Archive for March 2012

Calling on Carnival

2012 started badly for Carnival. What does that mean for Charleston?

Max Rossi/Reuters

“In the wake of the sinking of the Costa Concordia that killed 25 people (seven more remain missing) in January, a Senate panel…will look into safety, tax and environmental laws governing a cruise ship industry that carried 11 million North Americans last year,” said USA Today. “I believe we must ask why an industry that earns billions pays almost no corporate income tax,” says Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the transportation committee having the hearing, adding, “The environmental practices of the industry are unconscionable.”(1) A couple celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary on the Concordia “riveted lawmakers with their description of a crew that refused to tell them the ship had struck a reef or to explain how to evacuate. ‘We felt very betrayed, very much lied to,’ Sameer Sharma said. ‘They were not honest with us at any given point.'”

Then the Carnival-owned Costa Allegra had to be towed into port after a fire broke out and the ship lost power in the Indian Ocean. The 1000 passengers and crew were without running water, showers, or air-conditioning; “The toilets were running over, there was no electricity. It was very hot,” said one passenger who ate cold sandwiches for three days and moved her bedding onto the deck to escape the heat in her cabin.(2)

Finally, 22 Carnival Splendor passengers were robbed on a ship-sponsored nature excursion in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico by hooded bandits who demanded “everything,” backpacks and all. Passengers “were stripped of cameras, watches and other valuables they had with them.” (3/4/5)

How did Carnival’s management handle these crises? “They’ve been passive, they’ve been defensive, they’ve been whistling past the graveyard” rather than confronting and controlling the situation, says Fraser Seitel, president of PR consultants Emerald Partners, adding that Carnival CEO Micky Arison has been “invisible” during the crisis.(6) In a March 10th interview, one of his first after the January 13th Concordia disaster, Arison said, “I’m very sorry it happened,” and defended his actions following the shipwreck, saying he stayed in Miami to handle all the company’s 10 brands in the aftermath and to avoid becoming a “diversion” in Italy.(7) The Wall Street Journal was less charitable. Its story, “Carnival CEO lies low after wreck,” began, “Where is Micky Arison?” The article questioned “the wisdom of Mr. Arison’s not taking a more public role in the wake of the worst cruise line incident in years,” noting the size of Carnival Corp, with its 101 ships that carry 200,000 passengers and 70,000 crew on any given day.(8) Carnival’s vast size, with $16 billion in annual revenue, is enough to keep the company afloat and, perhaps, allows it to be as unresponsive as wishes.

Carnival’s sheer size should trouble Charlestonians. It’s not just the tax and environmental concerns that Sen. Rockefeller mentions, or the lack of safety controls that the US has over foreign-flagged ships, it’s the power a company that size has over any potential partners–including ports and cities. Without warning and with little advance notice, Carnival pulled out of Mobile last year after home-porting ships there since 2004. Al St. Clair, director of the Mobile, AL cruise terminal, said, “It came as a real shock.” St. Clair said that Carnival never had a discussion with him about any problems, allowing the port to make any improvements, saying he could have worked with Carnival.(9) The terminal, named Carnival’s port of the year in 2007, was highly rated by passengers; now, because of the pullout, 125 jobs were lost and a University of Southern Alabama economist puts the city’s loss at $22 million. Carnival declined to give comment on why the cruise line did not give Mobile a heads-up that something was wrong before the pullout.(10) Carnival also pulled ships out of San Diego(11) and slashed visits to Bermuda to just one for 2012.(12).

Could Carnival’s bad year, its detached responsiveness to crises, or it’s sudden abandonment of ports impact Charleston?

