Rick Sasso (3 p.m. EST) -- At Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) 2010 State of the Industry press conference today in New York City, one topic stood out amid the usual statistics (14.3 million people will cruise in 2010) and fanfare (the industry valiantly braved the economic crisis): Haiti.

CLIA committee chairman and MSC Cruises President and CEO Rick Sasso spoke in defense of Royal Caribbean, which controversially decided to continue to call on Labadee as part of a $1 million relief effort:

"I think we have to stand up for our friends Richard Fain and Royal Caribbean," Sasso said. "One hour after the earthquake, the industry got together -- the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and CLIA -- to formulate a strategy on how we could help.... RCI has stepped up to the plate."

A story that ran in the U.K.'s Guardian this weekend highlighted comments from travelers uncomfortable with visiting Haiti in light of last week's tragic earthquake. The piece sparked a flurry of articles and blog posts condemning the cruise line's decision.

But Sasso says 100 percent of Royal Caribbean's decision had to do with getting goods -- such as food and water, being distributed by Food for the Poor -- ashore and that it actually costs the cruise line money to go back three times a week. (Royal Caribbean is donating profits made during Labadee calls to Haiti relief.)

"They didn't need to go back to Labadee this week, this month, this year," Sasso said, pointing out that there are many ports ships can call on. "For anybody to criticize that or portray it as something ghoulish ... made me sick. They are exposing themselves to that kind of criticism and they'll take it. But what they did is correct: find ways to get [aid] there -- at the request of the Haitian government."

Curious about what cruisers just back from Labadee are saying? Check out our first-hand reports.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

Related Links
Members Speak Out: Should Cruise Ships Have Returned to Haiti?
Haiti Relief: Cruise Industry Response Update
How You Can Help Haiti
First Cruise Ship Arrives in Labadee After Haiti Quake
Cruise Industry Plans Haiti Relief Effort