CEO Gaffe of the Week: Carnival

Last year, I introduced a weekly series called "CEO Gaffe of the Week." Having come across more than a handful of questionable executive decisions when compiling my list of the worst CEOs of 2011, I thought it could be a learning experience for all of us if I pointed out apparent gaffes as they occur. Trusting your investments begins with trusting the leadership at the top -- and with leaders like these on your side, sometimes you don't need enemies!

This week, I have no choice but to again select the CEO of Carnival , Micky Arison.

The dunce cap
I'm not quite certain how many more times I'm going to have to do this, but Carnival's CEO, Micky Arison, is, without question, leading the charge for worst CEO of the year in my book.

Carnival, the highly embattled cruise ship line, has a remarkable streak when it comes to mechanical problems with its ships. In January last year, the Costa Concordia crashed off the coast of Italy, tragically killing 32 people. Just weeks later, the Costa Allegra had a fire in its generator room that left the ship adrift at sea. The Allegra was later taken out of service and scrapped for parts.

Fast-forward to mid-February 2013, when passengers on the Carnival Triumph dealt with a fire in the engine room that left the ship adrift at sea near Mexico. With toilets overflowing and food scarce, it took five days for the boat to finally make it back to Alabama. On March 9 the Carnival Elation announced that it had a steering issue and was towed back into port by tugboat. On March 13, the Carnival Dream noted it was stuck in port at St. Maarten because of generator problems while passengers reported toilet and power issues. Finally, just a day later, the Carnival Legend reported that it was having sailing speed problems.

Tallying this up, that's six mechanical problems for Carnival since January 2012 compared to zero for Disney , NCL (owner of Norwegian Cruise Lines), and Royal Caribbean . In fact, what you might anticipate would be a negative for the cruise sector as a whole has actually turned into a positive, with passengers eager for a vacation simply choosing to avoid Carnival's fleet of disaster-prone ships in favor of the above three. Disney has benefited from advanced bookings which have shielded it from any negative sector headwinds. Royal Caribbean, which hits many of the same routes as Carnival, is bound to gain share from Carnival as it deals with this PR nightmare, as well as gain traction in emerging-market routes catering to China. Norwegian Cruise Lines followed this trend as well, tacking on $46.2 million in additional net income in 2012 compared to 2011 as its brand presence grew.

To the corner, Mr. Arison
But wait -- there's more!

If it wasn't bad enough that Carnival has moved well beyond the "coincidence" stage of its mishaps, Micky Arison continues to act like a deer in the headlights when it comes to his handling of his company's miscues.

If you recall, one of my biggest gripes last year was Arison's weeklong wait before visiting the site of the Costa Concordia disaster. On top of distancing himself from the wreck, the compensation package offered by Carnival seemed a bit skimpy. A year later, you'd think that perhaps Arison would take a more hands-on approach to managing Carnival's problem... well, guess again!

Outside of an appallingly small compensation package offered by Carnival in February for Triumph passengers, Arison might as well be a hide-and-seek champion, because not a soul can find this missing leader in times of crisis -- unless, of course, you look courtside during a Miami Heat home game, because Arison is owner of the team. In fact, if you check out Arison's Twitter feed, it's littered with posts about the Miami Heat and re-tweets people have sent Arison regarding their loyalty to Carnival. However, I can find just one post about Carnival's ship issues -- and the post itself may have you banging your head when all is said and done:

"Looks like a FUN evening on Carnival Dream" -- Micky Arison, March 14

The end link there is to a "surprise" Jon Secada concert, but I can't help but point out how the post is in poor taste considering that March 14 is when the Dream was stuck in port because of a generator issue! It's almost as if the worse the PR gets, the more reclusive Arison becomes. He clearly cares more for his basketball hobby than his fiduciary responsibilities as CEO.

Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this dubious honor? Shoot me an email and a one- or two-sentence description of why your choice deserves next week's nomination, and you just may see your suggestion in the spotlight.

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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He is merciless when it comes to poking fun at dubious CEO antics. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends, Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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