Don’t cruise with the criminal Carnival

Don’t cruise with the criminal Carnival

In 2018, about 27.2 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 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 Moreover, current regulations are either lax or are decades out of date.

This June, Friends of the Earth will publish its semi-annual Cruise Ship Report Card, which grades cruise lines on their environmental and human health impacts. While the industry was transparent and responsive to our questions in the past, this year — almost across the board — they have refused to respond to our requests for information regarding our report card. This is unsurprising coming from an industry that wants to hide its polluting, and in Carnival Corporation’s case criminal, behavior.

While the cruise industry’s behavior over the last two years, and frankly the last twenty, 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 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 4 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 air pollution. Image via Moss and Frog.

Carnival Corp. has been on criminal probation for the last two years 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 case 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 pled guilty to routinely falsifying its oil record books in order to conceal the illegal discharges into the seas. The 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 nine cruise lines that collectively comprise the world’s largest cruise company.

Carnival companies — Princess Cruise Lines, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard, Costa, and 4 others — are key polluters of our oceans

Carnival has been on probation since the beginning of 2017 and is being monitored by a federal court in Florida. In April, the Miami Herald published the bombshell news that Carnival had been violating the terms of its 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. A decision will be made at a hearing scheduled in June. Judge Seitz’s powerful statement on the $40 million settlement, the largest in 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 has a long history of getting caught committing environmental crimes, dating back to at least 2002, when they 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.

One of the worst recent violations committed by Carnival 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 26,000 gallons of graywater into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska in September 2018. Holland America was fined a mere $250 by Alaska authorities 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.

Glacier Bay National Park. Image via Creative Commons.

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. The industry, including the biggest cruise companies Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, has 50 new ships on order over the next 5 years, and an investment value of more than $51 billion. Carnival Corp. alone made $3.2 billion in profits last year. It is clear that the industry’s market keeps increasing. But the companies keep operating irresponsibly and failing to comply with environmental regulations, as well as actively hiding illegal behavior.

It is likely that Carnival will work hard to come into compliance before the June federal court hearing in order to avoid a docking ban, as well as to keep its executives out of jail, which Judge Seitz also threatened. According to recent news, Carnival is working to try to get the June hearing canceled by continuing to claim that the hundreds of violations over the past two years were accidents.

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.

Judge Seitz is threatening to take drastic measures for the industry’s illegal actions by punishing the company for its failure to comply. 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, Judge Seitz’s words and actions will serve as a wake-up call for Carnival and other major cruise lines: that continuing to ignore international, federal and state environmental laws and regulations will have real consequences.

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