Army Corps, SPA withdraw appeal over Charleston cruise terminal permit

By Tyrone Richardson

The Army Corps of Engineers and the State Ports Authority have halted their challenge of a judge’s decision that nixed a permit the SPA needed to build a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.

They filed the joint notice of withdrawal of appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on Monday.

The move came a day before a mediator for the court was scheduled to meet with attorneys representing both sides in the appeal. The case centered on an Army Corps permit for pilings the SPA needs to drive to convert a warehouse into a $35 million passenger terminal at Union Pier.

Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the withdrawal was a victory for the public.

“The government’s lawyers must have realized that a so-called maintenance permit issued in secret to build a $35 million cruise terminal was indefensible,” Holman said in a statement. “Too bad we had to resort to litigation to get here, but the good news is that the public will now have the chance to weigh in on how and where cruise operations should continue in the Charleston region. It’s never too late to get something big right – just look at the Ravenel Bridge.”

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ruled that the Army Corps did not fully review the effects the project would have on the city’s historic district, saying the permitting agency gave the study “a bum’s rush.” He then ordered the Army Corps to redo the study with a more extensive review. The Army Corps will be reviewing what to do next, said spokeswoman Glenn Jeffries.

The SPA said in statement that it will “reserve its legal concerns regarding the district court’s decision for later review, if necessary, following additional action by the Corps.”

“We look forward to the next steps in consultation with the Corps relative to successfully renovating an existing warehouse into a replacement passenger terminal,” according to the statement

The Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston filed the lawsuit after the Army Corps issued a permit allowing the five pilings to be driven on the waterfront.

The opposition groups have said the agency didn’t take into account the impact on historic properties that surround the area.

The SPA, which joined the lawsuit as a defendant, has been seeking to relocate its cruise terminal to the north end of Union Pier from the south end for about three years.

The case is one of three legal challenges regarding expanded cruise operations in Charleston.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 or twitter.com/tyrichardsonPC.

4 years on, Charleston cruise debate lingers

By BRUCE SMITH
Associated Press
January 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. — It’s been almost four years since the South Carolina Ports Authority announced plans to build a new $35 million passenger cruise terminal by renovating an old warehouse on the Charleston waterfront.

And it’s going on three years that the issue of building the terminal has been before the courts. With challenges from environmental, neighborhood and preservation groups ongoing in federal, state and administrative law courts, the debate over the city’s year-round cruise industry won’t be ending any time soon.

Opponents of the city’s expanded cruise industry say they are not opposed to cruises, but want stronger regulations governing the industry. They have challenged both state and federal permits to allow the Ports Authority to install new pilings beneath the warehouse to create the new terminal.

They have also gone to the state Supreme Court arguing that the cruises are a public nuisance causing noise, pollution and traffic congestion in the city’s Historic District.

Supporters say cruises will only be a niche market in Charleston — not the major industry witnessed in such places as Venice, Italy, and Key West, Fla. They say the industry is being appropriately handled.

The new year brings court activity on a couple of fronts.

On Jan. 7, a mediator for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond plans to meet with attorneys representing both sides in an appeal in the dispute over a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the pilings.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled in September that the Corps did not adequately review the project’s effects on the city’s historic district, telling attorneys for the Corps “You gave this permit a bum’s rush.”

The Ports Authority and Corps are appealing Gergel’s order.

Then on Jan. 27, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph K. Anderson III takes up the matter of a challenge to a state permit for those pilings.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control in Dec. 2012 approved the permit. Officials noted that the warehouse area has been an industrial and commercial area for centuries and putting in the five pilings for the terminal alone does not allow bigger ships or more ships.

The neighborhood, conservation and preservation groups appealed. And it will likely be many months until the issue is resolved because any decision by an administrative law judge can then be appealed to state circuit court.

There’s been no ruling on the third outstanding legal action – the case before the state Supreme Court that alleges the cruises are a public nuisance. The justices heard arguments in mid-November and have not yet handed down a decision.

