Transport Cruises

Cruise-ship “art” purchase leads to lawsuit and retaliatory cruising ban

Feb 15, 2013 12:04 am

Skift Take

This would be a case of yet another silly purchase of cruise ship art were it not for the Federal Maritime Commission’s odd interest in the case and the couple’s insistence on cruising with Carnival. Odd.

— Jason Clampet

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Cruise lines sometimes ban passengers who get drunk, start fights or commit other mayhem. Ware and Lisa Cornell say their vice was buying a couple of lithographs.

The Weston, Florida, couple is asking U.S. regulators to force Carnival Corp. to reimburse it $33,100 for lost deposits and legal fees after, they say, the company banned them for life from three of its cruise lines for suing a Carnival unit over an on-board art purchase.

The complaint adds to the burdens facing Miami-based Carnival, the world’s biggest cruise operator, whose crippled Triumph ship was set to arrive in Alabama last night after stranding more than 3,100 customers for four days with overflowing toilets in the Gulf of Mexico.

“You can throw people off cruise ships if they’re security risks; you can throw them off if they misbehave,” Ware Cornell, 62, a trial lawyer, said in a telephone interview. Carnival “wanted to retaliate against my wife and against me because of the suit, which was a commercial suit against a related company. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

The Cornells complained to the Federal Maritime Commission, a five-member independent regulator used to dealing with disputes between companies over cargo rates and other business agreements. The complaint was filed Jan. 30 and first appeared on the commission’s public docket yesterday.

‘Novel, exciting’

“This is kind of a novel, exciting case for the commission,” said Jennifer Gartlan, the commission’s deputy director of consumer affairs and dispute resolution. She declined to discuss details of the case because it’s pending.

Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for Carnival, declined to comment. Carnival has dropped 4.3 percent since Feb. 12, the day after the Triumph was scheduled to return to port in Galveston, Texas. Carnival says it carried 9.8 million passengers last year, 46 percent of the 21.2 million worldwide passenger total, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Cornells’ saga started six years ago when Lisa Cornell, cruising with her sister on the Carnival Imagination, spent more than $5,000 to buy two pieces of lithograph artwork for her husband to celebrate their first anniversary.

The sales person and the cruise’s on-ship newsletter said on-board art purchases came with a full money-back guarantee, Lisa Cornell said.

Fraud worries

When she returned to land, Lisa Cornell changed her mind after reading about fraudulent cruise-ship art sales. She was told $585, or 15 percent of the purchase price, would be kept as a commission under the buying contract, she said.

Ware Cornell, as his wife’s lawyer, sued Global Fine Arts, a Carnival unit that was the ship’s art vendor. Carnival lawyers defended the case, according to the Cornells’ complaint with the maritime commission.

The lawsuit was settled. Before that happened, Lisa Cornell traveled on the Princess Grand Princess with her mother and put down a $100 deposit for a future trip while at sea.

Lisa Cornell said when she went online to book that trip, she was blocked from doing so. She said she later learned, from a lawyer involved in the art dispute, that she and her husband had been banned from Carnival-owned Princess, Cunard and P&O Cruises Australia lines by a company attorney.

“I’m not taking it lying down,” Lisa Cornell, 53, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I think this violates public policy. I don’t think we should encourage companies who operate as common carriers to ban people willy nilly just because they file a lawsuit.”

Still cruising

The Cornells may have to wait a while for a resolution. The commission can take “a couple years” if the case winds through its complete process involving an administrative law judge and a decision by the commission, Gartlan said.

In the meantime, the couple isn’t letting the spat ruin their cruising fun. They took a 10-day cruise in October and a three-day jaunt in January, and have another 10-day trip scheduled for next October, Ware Cornell said.

The most recent cruise photos on his Facebook page show the couple enjoying themselves on Holland America — whose parent company is Carnival.

With assistance from Chris Palmeri in Los Angeles. Editors: Bernard Kohn, Bob Drummond. To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net.

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