x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Beach affront in Haiti

Philippa Kennedy on heedless self-indulgence in various guises.


The decision of the cruise operator Royal Caribbean International to allow its liner The Independence of the Seas to stop at a beach resort in Haiti so that its passengers could romp in the clear blue water has provoked an outbreak of justifiable moral outrage. With tens of thousands of people dead just 100km away and devastated survivors fighting in the streets for scraps of food and water, it was insensitive, to say the least, but the question "what would you do?" poses an intriguing moral dilemma.

Many passengers said they were sickened by the decision to dock at the Labadee peninsula and that it would have been unthinkable to charge around on jetskis or sip fruit cocktails on the beach, guarded by armed security men who keep local people away from the private resort. Others carried on enjoying themselves on the grounds that there was nothing much they could do about the carnage in Port au Prince and they'd paid good money for their holiday.

In its defence, the Florida company, which has leased the area from the Haitian government since 1986, says it is donating all profits from the visit to help people affected by the earthquake. It also delivered 40 pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water and canned food as well as donating $1 million (Dh3.67m) to the stricken area to be distributed by Food for the Poor. The company spent $60m recently upgrading the resort, money that the poverty-stricken country desperately needs.

The internet is awash with furious comments on the subject and it's clear that it is something of a PR disaster for the company. One passenger who refused to go ashore said they couldn't see themselves "sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue lunch, and enjoying a cocktail while 100 kms away there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets". They added that it would be "disrespectful" to the dead and they are right. You can't just party on so close to people who have just been through a natural disaster of such monumental proportions. This is not some small, unfortunate calamity that killed a few hundred. It has destroyed one of the poorest nations in the world and brought infinite suffering to people who had nothing even before the earthquake.

Others wonder what would be an acceptable distance from Haiti to have conscience-free fun. I think that's just disingenuous. Of course life goes on and the world doesn't stop turning or whatever other trite comments are being trotted out, because of a disaster in one little corner of it, but people should always make time for compassion and respect. It's called humanity. It would have been more sensible for that cruise liner to deposit its aid and then sail quietly away. The holiday-makers who insisted on carrying on with their hedonistic pleasures as normal because there was really nothing they could do for those poor people might pause to consider what they would have done if a boatload of hungry, filthy and frightened refugees from Port au Prince had turned up on that beach begging to be taken away from their living hell. I can't help feeling they would have been the first to suggest pulling up the anchor and sailing briskly off into the sunset.

There's no getting away from it, Maria Sharapova is a gorgeous looking girl and an advertiser's dream. Unlike Anna Kournikova whose blonde good looks have made her a fortune with only average tennis ability, Sharapova is a real champion with more than 20 titles to her name, including Wimbledon.

Now she is suffering a major loss of form and was bundled out of the Australian Open in the first round by her compatriate Maria Kirilenko. May I humbly suggest that she spend a bit less time on choosing her wardrobe and more on the practice courts. She was wearing what looks very much like a floaty party dress in Melbourne on Monday. On a tennis court it just looked daft. If you're going to make a fashion statement like that, you need to be a winner, and right now she's a loser on all fronts.

I've never much cared for the tennis gear that the Williams sisters have designed for themselves, with their cut-outs and straps reminiscent of a bondage movie, but their ferocious talent doesn't seem to be hampered by their peculiar dress sense. Sharapova should forget about the merchandising and the rest of her business portfolio and remember that she's an athlete and not a catwalk model. Otherwise she might find herself with all the time in the world to wear party frocks.

Some people never learn. You'd think that the almost universal fury expressed by passengers who faced having their Christmas holidays ruined by a planned strike of British Airways cabin staff would have taught them a lesson. Now union leaders, thoroughly miffed at being thwarted by the UK courts who banned industrial action, are threatening to call a strike at Easter, and once again it's ordinary families from all over the world who will suffer.

Restricted as they are by school holidays, parents of school-age children look forward to getting together with relatives at these times and thousands will already have booked their flights and now face weeks of worry about their journeys. Strident and stubborn voices using words like "scab" carry disturbing echoes of the 1970s as BA management calls for volunteers to be trained alongside non-striking cabin staff to keep their service going, a plan that union leaders describe as "provocative".

They mouth pompous comments about the professionalism of cabin staff and how disrespectful it is to think volunteers could be trained up to the same high standards. Anyone would think they were brain surgeons. I mean, how long can it possibly take to train someone to hand out lunches on plastic trays and point at the emergency exits? Unite is asking its 13,000 members to vote for a 12-day strike during the April holidays. They will of course do untold damage to the airline as travellers vow never to use BA again.

There's every expectation that staff will vote to strike, just as they did last time with an 80 per cent turnout. A judge said the Christmas strike ballot had been improperly conducted because workers who had already taken voluntary redundancy were allowed to vote, but the union is confident that a new ballot will produce the same result. There seems to be no real justification for the strike. BA cabin staff are paid considerably more than many of their counterparts on other airlines. And with the greatest respect for some of my girl-friends who are or were BA flight attendants, many of their colleagues could do with a spell at charm school.

What amazes me is why the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, doesn't stamp his feet and tell the union dinosaurs to get back in their caves. Unite has only donated £10m (Dh60.3m) to Labour since March 2007, according to the Electoral Commission, so it's hardly a case of the British government being held to ransom. It's time these people joined the rest of us in the real world.

A Californian university has come up with some nonsensical research about blondes. They say that blonde women are more aggressive and confident than dark-haired women because they "exist in a bubble where they have been treated better than other women for so long they have an unconscious sense of entitlement". How on earth can they tell? How many women with blonde hair actually started out that way? Don't they have anything better to do in California? Surfing or going to the mall would be more productive.

Where is the logic in a report that says women driving too slowly are causing accidents and where is the evidence? All the statistics show that in the UAE it's men, and mainly young men, driving too fast who take the lion's share of the blame. Almost 92 per cent of accidents recorded last year were caused by men. It would have been more appropriate, more accurate and less offensive if the word "people" had been used rather than "women". In particular, people who insist on trundling along in the outside lanes, forcing other drivers to pass on the inside.

And could somebody please tell me what exactly is the "minimum" speed limit? I was unaware that there was one and I can't seem to find out what it is supposed to be.