Carnival Cruise Lines based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston more than three years ago, giving the city a year-round industry. Before that, ships made port calls, but none were based in Charleston.

Charleston Cruises 2014

The Azamara Club Cruises passenger liner Quest makes a port call in Charleston, S.C., in this Dec. 10, 2013, photograph. It’s been almost four years since the South Carolina Ports Authority announced plans to build a new $35 million cruise terminal. But legal challenges from conservation, preservation and neighborhood groups have delayed the project. In January of 2014 attorneys in the case appear before both a mediator for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and before a South Carolina administrative law judge.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/01/02/3014632/4-years-on-charleston-cruise-debate.html#storylink=cpy

Documents show Carnival knew of fire danger before ill-fated cruise, CNN Exclusive

(CNN) — Bettina Rodriguez and her daughter Isabel had planned their cruise for half a year. They would sail on the Carnival Triumph cruise ship and celebrate Isabel’s birthday.

It was the trip of a lifetime. That is, until they awoke to a fire alarm, smoke in their hallway and then days and days of misery. Human waste was actually piling up in bags just outside their door.

“Just on our deck alone, there were the biohazard bags lined up across the floor,” Bettina Rodriguez said. “We’re talking about raw sewage at just the end of our deck alone. It was repulsive.”

It was a nightmare, Rodriguez said. Now the nightmare has been made worse, she said, because of company documents that have just come to light. The cruise line’s own reports, inspections and maintenance records detail a problem that had been developing on the Triumph more than a year before Rodriguez and her daughter were on board.

More than 4,000 passengers and crew members were stranded aboard what’s now known as the “poop cruise” after a fire knocked out the ship’s power. The ship drifted four days before it could be towed into Mobile, Alabama — the whole time without air conditioning, and largely without lights, water, food and working toilets.

CNN has learned that the crew of the Triumph set sail in February with only four of six generators fully operational, knowing that the company had an ongoing generator fire hazard in ships across its fleet, including Triumph.

Houston attorney Frank Spagnoletti represents the Rodriguez family and several dozen other passengers from the ill-fated Carnival Triumph who have filed suit against Carnival Cruise Lines.

“That ship never should have set sail in February,” Spagnoletti said. “It was unseaworthy at the commencement of the voyage. These documents tell you that the company — and I’m saying to you the corporation back in Miami — had knowledge of the fact that this vessel had a propensity for fires; that there were things that could have been, should have been, and weren’t done in order to make sure that fires didn’t take place.”

The first trouble with Triumph was in diesel generator No. 6 — the one that wound up catching fire. Starting more than a year before the infamous cruise, that generator was overdue for maintenance, often not in compliance with the safety laws of the sea, known as SOLAS, according to the ship’s engineer.

Read the document about the generator (PDF)

Over and over again, Carnival’s own maintenance reports stated the same thing: Diesel generator No. 6 was overdue for maintenance. The company says the fire that originated with the generator was not connected to the lack of maintenance. But, during that same time period, Carnival learned about another, even more alarming safety problem in the engine room: fuel lines.

A dangerous pattern of leaks had emerged on other Carnival cruise ships, according to the company’s documents. In fact, Carnival’s Costa Allegra caught fire in the Indian Ocean in February 2012 because fuel leaked onto a hot spot and ignited. That fire left the ship without power for three days in tropical heat of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Read Carnival’s advisory notice (PDF)

That would be eerily similar to what started the fire on board the Triumph one year later.

Carnival says it proactively began investigating after the Costa Allegra fire and found a big problem in a different type of fuel line. There had been nine incidents resulting in fuel leaks associated with flexible fuel lines in just two years.

Spate of fires pose problem for cruise industry

On January 2, Carnival issued a compliance order, giving ships two months to address the problem to “ensure a suitable spray shield … is installed” for all diesel engines using the flexible fuel lines.

