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Carnival Corp. companies all receive failing grades on the 2019 Cruise Ship Report Card

Carnival Corp. companies all receive failing grades on the 2019 Cruise Ship Report Card

Millions of Americans take cruise vacations every year. But, most travelers don’t realize that taking a cruise is more harmful to the environment and human health than many other forms of travel. Cruise ships can dump partially treated oil and human waste into the ocean, severely impacting the environment and human health. These ships are essentially floating cities, and many of them produce as much pollution as one. Even the “greener” cruise ships, which have made some commitments to protect marine ecosystems and the unique communities they visit, are committing environmental crimes. For this year’s cruise ship report card release, we asked ourselves: “Is there a greener cruise?” 

The 2019 Cruise Ship Report Card ranks 16 major cruise lines and 185 cruise ships according to four environmental criteria: sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. The seven Carnival Corporation companies on our report card (Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Cruise Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, P&O Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines) have all received an overall F grade this year due to their ongoing criminal behavior while on federal probation in the United States — despite some of these companies scoring relatively high on our report card in the past.

Carnival Corp.’s criminal probation began in 2017 when it agreed to a $40 million fine and plea agreement for illegally dumping oily waste into the ocean and for obstruction of justice. In April 2019, news broke that eight Carnival Corp. companies had violated the five-year probation by dumping wastewater and plastic into the ocean and polluting the air in excess of federal and state rules throughout 2017 and 2018. Carnival Corp. was in federal court again in June when it admitted to falsifying training records, communicating with the U.S. Coast Guard through a back channel, failing to give enough authority to the company’s environmental compliance officer, rushing to clean up ships ahead of visits by a court-appointed monitor, continuing to clean up ships ahead of auditor visits after the court ordered a stop to the practice and dumping food waste mixed with plastic into Bahamian waters. 

At the June hearing, Carnival Corp. pled guilty to all of the documented violations and agreed to pay an additional $20 million fine. While the $60 million fine may seem steep, it is a relatively small penalty — a drop in the ocean — for the biggest cruise ship company in the world, which made $3.2 billion in profit in 2018

Carnival’s deliberate pollution over the years can be compared to environmental disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill — but since it happened over time and in hundreds of smaller incidents, rather than one huge one, it is treated differently. The Exxon Valdez disaster resulted in the industry paying billions in clean-up costs and civil and criminal penalties. In Carnival’s case, there were zero punitive damages, just the relatively small amount of $60 million, decided without involvement from the victims of the criminal violations and no consideration of the cruise behemoth’s massive profits. 

This year, Friends of the Earth is calling on Carnival Corporation and all large cruise companies to invest in real, comprehensive solutions to treat their environmental pollution and truly be environmentally responsible and protect the places they visit. Cruise lines should be transparent about their pollution practices, respond to community requests for information and disgorge some of their massive profits to help the communities whose air and waters they have polluted. If Carnival Corp. and other major cruise companies actually implement these measures, they just might be able to justify their claims of being ‘green’, but until then, most will continue to fail. 

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