Residents in Charleston are trying to engage Carnival, but without success. A Post and Courier editorial, “Ahoy There, Carnival,” asks why Carnival still hasn’t responded to the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control’s January 5th letter asking about gray water discharges or incineration of garbage within 12-miles of shore, or reply to its request for a limit on the number, size and frequency of cruise ships coming to Charleston. And since Carnival’s own brochure says it “uses low-sulfur fuels voluntarily while cruising near environmentally sensitive as well as historical areas,” the editorial rightly queries, “What about Charleston?”(13)

The SPA isn’t helping. The SC State Ports Authority (SPA) has refused to release any information about its studies on alternative cruise terminal sites in Charleston. Did the SPA even conduct them? The SPA also refuses to require shore-side power to eliminate the toxic bunker fuel exhaust spewing from cruise ships idling in port.(14) But as some cities have gotten grants to provide such power, and since Carnival has committed to using shore power in Long Beach, CA, why won’t the SPA require it to protect Charleston’s residents and tourists alike?

And given Carnival’s recent problems and history, there’s this key question: Where is the SPA’s contract with Carnival? And what guarantees are in it for Charleston?

The mayor, city council, and the SPA have ignored repeated requests to intercede to get responses from Carnival. When the mayor, SPA, and Carnival all refuse to answer reasonable questions, one can only guess why. Power and money can make reasonable people unreasonable. Is that the case here, or is there something that people in power don’t want us to know? If Charlestonians are going to get the answers they deserve, they’re going to have to crank up their own version of shore side power.


# # #

1) Costa Concordia Passengers tell Congress they felt Betrayed – USA Today
2) In Scheyells, Scary moments described aboard ship – Fox News video
3) 22 Cruise passengers robbed at gunpoint – CBS News video
4) 22 Carnival Cruise passengers robbed at gunpoint – Fox News
5) Gadling – Huffington Post blog
6) PR Crisis for Carnival after Danger on Cruise Ships – Fox News video
7) Micky Arison on Costa Concordia accident – Miami Herald
8) Carnival CEO lies low after wreck – WSJ
9) Carnival to leave Mobile; officials shocked, saddled with cruise terminal debt. – Al. com
10) A Surprise Ending: Why did Carnival Ditch Mobile with No Warning
11) Carnival Cruise Lines to Pull out of San Diego – USA Today
12) Carnival’s late notice on berths leaves Bermuda ‘disappointed’ – Travel Weekly
13) Ahoy there, Carnival – Post and Courier editorial
14) Go Green with Cruise Ships – Post and Courier editorial

“Ahoy there, Carnival”- P&C editorial: “…interchange of ideas worthwhile. Carnival has done the same for other ports. Charleston deserves no less.”

Ahoy there, Carnival,” Post and Courier, March 14, 2012, editorial.

The non-profit Charleston Communities for Cruise Control has asked Carnival Cruise Lines questions that warrant some answers.

In Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2010 sustainability report, the company reports on its efforts to be a “good corporate citizen” and “preserve the fragile ecosystems upon which we are so dependent.” Cruise Control members want to know how Charleston fits into their plans.

For example, the report says “Carnival uses low-sulfur fuels voluntarily while cruising near environmentally sensitive as well as historical areas.” What about Charleston?

It says Carnival has voluntarily adopted environmental practices in Alaska, California and Hawaii in order to “reduce smog and health pollutants” and “preserve coastal water quality.” Shouldn’t the same be adopted here?

It says Carnival has committed to onshore power for ships calling at Long Beach, a measure that would alleviate air emissions here as well.

And the Carnival report says the cruise line aims to “contribute to the economic growth of the ports in which we operate through the taxes we pay, the jobs we create and the suppliers we support.”

Cruise Control is dedicated to achieving the appropriate balance between cruise ship operations in Charleston and the historic nature and quality of life in the city. As such, it wrote to Carnival requesting the cruise line adopt the same admirable practices in Charleston as it does in other areas. And a few more.

Don’t discharge gray water or incinerate garbage within 12 miles of shore. Since cruise lines do not pay taxes here as they do elsewhere, Carnival should “voluntarily pay an impact fee of $5 per passenger into a fund for community improvement.”

Also, support the local and state economy by purchasing provisions locally. Avoid making loud announcements and playing music outside while in port as the noise reverberates between buildings and is disturbing to the community.

Cruise Control would like Carnival to limit its presence here to two cruise ships a week — none with more than 3,000 passengers and crew.