“After that internal study, the company came out with a new policy to, again, shield all the flanges and the hoses,” said Mark Jackson, Carnival Cruise Lines vice president of technical operations.

But Carnival did not in fact shield the part of the one hose that wound up causing the tragedy on board the Triumph in February.

“That hose was beneath the deck plates, and it was believed the deck plates would provide that shield,” Jackson said. “In this case, it (the fuel leak) found that gap in the hose … in the bilge plates and caused the fire.”

On February 7 — with a diesel generator still in need of overhaul and fuel line shields on some, but not all, of its flexible hoses — Triumph set sail from Galveston Texas. Three days later, off the coast of Mexico, a fire broke out in diesel generator No. 6 when fuel sprayed from a flexible fuel line, even though that fuel line was only six months old.

“We were totally in compliance … with all the rules and regulations,” Jackson said. “We had … our regulating bodies on board the ship less than two weeks prior that had certified the ship to sail. Obviously, you learn things on a situation, on an incident such as the Triumph.”

Those regulating bodies included the U.S. Coast Guard and Lloyd’s insurance.

While Carnival Cruise Lines insists that what happened on the Triumph was just an accident, the company has dedicated $300 million in a fleet-wide safety upgrade, focusing on detecting and preventing any potential fire hazards in its engine rooms.

The company also points out to the passengers suing that the cruise line never promised a safe trip.

Carnival’s court filing says the “ticket contract makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions.” Since the Triumph fire, Carnival says it has instituted a 110% money-back “Great Vacation Guarantee” on its cruises.

Fraction of cruise ship crimes are made public

Could Carnival have avoided the Triumph cruise nightmare?

Please click on the header below to see the video footage from this Anderson Cooper exclusive!

Could Carnival have avoided the Triumph cruise nightmare?

It was the vacation from hell for thousands of passengers stuck on-board the Carnival Triumph. A fire knocked out the ship’s power, which meant no air conditioning, no lights, little food and water… and no flushing toilets. Conditions were so bad it was nicknamed “The Poop Cruise.” Now CNN has learned that the ship set sail with only four of six generators operating and knew of a generator fire hazard across its fleet of ships. Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is Keeping Them Honest.

Air samples at cruise ship docks worldwide find dangerous levels of deadly soot

Tests in Manhattan, Venice, Germany show urgent need for lines to upgrade pollution controls

NEW YORK – Air samples taken near idling cruise ships in New York and three European ports contained dangerously high levels of soot, according to test results released by Friends of the Earth US and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union of Germany. The groups said the tests underscore the urgent need to install more modern air pollution reduction technology with filters that can all but eliminate deadly soot emissions.

At each port — New York, Venice, Italy and Hamburg and Rostok, Germany — samples taken by NABU with an ultrafine particle counter contained hundreds of thousands of microscopic ultrafine particles of soot per cubic centimeter of air. In New York, the sample contained 201,000 ultrafine particles of soot per cubic centimeter while the cruise ship Norwegian Gem was idling on Nov. 15, 2013. (See video of the test.)

Direct comparison with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency soot standards is not possible, because EPA includes somewhat larger particles, counts their mass rather than their number and measures their concentration over time rather than at peak levels. But the latest research indicates that the health hazards of ultrafine particle pollution, which are inhaled deep into the lungs, are the same as for other particles — heart problems, respiratory illness and premature death.

By comparison with the measurements of hundreds of thousands of particles per cubic centimeter at the cruise ship docks, NABU measured only 5,000 particles per cm3 in the center of Berlin.

