backward racist caricature. The couple’s complaint remained (surprise!) without any success so they voiced their anger on Twitter.
  • On MSC Seaside seven crew members were arrested for trying to smuggle 6 kg cocaine and US$100,000 (£76,000) in cash to Miami.
  • A crew member of MSC Armonia tried to smuggle 10 kg of cocaine from South America to Italy.
  • Brazilian police has arrested another cocaine smuggler on MSC Preziosa.
  • On its journey through the Mediterranean Sea off Barcelona it was raining heavily not outside, but in MSC Seaviews’s central staircase hardly two months after it had been put into service. It must have been due to a broken pipe whose precise reasons remain unknown.
  • MSC Opera took off from Grand Cayman although a bartender from Cuba was still ashore. The cruise line has reported her missing only four days later. She was retrieved alive and well but has been convicted to three months in jail for staying in the territory illegally. During the court hearings the woman said her superior on the boat had bullied and exploited her and she had had a breakdown.
  • In Buenos Aires, MSC Orchestra collided with MSC Poesia when leaving port. No one was injured, but there was considerable material damage. At least everything was kept within the family😉
  • On an unnamed MSC ship, a 60-year-old onboard musician was arrested for possession of the most horrible child pornography, and not for the first time.
  • On the MSC Orchestra, a 45-year-old cabin steward went one step further and abused a ten-year-old boy. Instead of handing over the molester to the police in the nearest port, MSC even paid him a flight home. And as if that was not enough, he was later reinstated by MSC while the lawsuit against him was still ongoing. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison on probation.
  • Another member of the crew sexually abused a 12-year-old girl on an unspecified MSC vessel and is being held responsible in court.
  • At the end of this horror list at least something to chuckle: MSC Musica „raced“ with over 8 instead of the allowed 6 knots (15 and 11 km/h, respectively) into the port of Kotor, Montenegro, and had to pay a speeding ticket of 1,700 € (£1,530)😂 Either the water level was sloping downward or the captain was particularly stubborn because it was already his fifth speed excess in the same season😮 It is almost a miracle that the port remained intact😉

Of course, MSC may not be at fault in each and every case. But so many incidents cannot be random, especially compared to TUI or AIDA that rarely make headlines. Somehow, most of the guests do not seem to be satisfied with MSC. Why am I not surprised? Even on the brand new MSC Seaside, they complained about the organisation on board, the food, the entertainment, and foul smells. In the atrium😮

The data thing

But back to my case. So MSC did not want to disclose my data. After recommending that Marco Maresca consult with his legal department, I still did not get them. What I got was a compensation of € 912.52 (£820)😊 After a reminder and twelve days, the money was actually on my account. A bike guide must pedal quite some time for this money😉

On 25 May 2018, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force. Of course, it also applies to MSC. Not complying may lead to fines. Not least for this reason a small wonder happened: With only two days’ delay after the legal deadline, Data Protection Officer Theodora Dragan has in fact delivered my data. At least partially, since any hint to their U-turn was still missing. Anything else would have surprised me. At least I learnt my test results:

No one would believe me…

In terms of school grades, these were four A’s, two B’s, one C and one D for an average of B+. Not compared to normal bike guides, but to low-ranking officers. If David knew😉

If you know me, you know that I do not give up easily. So I have sent a friendly reminder to Theodora Dragan and asked once more for the missing data. Answer: My video interviews and related notes had been duly deleted after half a year. There were internal e-mails but these were confidential. They mentioned a blog that I had written about another cruise line… Why would they not say so in the first place?

Happy End

My boss on the MSC Seaside would have been Bostjan. He had previously worked for TUI. Until he was kicked off the ship. Why? Because of excessive alcohol consumption😮 I was lucky that this goblet passed me by😊 I would have hated working for David II😉

Maybe Bostjan did not want to star in this blog. He may have warned MSC against the „bad blogger“. This chaos club must fear publicity like the devil fears holy water😉 When all I wanted to do was to write about capable supervisors, hand in hand partnership, professional equipment, high safety and efficient onboard processes😉

But MSC was the wrong address for doing so. Drunks, drug smugglers, slaveholders, polluters, racers, vandals, quackers, killers, child molesters and liars work there. I am beginning to understand what Marco Maresca meant by saying that I was unfit😉