You’d think Carnival would be interested in burnishing its image given its recent problems — one cruise ship running aground in Italy and another being towed into port after catching fire in the Indian Ocean.

But so far, Carnival has not responded to the Jan. 5 letter.

In an open system of government, corporations typically can be called to account by citizens — and their elected representatives. But the city and the State Ports Authority appear more interested in running interference for the cruise ship company on the regulatory front.

Indeed, no one at the SPA or on Charleston City Council — not the port director or the mayor — has yet responded to Charleston Communities for Cruise Control’s recent request for help convincing Carnival to use its best practices here.

It was partly out of a sense of frustration that several neighborhood, environmental and preservation groups in Charleston filed suit against Carnival, seeking answers in the courts. Cruise Control, incidentally, is not part of that lawsuit.

The questions raised by local critics shouldn’t be difficult to answer, and all who live or work in the area — including elected and appointed officials — should find an interchange of ideas worthwhile. Carnival has done the same for other ports.

Charleston deserves no less.

“Solution to Pollution is Dilution – at least for now” by Rick Reed, MD

Though some may see the Charleston County Medical Society Resolution for Shoreside Power for Cruise Ships as only a bandaid; for now the solution to pollution is dilution. Even though burning of cleaner fuels was required in historic areas of California and in Venice , Italy , eradication of dependence on carbon fuels, using alternate clean energy and initiating broad Green health measures are not in the near future. An immediate approach is to dilute the adverse impacts from air pollutants (“spread the wealth”) and focus on major offenders in local vulnerable settings. Studies of air pollution where high concentration is recognized show adverse health effects, including increased asthma, stroke, cancers, heart disease, and premature death. The risk is particularly high for children, older people, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or chronic lung ailments. Consequently, those in the medical community with Environmental Health interests, recognize that the immediate need is to focus on unessential polluters, particularly where there is human impact – our harbor, our concentrated urban residents, our dock workers, our visitors. With a new terminal coming on line, this is a small cost with no Port retrofitting required, to obtain maximum local effect. This is an opportunity for shared expense by a highly profitable offender and a State entity with most to gain. Energy providers should kick in. Focus on the Cruise industry is not personal but practical.
While ideally we should eliminate all offending sources, as was the intent of the 2008 Resolution, we do have economic dependence on diesel burning industry and it is practical to focus on low hanging fruit. The physicians interested in this problem have come together to advocate shore side electric power.

Rick Reed, MD

Sent via email to C4


“Cruise ships…spew four times the air emissions than cargo ships.” Read more in today’s P&C editorial: “Why not shore-side power?”

Why not shore-side power?, Post and Courier, March 8, 2012, editorial.

Cruise ship cheerleaders have labeled as misguided “snobs” those citizens who want cruise ships to be regulated in Charleston. They suggested that port jobs were being threatened.

The State Ports Authority and the City of Charleston have ignored or refused requests for enforceable limits on the number and size of cruise ships that visit Charleston and on the air emissions those ships produce.

Even Charleston City Council, elected to serve the best interests of citizens, shrugged its collective shoulders when asked to place such limits on cruise ships.

It will be interesting to see if City Council and the SPA revisit the issue if asked by the S.C. Medical Association. As noted by Dr. Stephen I. Schabel on our Commentary page, the SCMA is considering such a request. It would ask that the city of Charleston, the State Ports Authority, Carnival Cruise Lines and the S.C. General Assembly join with the Charleston County Medical Society and the SCMA “to enact forceable requirements for cruise ship use of onshore power rather than engine power while dockside.”

It is a reasonable and appropriate request. Dr. Schabel refers to ports as places at high risk for particulate emissions that are harmful to people’s health. Cruise ships, he says, spew four times the air emissions than cargo ships. While in port, they must keep air conditioning and lights on, so they keep their engines running.

But ports can — and many do — provide ships with access to electric shore-side power so they can turn off their engines and still operate. Those that do include Juneau, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada. Some have formed partnerships with utilities and municipalities to cover the cost of installing the shore-side power. Using it requires upfitting cruise ships too, but it costs less to use than running engines, and there are grants available to help cruise lines pay for the conversion.

