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Cruise Ships Leaving New Orleans March 1


February 24, 2006, BATON ROUGE, La. -- In early March, when they leave their ports, the four commercial ships that provided emergency housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina will have completed their vital mission.

The use of cruise ships was an innovative and successful program needed during a desperate time. The ships helped serve the City of New Orleans and other devastated areas in the Gulf Region by providing safe, sanitary and immediate housing for first responders, their families and other citizens without homes. There was no other alternative that met their needs in a timely fashion.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly requested bids from commercial shipping companies to provide emergency housing and meals on ships through March 1, 2006. From among 13 bidders for the federal contracts, only four had the required full meal service, cleaning service and medical support.

The contracted ships included three from Carnival Cruise Line (the Ecstasy, Sensation and Holiday), one overnight commuter ferry (the Scotia Prince), and a variety of Maritime Administration (MARAD) ships. The MARAD vessels included ships as diverse as Maritime Academy training vessels and Ready Reserve ships used by the Department of Defense. Of the eleven MARAD ships used over the past six months, three remain in Louisiana - the Empire State, Cape Vincent and Sirius.

The ships did not provide fancy accommodations. They consisted of small basic rooms with at least two individuals per cabin. Typical cruise ship amenities were stripped from the ship when they were provided to FEMA. The three government maritime vessels provided minimal accommodations, including military style berths and basic mess hall service.

A recent review of the cruise ship agreement by the Inspector General of DHS pronounced the deal, ’reasonable under the urgent circumstances.’ Carnival Cruise Lines has a “profit-neutral” contract with FEMA and is charging the agency only what it would earn during normal cruise operations. The company saved money by not purchasing fuel, but lost money from casino revenue, restaurants, cruise ship shops, and over 100,000 cancelled passenger reservations during the six month contracted federal service period.

The ships provided a variety of personnel crucial to the protection and reconstruction of the region. Members of the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments and their families were housed along with other essential federal and local workers aboard the Ecstasy and Sensation Carnival ships. The Carnival ship Holiday docked first in Mobile, AL then moved to Pascagoula to serve as shelter for south Mississippi residents whose homes were seriously damaged or destroyed.

The Maritime Academy vessels housed a variety of federal agency and oil industry reconstruction personnel such as: the US Coast Guard; Army National Guard; FBI; Secret Service; U.S. Marshals; US Army Corps of Engineers; US Navy; Health and Human Services and Federal Reserve staff as well as local port workers, longshoremen, and oil rig workers. The Scotia Prince ferry accommodated first responders from St. Bernard Parish and local residents whose homes were seriously damaged or destroyed.

Contracts with the ships end on March 1 when the Sensation, Ecstasy, and Scotia Prince are being returned to their commercial owners to be used at their determination. For the past six months, these vessels have provided an enormous service to those most affected by Hurricane Katrina. Cumulatively, more than 8000 resident guests lived aboard the cruise ships and over two million meals were served.

FEMA housing representatives are assisting first responders in relocating to new housing. New Orleans police and fire officials will be housed in new travel trailers or apartment units. When necessary, FEMA will contract with local apartment properties in an innovative program to secure available units at fair market value for the first responders. This program may then be expanded to provide additional living spaces for eligible Katrina evacuees.

FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.


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