Carnival Sunshine’s arrival in Charleston raises concern from residents

CLICK TO VIEW CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — A new cruise ship that carries one thousand more passengers per trip than it’s predecessor just moved into Charleston harbor.

The arrival of Carnival Sunshine renews the debate over the cruise industry in the Lowcountry.

Since 2010, Carnival has run the only year-round cruise operation in Charleston. Now, it’s doing even more business here with the introduction of a much bigger ship.

Starting this month, Carnival Sunshine replaces Ecstasy. Its first voyage out of Charleston took place on Saturday.

“Excited, very excited,” says Lee Shanks, a cruise passenger from New York.

“We’re gonna drink a lot of beer, that’s all I know,” said Dustin Holloway, who came from North Carolina to ride the cruise.

Yvonndria Harris and Dee Shelton from Tennessee say they’re excited for their cruise. “We’re really happy today. We’re ready to get going.”

Since 2017, Carnival Ships have been on probation by the federal government, after the company admitted to breaking environmental law.

According to US District Court documents below, a court-appointed monitor found Carnival violated the probation terms with quote “record falsification and numerous instances of prohibited discharge” – that includes multiple violations in Charleston waters.

Originally, Carnival invited ABC News 4 for a tour of the new ship. Two weeks later, they disinvited our reporter, explaining it would be very busy at the pier. Turns out, they were right.

Robin Holley from Myrtle Beach says she is excited about Carnival’s new ship, “we are happy to have the Sunshine here in Charleston.”

But residents who live nearby are not so happy about the larger ship that’s scheduled to sail out of Charleston 40 more times this year.

“Lots of extra traffic flows in for passengers to come and board the ship, and there’s additional pollution from many hundreds of cars coming in,” says local resident Tommie Robertson.

Environmentalists like Caroline Bradner with the SC Coastal Conservation League say cruise ship fuel emissions and waste discharge are a growing concern for the Charleston-area.

“What they’re emitting actually is equivalent to thousands of 18-wheelers, right here in this historic area of the peninsula in Charleston,” Bradner said. “They can discharge untreated grey water, macerated garbage, and sewage three miles from our shore, so just within sight of our harbor.”

Mayor Riley brought Carnival to the Holy City. ABC News 4 asked Mayor Tecklenburg about the Sunshine, who says he’s concerned that the city can’t regulate its cruise ship policies and procedures because the port is a state government entity.

Longtime Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings is highly critical of the new ship in our port.

“Whenever you add another burden of 1000 cars four times a week, which is exactly what we think this is doing or maybe more, it’s just increasing our congestion,” Seekings says. “And most importantly, it’s increasing the burden on the people who live here in terms of livability, and the people who live here in terms of the cost of running a city.”

Seekings and Mayor Tecklenburg say the state ports authority should require a landing tax on cruise operators to give back to the city.

“Right now, it’s just economically inequitable,” Seekings says. “They’re getting all the benefit, and we in the City of Charleston are accepting all of the burden.”

The ports authority didn’t return our request for comment on a tax, but it did defend Carnival’s new ship in a statement:

Cruise operations are a relatively small but important part of maritime commerce and diversity of the port’s business segments. Carnival’s decision to home-port the Sunshine in Charleston is an affirmation of their success and commitment to operations here.

According to Carnival, cruise industry operators generate $131 million in direct expenditures, and account for nearly 2,400 jobs and $93 million in wages in South Carolina each year.

A lawsuit to block the state ports authority from building a much larger cruise ship terminal at union pier goes to the South Carolina Supreme Court on June 11.

In a statement to ABC News 4, a Carnival spokesman writes:

We worked together with the port of Charleston team for over a year to develop an operating plan in Charleston that would minimize the impact on local infrastructure, and carnival sunshine is equipped with state of the art emission technology that allows the ship to fully comply with all current regulations.