Safe passage optional? Cruise industry heaps more misery on its passengers | Rowan Moore

Cold comfort likely in the small print for those aboard Crystal Symphony liner rerouted to avoid arrest over unpaid fuel bills

Cruise ships, called “floating petri dishes” early in the pandemic for their role in propagating infection, are back in the news. One company, in what would be an ugly alliance of capitalist and communist exploitation, is accused of colluding with the government of Cuba to force Cuban crew members to work under “slave labour” conditions. Another, Crystal Cruises, chose not to return its ship Crystal Symphony to Florida, for fear that it would be arrested for $4.6m (£3.4m) in unpaid fuel bills. It was diverted to Bimini in the Bahamas and its passengers were obliged to end their two-week dream cruise with a vomit-inducing ferry trip through what was called “inclement weather”.

According to a legal expert quoted by the Washington Post, their claims for compensation are likely to be limited by the terms and conditions that cruise companies tend to impose on their customers. No one familiar with the dark arts of this multibillion-dollar business will be surprised after the notorious “poop cruise” of 2013, in which raw sewage backed up into passenger areas. Lawyers for its owner, Carnival Cruise Line, argued that the “ticket contract makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food and sanitary and safe living conditions”.

Inflating the problem

A House of Lords report found the government’s Help to Buy scheme inflated house prices.
A House of Lords report found the government’s Help to Buy scheme inflated house prices. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

When George Osborne launched his help-to-buy scheme in 2013, which was supposed to support homebuyers with government-supported loans, its likely flaws should have been obvious to anyone with the most basic grasp of economics. By increasing demand it would push prices up, which would defeat the purpose of the exercise. The main beneficiaries would be those selling the product in question, the volume housebuilders who went on to make large profits and award handsome bonuses to their executives. Now, a recent House of Lords report finds that the scheme, “which will have cost around £29bn in cash terms by 2023, inflates prices by more than its subsidy value in areas where it is needed the most”. It is usually left-leaning administrations that are accused of squandering public money on ideologically driven projects, but here a Tory government has done just that.

Such money would have been better spent on actually building humane and beautiful affordable housing. Peter Barber is an architect who for years has been creating just that, within the exacting demands of the business of constructing homes. Last week, the Royal Academy of Arts made him a Royal Academician, an honour that puts him in the same ranks of celebrated artists such as Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor. It’s heartening to see such recognition for the application of creativity to the places where people lead their everyday lives.

Pundits in paradise

Entrance to El Paraíso Verde, a ‘utopia’. in Paraguay for libertarians and maybe rightwing British media figures?
Entrance to El Paraíso Verde, a ‘utopia’ in Paraguay for libertarians and maybe rightwing British media figures? Photograph: William Costa

In the Caazapá region of Paraguay, there’s an attempt to build a utopia for those who want to escape “the socialist trends of current economic and political situations worldwide”.

It welcomes vaccine sceptics, doubters of the US 2020 presidential election and those who fear 5G, fluoridated water, healthcare mandates and Muslims. It is a place for people, whom the project’s founder, Erwin Annau, calls “enlightened Christians”, who “are concerned about our daughters”. El Paraíso Verde, as it is called, says that it seeks “innovative thinkers, engineers, hairdressers, restaurateurs, shopkeepers, alternative healing practitioners”.

I don’t wish any more trouble on Paraguay than it already has, but I hope that this community will also welcome the know-nothing loudmouths in the rightwing British media, who for nearly two years have been opposing every sane step, from mask-wearing to working from home, without which this country’s death toll would be even higher than it is.

• Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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