Fight Over Carnival Fuel Fees Gets Interesting

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting some very interesting details about the tussle between Carnival and the Florida attorney general’s office about refunding $40 million in fuel surcharges.

The cruise line and its subsidiaries charged passengers retroactively for the fees to help cover rising fuel costs. The attorney general’s office said that violated an earlier settlement in which the cruise lines agreed to disclose fees in advance.

Carnival’s latest defense: the governor said we could do it.

It all happened like this:

Carnival assessed $5-a-day fuel surcharges in November 2007, even on passengers who had already booked their fares. (Full disclosure: the husband and I got nailed for $120.) Other cruise lines quickly followed suit.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office got a bunch of complaints from passengers and opened an investigation. Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean agreed to refund $21 million in fuel surcharges to its passengers and those of its subsidiaries. Carnival didn’t budge.

Carnival then argued that it didn’t have to refund the fees because it had disclosed the possibility of fuel surcharges in its advertising brochures.  Now comes the really interesting argument: that the attorney general’s office approved the additional fees at a meeting on Oct. 5, 2006 – more than a year before they were imposed.

Charlie Crist was the attorney general at that time, and he was running for governor on the Republican ticket. The Sentinel reports that five days after the Oct. 5 meeting, the Florida Republican Party "reported receiving checks totaling $250,000 from two Carnival subsidiaries: Holland America Line and Princess Tours."

Coincidence? Carnival says it was: "Any contribution by any of our brands to the Republican Party of Florida has no correlation whatsoever to interactions with the AG’s office," Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said in an e-mail to the Sentinel.

In November, Crist was elected governor.

So, like I said, interesting.


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