This could prove a critical week for Micky Arison and the Carnival business that he inherited from his father. The billionaire may now own more than half the cruise ships in the world but there's a growing perception that his liners are disproportionately making headlines for getting into difficulty and doing so at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.
This week, Congress may finally be about to close in on Carnival just as it stages its annual shareholder meeting, which is set for Wednesday. But there's no sign that the billionaire will even appear in public. And those around him aren't making it easy to mount a balanced, public debate.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller accused Arison of "bloodsucking off the American people" and being "treacherous and wrong" in continually relying on the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coastguard to spend millions of taxpayer dollars rushing to the aid of Carnival's 90 marine accidents in the last 5 years, when the company pays just 0.6 percent in tax on its profits because it's registered off-shore, according to analysis commissioned by NBC's Rock Center.
Carnival responded on Friday saying that its ships had a duty to assist others in trouble at sea and has helped the US Coast Guard 11 times in the past year in Florida and the Caribbean. The company made no mention of reimbursing the $780,000 spent by the government during the rescue of its drifting Triumph in February. Nor the $3.4 million spent during the stranding of the Splendor in the Pacific Ocean in 2010.
Rockefeller released a statement calling Carnival's response "shameful" and the Democrat is said to be considering a congressional hearing and changes to legislation.
Carnival, an industry behemoth worth $27 billion, is expected to hold its annual shareholder meeting at a low profile venue in London on Wednesday, though it doesn't appear to be on the company's investor-relations page. Under "upcoming events," it says simply, "There are currently no events scheduled."
In addition to the Carnival shareholder meeting, Arison will also be in the spotlight as the NBA playoffs start after the billionaire's Miami Heat racked-up an almost unprecedented 27-game winning steak earlier in the season.
CNBC has invited Arison and his colleagues on air this week but so far all Carnival's PR team has offered is to hire their own freelance camera crew so that their billionaire boss can record some well-rehearsed lines about safety being a priority, while still hidden away from public view.
Monday's "Squawk on the Street" on CNBC is now left in the bizarre situation of only being able to play a clip from Micky Arison's video-news release, leaving the defense of the cruise-line industry to rival Adam Goldstein from Royal Caribbean, whose own pricing and bookings continue to reel from the deaths of 32 passengers on board Arison's Costa Concordia off the Italian coast in February of last year.
Moreover there is speculation that Arison recorded the video to play at Carnival's meeting on Wednesday because the billionaire may not physically attend the meeting, even though he is chairman and CEO of the company.
Two-term Miami Mayor Manual Diaz, who had a great working relationship with Arison when he was rebuilding the city, along with his current successor Mayor Thomas Regalado may both still join us on CNBC.
For the record it's also proving difficult to get other members of Carnival's board to speak. For example it would be great to hear from Dr. Modesto Maidique. Not just because he's sat on Arison's board for 19 years but because he's also Professor of Management at Florida's International University — even Executive Director of FIU's Center for Leadership.
But an email from his executive assistant on Friday read, "Dr. Maidique is traveling today and will be out of the country for an extended period of time and therefore is not available to speak with you."