Don’t cruise with the criminal Carnival
by Naudelis Fernandez, oceans and vessels fellow
Your contribution will benefit Friends of the Earth.
Thanks for your interest in Friends of the Earth. You can find information about us and get in touch the following ways:
Before the pandemic in 2020, 30 million people were estimated to cruise globally. The industry has more than 200 large ships plying our ocean waters year-round. Cruise ships sail around the globe, burning highly toxic fuel, producing unhealthy emissions and dumping their polluted wastewater into the ocean. While the industry claims to be getting greener, many of the companies go out of their way to meet the minimum environmental standards and no more. Moreover, current regulations are either lax or are decades out of date.
Each year, Friends of the Earth publishes its Cruise Ship Report Card, which grades cruise lines on their environmental and human health impacts. Want to know the worst cruise lines? We break down the truth about cruise ships that passengers need to know. Check out the report card to see which — if any — make the grade.
While the industry was transparent and responsive to our questions in the past, as the years progress they have refused to respond to our requests for information regarding our report card—with a handful of exceptions. This is unsurprising coming from an industry that wants to hide its polluting, and in Carnival Corporation’s case criminal, behavior.
The cruise industry’s behavior over the last twenty years shows how little concern they have for keeping our oceans clean, Carnival Corporation — the largest cruise company on the planet — recently stated that “their environmental responsibility has been and continues to be top priority… our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived.” The history of Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world with 10 cruise lines, clearly shows otherwise. The criminal conviction of Carnival for polluting our oceans prove that their words are just empty rhetoric.
Carnival companies — Princess Cruise Lines, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard, Costa, and 5 others — are key polluters of our oceans and definitely not role models for other cruise lines like they claim to be. Although authorities have tried to hold these companies accountable, they continue to illegally pollute our environment and threaten the health of the communities they visit.
Cruise ship crime
Carnival Corp. has been on criminal probation since 2017 as part of a record-setting $40 million fine and plea agreement for illegally dumping oily waste into the ocean and obstruction of justice for hiding it from regulators. The criminal lawsuit against Carnival Corp. and its cruise lines came to light because of a whistleblower, demonstrating that it is not just the cruise industry, but also governments that are responsible. Government authorities have failed to properly regulate the cruise industry, establishing weak environmental regulations filled with so many loopholes cruise companies can drive their ships through.
In late 2016, Carnival Corp. pled guilty to routinely falsifying its oil record books in order to conceal the illegal discharges into the seas. The cruise ship crimes initially took place on Princess Cruise Lines’ Caribbean Princess, where its operators hid their behavior from U.S. authorities for eight years. Other illegal practices were discovered taking place not only on the Caribbean Princess but also on four other ships: the Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess. California-based Princess Cruise Lines is a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., which owns 10 cruise lines that collectively comprise the world’s largest cruise company.
Carnival Corp. companies — Princess Cruise Lines, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard, Costa, and 5 others — are key polluters of our oceans
The history of Carnival Corp. and its cruise lines: Carnival’s criminal probation started in 2017, runs for 5 years, and is being monitored by a federal court in Florida. Unfortunately, even while on probation, Carnival has continued with its polluting ways. In April 2019, the Miami Herald published the bombshell news that all of Carnival Corp.’s cruise lines had been violating the terms of their probation by dumping wastewater and plastic into the ocean and polluting our air in excess of federal and state regulations. The federal judge in charge of the case, Judge Patricia Seitz, was so disgusted that she threatened to temporarily stop Carnival Corp. ships from docking at U.S. ports as punishment for violating their probation. As part of the settlement in June 2019, Carnival agreed to pay an additional $20 million for its pollution violations. Judge Seitz’s powerful statement on the multi-million dollar settlement, the largest in U.S. history, summarizes many of our sentiments regarding Carnival’s environmental crimes. “This company is very successful; it prides itself on providing superb customer service. Well it is also a citizen of the world, it makes its money using the waterways and it has a responsibility to be a role model. Right now it is a criminal defendant and this is not the first time nor is it the second time,” Seitz said.
Carnival Corp. has a long history of getting caught committing environmental crimes, dating back to at least 2002, when it pled guilty to numerous felonies for discharging oily waste into the sea. Carnival has been on criminal probation before. In 2002, the U.S. government leveled an $18 million fine and placed Carnival on probation for dumping oily waste into the sea. All of the big cruise companies have been caught polluting before (specifically in the late 1990s and early 2000s for dumping their untreated oily waste) and have been on federal probation in the past. This is exactly why you should never take a cruise if you’re a champion of the environment.
One of the worst recent violations committed by a Carnival Corp. company (or cruise line?) was the illegal discharge of graywater into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. According to court documents, Holland America’s Westerdam cruise ship illegally dumped 22,500 gallons of graywater into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska in September 2018. Holland America was fined a mere $250 by the National Park Service and did not immediately report the discharge to the Coast Guard like they are required to under federal law; a parking ticket for misusing a handicap placard is roughly the same fine depending on the jurisdiction.
Carnival’s behavior is just a sneak peek into the entire industry and its problematic actions. The cruise industry continues to grow rapidly around the world; it is the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market despite the long pause for the COVID pandemic. But the companies keep operating irresponsibly and failing to comply with environmental regulations, as well as actively hiding illegal behavior.
Will Carnival Corporation and other cruise lines’ history of pollution continue?
After the July 2019 penalty settlement, Carnival Corp. court-appointed monitor found that the cruise ship crime had not ended. There were repeated environmental violations through the following three months with all of Carnival’s 105 ships.
In just one example, Carnival Cruise Line’s Elation dumped 5,900 gallons of untreated graywater illegally when docked in Port Canaveral in Florida — and did not receive a penalty.
It also burned unfiltered oil in protected areas, dumped chemicals, food waste, oil, sewage, and garbage into the ocean.
At a minimum, Carnival Corp. ships should be banned from Glacier Bay National Park and possibly other sensitive marine areas for their ongoing illegal behavior. Navigating in this marine national park requires a special permit and only a certain number of ships are currently permitted to enter Glacier Bay each season. If the industry doesn’t suffer real consequences that impact their bottom line, they will continue their illegal polluting behavior, pay the drop-in-the-bucket fines, and write it off as the cost of doing business.
Instead, these massive cruise companies should invest in real, comprehensive solutions to treat their pollution, be environmentally responsible and protect the places they visit. Hopefully, we will soon see the day where lawsuits against Carnival Corporation and other cruise industry giants will serve as a wake-up call: that continuing to ignore international, federal and state environmental laws and regulations will have real consequences.