“These extremely high measurements at the cruise ship docks are from the use of heavy fuel oil or bunker fuel and lack of pollution control technology,” said Dr. Axel Friedrich, formerly an air quality expert with the German federal environmental agency, who led the testing. “Without particle filters, cruise ship engines must operate continuously at the dock to keep the lights on, releasing huge quantities of toxic gases that harm public health.”

air pollution stats

air pollution stats

 

 

 

 

NABU and Friends of the Earth are campaigning to get cruise lines worldwide to install state-of-the-art air pollution control technology which can reduce the amount of soot emitted by up to 99 percent. The campaign is focused on Carnival Corp. of Miami, the largest cruise company in the world, which operates 10 cruise lines, under various brand names, in the U.S. and Europe. Although some of Carnival’s lines, such as AIDA Cruises of Germany, have installed such equipment, Carnival has not done so for all of its lines and ships.

“It’s unacceptable that some Carnival Corporation ships will be installing state-of-the-art air pollution controls, but not the entire fleet,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director of Friends of the Earth U.S. “It’s time for Carnival to stop dragging its feet, not only on the health and safety of its passengers but of people in the ports where it calls. If Carnival cares about people and the planet, the company should install the most health-protective technology on all ships, across all of the lines it operates, to keep the air we breathe clean and healthy.”

Leif Miller, CEO of NABU, said the World Health Organization considers soot as carcinogenic as asbestos.

“These measurements now demonstrate for the first time how much worse air pollution in ports is made by the pollution from idling cruise ships,” said Miller. As the cruise industry continued to grow rapidly, this means that every year more and more passengers and residents of port cities are exposed to deadly soot. Since the technology needed to clean up emissions is here today, this is unacceptable.”

###

Contact:
Marcie Keever, (510) 900-3144, mkeever@foe.org
Adam Russell, (202) 222-0722, arussell@foe.org

– See more at: http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2013-12-air-samples-at-cruise-ship-docks-worldwide-find-dangerous-soot-lvls#sthash.7tbMGXRs.dpuf

Sink or Swim – Why is Carnival Cruise Lines exempt from city regulations?

Sink or Swim, taken from Charleston City Paper
contribution by Katie Zimmerman

The latest column from Charleston City Paper columnist Bryan Crabtree on cruise ships included suggestions in line with those put forth by numerous locals and organizations representing them, including the Coastal Conservation League.

Most people in Charleston seek a good balance whereby cruises can continue, but with standards in place to protect the health of local families and our environment as well as the strength of our economy, which relies greatly on protecting historic assets.

The drive to establish standards for cruise operations in historic cities is happening not just in Charleston. Venice, Italy, Key West, Fla., Dubrovnik, Croatia, and others are wrestling with the same concerns. Given the unprecedentedly large scale of the cruise ships and the thousands of people cruise operations bring into small, densely populated areas, it’s imperative that communities such as Charleston hasten to protect unique historic sites via enforceable standards for cruise ships, just as we support standards for other things, from tour buses to horse carriages.

It is beyond odd that cruise operations are seemingly the one business exempt from standards. This may reflect the cruise industry’s success in avoiding other rules and requirements. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines — which has had a cruise ship in operation in Charleston since 2010 — pays no taxes here and doesn’t even have a business license. Why should a highly profitable company like Carnival, which is incorporated in Panama, not have to abide by standards that apply to everyone else in Charleston?

Conservation groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, agree with Mr. Crabtree that Charleston cruise ships should use shore power to reduce the impact of concentrated diesel soot pollution on local families. Cruise ships do this in other ports even when the law doesn’t require it.

The League has also asked that records of cruise discharges be made available for public review. But when we asked Carnival if the company would consider notifying local citizens of what they are dumping in the water, a League representative was told that it was “frankly none of [our] business what Carnival does in [South Carolina’s] waterways.”

Neither the League nor anyone else is asking for limits on cargo ships since they don’t emit nearly as much pollution as a cruise ship, and they don’t bring thousands of cars and passengers into a gridlocked historic district. Like Mr. Crabtree, we support looking at alternative locations for a cruise terminal, an inquiry that so far has been stifled by the State Ports Authority.

