Vacations in no man’s sea

Vacations in no man’s sea

Organisation: Univision News Digital (United States)

Publication Date: 03/17/2017

Size of team/newsroom:large

Description

In 2015, a group of students from the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York - led by journalist and professor Giannina Segnini- - proposed an extensive collection of international data on the cruise industry in the world. The work was done as part of the course "Using data to investigate across borders". They were motivated by the fact that this is one of the largest industries with the weakest controls in the world. Aware of the importance of the subject, Columbia School of Journalism allied with Univision News to carry out this research. The team used tools to extract and consolidate more than 16 international data sources that report daily information on ship inspections in different ports around the world, the deficiencies detected at each inspection and the times they were detained because of severe problems that compromised the environment, the safety of the ship, that of its crew or that of its passengers. The final database allowed searching and finding patterns on the most important characteristics of each boat, such as age, previous names and flags as well as cruise ownership, technical history, accidents and detentions and the annual revisions to which it was Submitted. The data also included details of the accidents in which each ship was involved, such as the number of missing or deceased persons and the cause of each of those accidents. The follow are some of the findings of the investigation: The cruise industry is ruled by three big corporations. Though those companies are based in the United States, they have complex operational structures in multiple countries and tax havens, designed to sidestep U.S. labor regulations and avoid taxes and environmental controls. There is no police department at sea, and the responsibility to investigate crimes falls on authorities in the country where the cruise ship is registered. After a crime, crewmembers – not authorities with legal jurisdiction – collect evidence and carry out an initial investigation. About 40 percent of the ships operated by most cruise lines are old and sail the seas with defects and problems unknown to the majority of their passengers. On paper, cruise ship employees are protected by a U.S. marine law called the Jones Act. But for a decade workers haven’t been able to file any claims in U.S. courts. Instead, the terms of their contracts with major cruise lines dictate that they must resolve their issues through a private arbitrator, one that’s accepted by both parties, paid for by the cruise line, and based outside of the United States. The database gathered shows that port authorities, most of them in Europe, reported at least 318 problems with crews of about 80 ships between 1998 and 2015. Among them were poor living and working conditions, security issues, insufficient medical attention and crewmembers that did not meet the minimum requirement for working aboard ships.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

This is the first alliance signed by Univision News with an educational center to produce a data-driven project. This is a new way of doing journalism that allows the new digital environment: searching for public-interest situations and telling stories that matter after analyzing, contrasting and contextualizing databases through attractive and clear visualizations. This investigation took a year of work. The project is a clear example of the new digital journalism, with a complete range of multimedia production, which includes videos, infographics, animations, photos and data interactive visualizations. More than 19 million people in the United States took a cruise last year, trusting that they bought a ticket to an American company. What few know is that almost all these ships are registered in other countries and that legislation of those foreign territories applies to any incident on board. Our investigation had an impact on the cruise industry. Several magazines and specialized publications referred to our stories and discussed our findings for several days. The report was also replicated by various Latin American media. Several cruise workers contacted us and their experiences reinforced our thesis. The project has been analyzed and disseminated by the International Cruise Victims, which called it a "comprehensive joint project" that provides a broad look at the way the cruise industry operates. It makes public a much needed examination within the various forms the cruise industry operates. " This research was a finalist in the United States of the EPPY Awards in the categories "Best Collaborative Investigative / Enterprise Reporting" and "Best Investigative / Enterprise Feature on a Website". In addition, this has become a case study at Columbia University as a successful example of student collaboration and a media outlet for investigative journalism. One of the lessons left by this work is that collaborative journalism allows us to cover

Technologies used for this project:

During the work process, students used data processing tools such as Open Refine, Tableau, Excel and Python programming language, but above all, they lost their fear of undertaking large-scale global research projects and lived the experience of Work together with Univision's team of professional journalists. A team of Univision News reporters, graphic designers and video journalists was responsible for analyzing data from Columbia University, viewing and conducting reporting and personal research with sources from industry, politics, the legal field, cruise ship workers and passengers who tell their stories in this interactive application. Among the important documents obtained by the Univision team are the incident logs reported by each of the cruise companies during 2011, sensitive documents usually held by the FBI. It was necessary to invest thousands of dollars to buy licenses that allowed us to obtain diverse databases, to cross them, to consolidate them and to analyze them. This allowed us to construct a clear map of the power groups behind the cruise industry, the true owners of the ships, their legal address, the flag under which the ships are registered and the deficiencies, accidents and inspections that many of them drag. We created 2 databases that were key in our investigation. A database showed the 266 cruise ships currently operating around the world are registered in 23 different countries. The other database was built out of a log of the 2011 shipboard crimes, handed over to the FBI by the cruise companies and accessed by Univision, it lists 563 crimes, about one-third of which were sex crimes, 20 of them involving minors. The 16 different consolidated databases used required a lot of cleaning up as well as standardization due to the different naming conventions used by the owners, inspectors and deficiencies found. In total, the team obtained and consolidated 85 different variables for each one of the 411 cruiseships that were studied.
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