Some issues are debatable. But the benefits of shore-side power are not: better air quality, fewer emissions that can damage people’s health, no odor and no noise.

The SPA and the City of Charleston might think those who want shore-side power are simply misguided, maybe even snobs, but scientific data say differently.

The people who live, work and visit Charleston deserve a break from cruise ships’ risky air emissions.


Copyright © 1995 – 2012 Evening Post Publishing Co..

“Reduce the risks of air pollution from cruise ships” by Stephen I. Schabel, M.D., president of the Charleston County Medical Society.

 Reduce the risks of air pollution from cruise ships, Post and Courier, March 8, 2012, commentary.

One of the most important functions of the Charleston County Medical Society (CCMS) is to give citizens of the county advice on important issues relative to public health. In 2008 the CCMS proposed a resolution urging the South Carolina Medical Association (SCMA) to support “the maximum feasible reduction of all forms of harmful air pollution, especially new and existing sources of toxic fine particle pollution.” This resolution was adopted by SCMA in 2008, but stalled in the Legislature. Since then the arrival of the cruise ship industry in Charleston Harbor has again brought the problem of port-related air pollution to our attention. Without shoreside power, docked cruise ships run their engines and further pollute the air. This is easily addressed.

After an extensive review of health data relative to the use of onshore power by docked cruise ships, the CCMS executive committee has asked the SCMA to take a stand.

Its proposed resolution acknowledges that the average cruise ship discharges four times the amount of airborne pollutants, especially sooty particulates, compared to the average cargo ship, thus affecting residents and visitors when ships continuously run their engines dockside for hours while passengers embark and disembark.

The effects of airborne pollutants have been shown to include increased chronic respiratory and heart diseases and increased cancer risk, especially among dockworkers, merchants and residents closest to the docks. That increases their health care costs.

The use of onshore power reduces airborne cruise ship pollutants by up to 90 percent and is used frequently by major U.S. cruise ports without appreciable economic loss to the cruise ship industry.

The American Medical Association supports reducing portside air pollutants and onshore power as does the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association and even the Cruise Lines Industry Association.

In light of that research, the Charleston County Medical Society is asking the South Carolina Medical Association, the City of Charleston, the State Ports Authority, Carnival Cruise Lines and the S.C. General Assembly to work together to enact enforceable requirements for cruise ships to use onshore power rather than engine power while dockside.

Our port facility is very near one of the most densely populated parts of our city. The added air pollution from cruise ship engines places an added health risk burden on those living and working near the port.

Many other port cities on both the East and West coasts have mandated the use of shore power for docked cruise ships out of concern for the health of their citizens. The CCMS believes Charleston should take this important step as well to safeguard the public health.

Stephen I. Schabel,M.D., is president of the Charleston County Medical Society.


Copyright © 1995 – 2012 Evening Post Publishing Co..

“Cruise Noise Nearly Wakes the Dead”- a Lowcountry Rambler must read from Charleston Mercury


As published in Charleston Mercury, Lowcountry Rambler (front page, first column), March 6, 2012.

Cruise Noise Nearly Wakes the Dead

Meanwhile, several readers attended a
recent funeral and burial service at St.
Philip’s Church. As the rector and his associates
prayed by the graveside, the loud
echo of announcements from the cruise
terminal made it extremely difficult for
those attending to hear the men of the
cloth. Quality of life — and getting to the
afterlife — are clearly no longer sacred
when burials at the “Mother Church” and
loud speakers from the port coincide.


“Pollution’s cost”- a letter to the editor in P&C from William Prioleau, MD

The list of diseases associated with pollution just got longer. In addition to asthma, heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, premature delivery and blood clots in the legs, it now includes dementia (Archives of Internal Medicine, February 2012).

While installation of dock-side electricity for cruise ships is expensive, the economic burden of uncontrolled pollution is such that it should be a reasonable decision to proceed.

William Prioleau, M.D.
Middle Street
Mount Pleasant

Published in P&C, March 1, 2012.