People are tired of an all-or-nothing debate about cruise ships. They want solutions and options for achieving a healthy balance. The League has been pushing for those options for several years, but so far the proponents of unregulated cruise operations have acted as if engaging with loyal citizens is akin to dealing with terrorists.

So long as those pushing unmitigated cruise operations take an our-way-or-the-highway approach, Charlestonians — conservative and otherwise — will continue to feel frustrated and continue to ask that other options be explored.

Mr. Crabtree is to be applauded for proposing one option, and we stand ready to engage with him and any other interested persons in reaching a solution that works for everyone. As he should know, the question for our community is not the one he asked in conducting his informal poll on social media. On his Facebook page, he asked his followers if we should “allow the cruise industry to grow in Charleston or push them away?” The real question is whether or not cruise operations, like every other business here, should abide by limits and standards and find a healthy balance.

We applaud Mr. Crabtree’s call for examining alternative methods of basing very large cruise ships in the most congested and historic part of our entire region. There is no sense in polarizing people when most folks have coalesced around this reasonable middle ground.

Katie Zimmerman is the Coastal Conservation League’s director of the Air, Water, and Public Health Program. Her areas of expertise include environmental justice, community empowerment, and water quality.

 

Per the City…. we all suffer….

Attorneys argue in front of S.C. Supreme Court over harm cruise ships would cause Charleston

By Schuyler Kropf

COLUMBIA — Allowing a lawsuit that challenges Charleston’s cruise ship visits over zoning issues to stand could damage global commerce if taken to the extreme, a lawyer argued this morning before the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Attorney Marvin Infinger said the lawsuit filed by preservationists and neighborhood groups could essentially be applied to all commercial shipping that calls on Charleston.

“The suit, if allowed to stand, would do violence to the ocean-going commerce of this nation,” he said.

Additionally, lawyers argued the plaintiffs looking to challenge the cruise ship visits are not uniquely affected by the traffic and congestion the ships have brought.

City attorney Frances Cantwell said, “The harm is no different in kind than what we all suffer.”

Attorney J. Blanding Holman IV, who represents the plaintiffs, said the suit should go forward because of the systematic harm the ships are bringing to a closed, confined and historic part of Charleston.

Check back later for updates.

CHS | After losing its permit, the SPA will surely compromise. Ah, no.

CHS | After losing its permit, the SPA will surely compromise.  Ah, no.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to comply with the “formal assessment and consultative requirements” of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) before awarding the SC Ports Authority (SPA) a permit to transform “a previously permitted transit shed…into a modern state-of-the-art $35-million cruise ship passenger terminal” at Union Pier in Charleston.

The Army Corps, for unknown and probably unknowable reasons, had determined that complying with the NEPA and NHPA assessments was unnecessary because “the proposed activity will result in minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.”  The project, the Corps said, would qualify as “maintenance,” and stated that the cruise terminal project had “no potential to cause effects on historic properties.”

Judge Gergel ruled otherwise. The Army Corps of Engineers, he said, ignored its responsibilities to do a proper assessment under the controlling NEPA and NHPA acts by saying that it was limiting its review to only five new pilings to support elevators and escalators that would come in contact with navigable waters.  That argument, the Court said, is “plainly inconsistent with the Army Corps’ own regulation…which provides for jurisdiction involving ‘any structure in or over any navigable water in the United States.'”   In his conclusion, the judge went farther, saying that rather than consider “all the activities in its jurisdiction under the Rivers and Harbors Act ‘in its scope of analysis,’ the Army Corps of Engineers, unreasonably and unlawfully, restricted its ‘scope of analysis’ to an insignificant fraction of the project that lay within the agency’s jurisdiction.”

“By omitting more than 99% of the project within its jurisdiction…  “The Court finds that the Army Corps’ limitation of the ‘scope of analysis’ to five concrete pile clusters was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law.”

