Carnival cruises and climate catastrophe

From ToxicLeaks

Carnival corporate history[edit | edit source]

Carnival Corporation boasts the largest fleet of cruise ships in the world, with a total of 105 vessels catering to the luxury-holiday clientele in North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. It’s an impressive portfolio for an industry giant launched by Ted Arison, who bought a converted ocean liner and named it “Mardi Gras” in 1972. Unfortunately, the company based in Miami in the United States is responsible for environmental impacts that exploded along with Carnival’s global tourism footprint.


Carnival cruises are popular in the U.S., but they’re found around the world under nine different brand names. The Seabourn cruises on the Mediterranean, the Aida cruises based in Germany, the P&O cruises in Australia and the Cunard line – think the famous Queen Elizabeth 2 – are all Carnival companies. So is the luxury Holland America line, Costa in Europe, and of course the Princess ships all over the world. The problem with the Princess, though, is that for years it’s been in litigation for environmental violations.

The Princess cruise line environmental violations[edit | edit source]

In December 2016, the Princess subsidiary based in California was slapped with a judgment for USD$40 million, and that remains the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution in a U.S. case. The Princess troubles began in August 2013 when a newly hired engineer aboard the Caribbean Princess cruise ship discovered the company was deliberately discharging oily waste off the coast of the United Kingdom by using bypass equipment to defeat required pollution control devices. The ship illegally discharged 4,227 gallons of black-oil waste in waters just 37 kilometers off the coast of England.


 “The whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England,” said the U.S. Department of Justice. That worker notified the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and launched an investigation in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard. While the chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up – and the company continued it – it was too late to prevent the truth from coming out. The Caribbean Princess had been illegally discharging the oily pollution since 2005.


Nor were these and other illegal practices confined to one ship. Four other Princess ships – the Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess – were found with longstanding practices in violation of environmental protections. Ultimately, the Princess subsidiary pleaded guilty to seven felony counts, leading to the millions in penalties that were earmarked to benefit maritime environmental causes. It also led Carnival to five years of court-ordered supervision for eight cruise lines it operates.


But by April 2019, the Carnival Corporation was in more hot water for violating the terms of that probation, which began in April 2017. The company was back in court before U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz, who was outraged that Arison and other top-level Carnival executives didn’t even bother to show up for a hearing on noncompliance with environmental monitoring – and even egregious new violations. Seitz threatened to ban Princess ships from all U.S. ports and send the brass to jail: “If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center for a couple of days.”

Carnival holidays in a sea of pollution[edit | edit source]

It may yet come to that, with a June 2019 hearing scheduled. What’s worse is that Carnival’s track record on environmental protections is more abysmal than even this record-setting case. The company was still falsifying records while on probation in September 2018. Internal emails detailed Carnival’s strategy for avoiding the required independent environmental audits, and the company was caught trying to cut back-channel deals with the U.S. Coast Guard to limit the consequences to the business.

Meanwhile, Carnival was cited for dumping plastic into the ocean from four different ships in 2018. One ship got caught illegally discharging polluted water in the Bahamas in 2018, another dumped 26,000 gallons of gray water in protected waters in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska the same year. There’s no remorse from a company that was fined $18 million for similar violations between 1996 and 2001.


For nearly a quarter-century, the luxuries Carnival provides to passengers have come at great cost to the oceans. “The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said the assistant attorney general in 2016.  “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management.  This is a company that knew better and should have done better.  Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well.”

The cruise industry’s need to clean up its act[edit | edit source]

Unfortunately, the outcome of the 2016 felony case appears to have done little to make Carnival do better – but it’s far from the only cruise line with pollution problems. Environmental advocacy organizations including Friends of the Earth and the Germany-based NABU have sounded the alarm over what the cruise industry is doing to the planet in an era where the role of oceans in preventing the worst of climate change is at stake – and the harm is not just fouling marine ecosystems with oil and plastics.


“The 'swimming hotels' run by Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC and other shipping companies contribute massively to the air pollution that threatens our climate, our environment and our health,” said Stefan Prell of NABU. “One cruise ship emits as many air pollutants as millions of cars. This is because sea going vessels use heavy fuel oil for their engines.” If it were on land, it would be treated as hazardous waste.


In the U.S., Friends of the Earth urges people to consider the environmental impact of Carnival and other cruise lines when choosing their holiday plans. In recent years, they’ve offered report-card ratings for various cruise operators that measure air pollution, water impacts, sewage treatment and other metrics. Some Carnival subsidiaries – including the P&O and Costa – received the worst possible industry ratings. Carnival Cruises received “F” for a host of individual ships that failed to reduce air and water pollution.

The cruise industry knows it has a problem, and even Carnival Corporation has ambition plans to reduce carbon emissions and its overall air and water footprint. Those lofty goals and climate commitments mean nothing unless they’re actually practiced. With time running out to protect fragile oceans and ecosystems, governments need to be more vigilant about how cruise lines operate – especially because the industry continues to grow, with some 30 million passengers forecast in 2019. Those consumers, though, also must resolve to make different tourism decisions rather than support cruise companies that don’t care that they’re harming air quality, dumping plastic, poisoning our oceans and threatening the future.