Royal Caribbean cruise line defended its decision to proceed with docking its ships at a private vacation resort 85 miles from destroyed Haiti capital Port-au-Prince.
Ahead of unloading its Monday haul of sun-kissed vacationers on private beach Labadee, Royal Caribbean pointed to the fact that ships were dropping off aid and bolstering the economy, as well as fulfilling promised routes to passengers.
The president of the company, Adam Goldstein, met with former President Bill Clinton and representatives from the United Nations to discuss relief efforts to the country as well as its ships’ scheduled stops last week.
Leslie Voltaire, special envoy of the government of Haiti to the United Nations said: "Given the terrible economic and social challenges we now face in Haiti, we welcome the continuation of the positive economic benefits that the cruise ship calls to Labadee contribute to our country."
A press release issued by the American cruise line said it would be donating $1 million to Haitian relief and would continue to ferry supplies to be handed out by charities Food for the Poor, the Pan American Development Foundation, and the Solano Foundation. A system for passengers to donate cash has also been set up on the ships.
"It was not a tough decision once we established that Labadee was not affected by the earthquake,'' Goldstein told The Miami Herald.
"We can take advantage of the opportunity to provide Haiti with supplies and to provide economic activity.''
He also said it would have been wrong to abandon Haiti in its time of need, especially in light of the hundreds of Haitians employed by Royal Caribbean.
Spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said passengers gave a standing ovation when the decision to stop, laden with aid including beans, rice, powdered milk, and canned goods, in Labadee was announced Friday.
Critics of the decision said it was insensitive given the proximity of the devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, injured, or made homeless within 60 miles of the tropical paradise tourists are still enjoying.
One passenger called the decision to go ahead with the scheduled Haitian stop abhorrent and indicative of "a lack of compassion for their fellow man."
"I understand that if you have paid for a cruise you will want to visit the ports, and Labadee is very beautiful ... but that should not stand in the way of decency and, for decency's sake, the ships should stay away, at least until all those loved ones have been buried and put to rest and the people given food, water and shelter," wrote another cruise-goer on blog CruiseCritic.com.
"Any argument about boosting the economy through a few tips doesn't hold up when hundreds of thousands of people lie dead and dying in the streets just a couple of hours away," said another irate blogger.
Not all vacationers feel the same way, if other postings on the forum are an indication of wider thought.
"Don't you see that depriving these people of employment is the last thing we should be doing right now?! Go, enjoy, and tip generously," said one post.
"I feel empathy and sympathy for the people affected. I however, feel no 'guilt.' It's not my fault, nor will my not going ashore make any difference to those that have been affected by the earthquake. Guilt makes it about you," wrote another tourist as her ship was pulling into view of the Haitian port.
Royal Caribbean updated its leased Labadee haven with a roller coaster, zipline, and pier last year to the tune of $55 million. According to the company, the resort provides work for around 500 people in the local tourist industry.