Almost equally disturbing were the SPA’s own statements and data that it presented to the Court.  Quoting from the ruling, “The Ports Authority has acknowledged that a cruise ship terminal can ‘present special challenges’ in ‘managing automobile and pedestrian traffic,’ ‘protecting the environment,’ ‘and preserving Charleston’s unique character’ and ‘there are still lingering questions about how well the cruise ship business will fit into the context of this diverse, world class city.'”  “Record evidence provided by the Ports Authority supports the [opponent’s] claim…that the number of cruise ships and passengers has increased in recent years, and the proposed new and larger passenger terminal would likely significantly increase the number and size of cruise ships visiting Charleston and the volume of cruise passengers in the historic Charleston waterfront.”  By 2012, the number of ships visiting Charleston had increased by 86% over “the 2005-2009 five-year average.”

And the SPA also gave us a glimpse into a far worse future.  With a new terminal, the 1990’s-era, 855’, 2,056-passenger Carnival “Fantasy” will be replaced with ships carrying 3,450 passengers.  And based on the SPA’s data, the Court concluded, “Even if the Ports Authority maintained its voluntary cap of 104 cruise ship visits a year(2), this would represent a 131% increase over the 2005-2009 five year average and a 24% increase from 2012.”   And to service such a volume of passengers, the Court noted, the SPA estimates that on an average embarkation and disembarkation day, “up to twenty tractor trailers, sixteen small trucks, thirty-two busses, ninety taxis, and 1600 passenger vehicles would need access to the very confined” terminal area that “lies immediately adjacent to the Charleston Historic District and the Ansonborough neighborhood.”

So how do you think the SPA reacted to the ruling?   Did it agree to comply, did it suggest a compromise, or did it offer to study another, less invasive location for a terminal?   No.  It appealed.  The appeal came in spite of the SPA’s own website that appears to invalidate any argument that their project could be considered “maintenance”:  “…Charleston is an ideal cruise port.  With an efficiently run operation and plans for a new state-of-the-art cruise terminal, our port is ready to welcome cruise operators and travelers alike.”(3)  Yes, and with the widening of the Panama Canal and a newly prosperous Chinese middle class, are we to believe that those ships of the future will carry only 3,450 travelers?

But if you’re looking for relief from Charleston’s mayor or its complacent, compliant City Council, forget it.  Mayor Joseph Riley recently reiterated his total lack of interest in regulating cruise ship tourism.(4)   So it’s up to the courts.

Oral arguments in another case will be presented this Tuesday, this one at the SC Supreme Court.(5)   Carnival Cruise Lines will argue to dismiss charges that it’s violating zoning ordinances, permitting requirements and creating a nuisance.(6)  True to form, both the SPA and the City of Charleston intervened in this case on behalf of…the defendant, not on behalf of the residents, organizations and associations trying to protect Charleston from the accelerating threat of unregulated cruise ship tourism.

Surely the SC Supreme Court read Judge Richard Gergel’s decision and recognizes the defendant’s fallacious assertion that their massive floating resorts can tie up at will, disgorge thousands of people simultaneously onto the world’s most cherished historic places, and then ignore every rule and regulation these historic places have developed to protect their history, culture and quality of life.  Or must degradation accompany this exploitation?

Jay, 15 Nov 13

—-
1)   U.S. District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, Court Decision.  Preservation Society and Coastal Conservation League vs. US Army Corps of Engineers and SC Ports Authority
<Federal Cruise Permit SJ Order 9-18-13.pdf>

2)  The SPA has steadfastly refused to commit those “voluntary limits” in to legally binding limits.
“This Charleston Harbor Battle is over Cruise Ships” – NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/us/battle-in-genteel-charleston-over-cruise-ships.html?_r=0

3)  South Carolina Ports website – Cruise Charleston page
http://www.port-of-charleston.com/cruises/cruises.asp

4)  Reports of Mayor Joseph Riley’s comments at the membership meeting of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., 29 Oct 13.

