Monday 25 March 2019

Whistle blower x2

I see the Viking Star is now safely in port in Norway after its engine failure and the dramatic helicopter rescue of its passengers and crew. Not great publicity for the cruise line - and here's some more.

While briefly on board Viking Sun recently, en route from Auckland to Wellington, I mentioned in one of my posts about the cruise that I had met a US government whistle-blower. Her name is Gwenyth Todd and it was quite by chance that we met - her Trivial Pursuit team had moved me on from where I had chosen to sit in the theatre, and she came to apologise, which was nice of her.

She lit up when she heard I was a travel writer, equating that with 'journalist', which is far from the truth, sadly. She was bursting with indignation and shocked hurt at her treatment by Viking, and eager to share. Turns out she’s a well-known whistle-blower, previously high-up in the Pentagon and White House, who fled the US in 2007 after upsetting the wrong people by revealing too much inside government stuff about Iran. She lives in Australia now, as she doesn't feel safe returning home ever again, and was invited by Viking to come on board in Valparaiso to give some enrichment lectures about sexual harassment in governmental/military institutions. Surprised to be asked, she accepted, and forwarded copies of her speeches for approval beforehand, which was given.

Unfortunately, after the first two of her six scheduled lectures, one of which had been about the Bill Clinton sex-scandal cover-up, some of the many very vocal ex-military passengers on board objected to what she was saying, and demanded the manager remove Gwenyth from the programme. That was a disappointment not only to her but also, she said, to the majority of her audience. She was especially wound up because the latest #MeToo scandal had just broken, about Senator Martha McSally, so what she was saying was especially apposite.

There was, however, no undoing the deed – and, in fact, the General Manager on Viking Sun became actively hostile towards her, in front of witnesses. Her presence on the ship was made so unpleasant by the cold-shouldering, black looks and non-accidental bumpings-into by the aggrieved passengers, that she had abandoned the plan to stay on board till Sydney, and wanted to fly home from Wellington the following day. I found what she had to say very unexpected, shocking and scandalous; and I was just sorry I’m not a proper journalist.

So I did the next best thing: I tipped off my newsdesk contacts, and they took it up. It was a little bit thrilling, I must say. I felt especially vindicated when, later that day, I had a chat with the Cruise Director, Heather, a forceful type who answered all my standard travel writer statistics questions with authoritative bonhomie and slightly bored ease. Until I asked about the bit of bother with Gwenyth: then all the shutters immediately slammed down, and she looked at me quite differently.

She marched us off to see the General Manager who freely admitted Gwenyth's invitation was a mistake and though he said, “We love her!” then made a less positive reference to “yesterday” which is when she said she was threatened. It was all very intriguing; and they were both anxious that I wasn’t going to make a feature of this incident in my cruise story. Suddenly, I wasn’t such a tedious travel writer any more. I told them that no, it wasn’t really appropriate, or relevant, to the sort of story I write. But I couldn’t say the same for other reporters, I added mildly.

I disembarked the next day, in Wellington, perfectly happy with my cruise experience, but quite startled by my brief encounter with heavy-handed pro-(Republican)-American censorship. The story was in the following morning's local paper, and there was more detail in Stuff's online version:

And if you'd like to read other comments on this from people on the same cruise, here you go:

There was no follow-up: the story died straight away. Unlike Finding Neverland...

1 comment:

TravelSkite said...

This comment emailed to me by Gwenyth but somehow didn't get posted here:
Pamela Wade: Thank you for such a frank piece about my fiasco on the Viking Sun and how wonderful to hear that the Guest Services Director said “We love her!” Positively cockle-warming! Istill feel awful about the Trivia seating situation. All is well now. I made it back from Wellington once the local doctors deemed me “Fit to Fly” after discovering I had a fever and probably had contracted Norovirus on board the Viking Sun. I then met six passengers when the Viking Sun in Sydney and took them for a private Koala-patting session during their Sydney stop. I never heard another peep from Viking but you would have loved the scene when I disembarked. As apparent punishment, Heather and the Guest Services Director Sujith made me stand at the gangway for half an hour with my luggage as every disembarking passenger shuffled past. When it was clear this was going to go on for a lot longer, I took action. I called loudly over the passengers” heads to the Guest Services staff “Excuse me but I am being medically discharged by the ship’s doctor and have been ordered to report to a clinic immediately due to explosive diarrhoea which is possibly highly contagious. Should these passengers all be forced to pass so closely to me?” And, as you can imagine, it was like the parting of the Red Sea as I was immediately hurried off the ship and off to the clinic. Heather and Sujith were captured on camera by a passenger on a balcony as they stood on the pier pretending not to notice.


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