5)  South Carolina Supreme Court, Register of Cases for November, 2013.  Look for first case on 19 November.
http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/supremeRosters/dspSupRosterMenu.cfm

6)  “Carnival Cruise Lines asks for Dismissal of Suit” – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20110810/PC05/308109921

 

Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr., published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and discussions about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is involved with various local organizations, the opinions he expresses are solely his; they do not represent the views of any organization or other individual.  Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. We present these blogs for C4 website visitors as an information source and as an additional way to chronologically follow the debates, commentaries and discussions about cruise tourism in Charleston.

Carnival will sail bigger ships from New Orleans

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
November 13, 2013 10:13 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Some larger cruise ships will call New Orleans their home as the role of the cruise business continues to increase at the Port of New Orleans.

The Carnival Sunshine, which arrives Sunday, carries 2,984 passengers — 22 more than the Carnival Conquest, which it’s replacing. In April, it will be replaced in turn by the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream, which Carnival Cruise Lines currently plans to keep in New Orleans.

The port is likely to set its third straight record for cruise ship passengers this year, said Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. He said the Dream should increase that even more in 2014, when it’s expected to boost Carnival’s passenger total from more than 330,000 a year to more than 400,000 a year.

New Orleans’ overall cruise business rose more than 32 percent last year to 977,703 passengers. The 2011 passenger total of 736,908 broke a record set in 2004, port officials have said, citing a report made for the Cruise Lines International Association.

“This year we have a good shot at passing a million,” LaGrange said.

The CLIA report also said New Orleans was the nation’s sixth-busiest cruise port last year, up from ninth in 2011.

LaGrange said cruises have risen from about 5 percent of the port’s income a dozen years ago to 20 percent of last year’s $50 million-plus revenues.

Carnival cruises year-round from the port. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line sails from October through April, and Norwegian Cruise Line from November through April.

Those lines also are bringing in new ships. The 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel replaced the 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star, and Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas is replacing the newly renovated Serenade of the Seas.

New Orleans’ cruise business has risen nearly nine-fold over the past 10 to 12 years, LaGrange said. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re marketing it as two vacations in one: Come down and you get the Big Easy and get the cruise as well,” he said.

He said the CLIA study found that passengers usually also spend two nights in area hotels, spending $335 a day in New Orleans compared to an industry average of $93 a day.

Newer, faster ships make the Gulf of Mexico’s destinations more accessible, offering more cruise stops than many other ports, LaGrange said. From New Orleans cruises go to Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Florida, Belize, Honduras, San Francisco, the Canary Islands and Spain.

Jim Berra, senior vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer for Carnival, said the Carnival Sunshine, previously known as the Destiny, underwent a $155 million makeover at a shipyard in Trieste, Italy, adding a water park, a new partial deck, 182 cabins, and more than 20 new “branded spaces” such as restaurants, outer decks, bars and lounges and entertainment.

The Sunshine and Dream will continue the Conquest’s weeklong cruises. The Elation will continue as the line’s ship for 4- and 5-day trips.

November 15 Letter to the Editor

Well said Pat! We couldn’t agree more!

Cruise insights I recently had the good fortune to visit two historic port cities: Athens, Greece, and Istanbul, Turkey. The experience showed me that it is quite possible to dock passenger as well as cargo ships at the same location — away from the historic districts — without detracting from the cruise or the historic district. The historic district in Athens was a 30-minute cab ride from the port in Piraeus, and the historic area in Istanbul was another easy cab ride from the docks. My friends and fellow passengers didn’t think twice about having to travel a short distance from the docks to the historic districts. In fact, we were relieved to find that these valuable and irreplaceable historic cities were protected from the aesthetic and environmental effects that we are not protected from in Charleston. My experience cruising to globally important historic ports only reinforces that we should not park cruise ships in front of our own historic port city. A visit to historic Charleston is worth a short cab or trolley ride from a more remote terminal location.

Pat Sullivan Plantation Court Mount Pleasant

Nov 15 Post and Courier