Almost 4 years on, SC cruise plan still in court

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — It’s been almost four years since the South Carolina Ports Authority announced plans to build a new $35 million cruise terminal in downtown Charleston. Under the original schedule, that terminal would be open now. Instead, questions about the terminal and the city’s year-round cruise industry raised by environmental and neighborhood groups have ended up in court.

Lawsuits are in state and federal court, and an administrative law judge in January will hear concerns about a permit issued by state regulators for the terminal at the site of an existing warehouse. Final resolution won’t come until next year at the earliest.

According to court schedules:

— The state Supreme Court has given attorneys until July 8 to file briefs on whether cruises constitute a public nuisance and violate city zoning ordinances. This is in a state case the court agreed to hear without it first going through lower courts. The Preservation Society of Charleston, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and neighborhood groups have sued Carnival Cruise Lines seeking to block cruise operations and have the court declare it illegal to build the terminal.

— A November trial date has tentatively been set in federal court for a lawsuit brought by the Conservation League and the Preservation Society against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the case, moved from Washington, D.C. last year, the plaintiffs seek to invalidate a Corps permit saying more federal review of the terminal’s effect on the city’s historic district is needed.

— Chief South Carolina Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson has set a Jan. 27 date to hear a challenge of a Department of Health and Environmental Control permit allowing five pilings to be drilled for the project. Regulators have said putting in pilings is in line with what has been going on along the waterfront for centuries. Any decision by the court can then be appealed to state court.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the Ports Authority, all three cases raise important issues that need to be resolved not just for the cruise industry, but for the operation of the port in general.

“We’re not in a rush,” he said. “We will see these things through in a proper way.”

The dispute over the terminal and the city’s expanded cruise industry has been raging for several years. Three years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, giving the city a year-round cruise industry. Before that, cruise lines made port calls at Charleston, but no ships were based in the city.

Opponents say the added tourists, traffic congestion and smoke from the cruise liners are destroying the historic fabric of the city. The city and Ports Authority say the industry is being managed properly and cruises will never be more than a niche industry in Charleston.

Blan Holman, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, says it’s about balance between cruise operations and protecting the city’s historic character, upon which tourism and the cruise industry depend.

“We are hopeful that the city of Charleston will agree it has the power, and the responsibility, to oversee a cruise operation based in Charleston,” he said in a statement. “The city of Charleston has exerted its authority to safeguard the harbor and surrounding community for hundreds of years.”

Newsome is optimistic the issues will be resolved and the terminal project will go forward.

“We are going to build a new cruise terminal at the northern end of Union Pier, and we are going to keep a modest-size cruise industry as we have said all along,” he said.

Copyright The Associated Press


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Assessing and Managing Cruise Ship Tourism in Historic Port Cities: Case Study Charleston, SC

Lauren Perez Hoogkamer recently completed her graduate thesis–Assessing and Managing Cruise Ship Tourism in Historic Port Cities: Case Study Charleston, SC–for her Master’s in Historic Preservation and the Master’s in Urban Planning at Columbia University.

Click to check it out – her research and findings are quite interesting:

A Lawsuit Against Carnival Cruise Lines Continues: Playing by the Rules

Just hours after the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a suit against Carnival Cruise Lines in 2011, the S.C. State Ports Authority (SPA) held a press conference. At the time, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said, “We will do everything we can to make sure this lawsuit fails,” according to the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

But the suit is still alive and kicking in the state’s court system. “It’s been about exactly two years since we filed the case,” says Blan Holman, the SELC attorney representing the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations. “We think it’s pretty obviously not frivolous.”

Because the cruise line now docks its Fantasy ship in Charleston, the plaintiffs reasoned Carnival should be subject to city laws. And while the S.C. Supreme Court threw out three of the 10 claims the SELC had originally made in its suit regarding noise, sign, and environmental ordinances, the fight is far from over. As the CRBJ reports, the Supreme Court has asked attorneys on both sides of the case to file new briefs on two remaining issues.

When the suit was originally filed against Carnival in June 2011, the City of Charleston and the SPA immediately intervened. “They all quickly asked the state Supreme Court not to hear an appeal, but to take the case away from the local judge and hear it in the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction,” Holman explains. The court consented in early 2012 and assigned a special referee, Judge Clifford Newman, to the case.

Newman considered the 10 claims made in the original complaint that fall into three categories: ordinance, nuisance, and environmental. They covered everything from city laws to noise complaints to accusations that Carnival is discharging in state waters without state permits.

But at a hearing last summer, Judge Newman recommended to the S.C. Supreme Court that all claims other than the nuisance ones be dismissed. His argument was based on his opinion that Charleston’s zoning laws can only apply to structures. Because the Carnival Fantasy isn’t permanently located on land or, Newman concluded, substantially attached to land, it isn’t technically a structure. “But he said issues of whether or not someone’s use of their property is reasonable [is] not really a legal question, it’s more of a fact question, so it can’t be dismissed,” Holman adds.

Last week, the S.C. Supreme Court agreed with Newman on dismissing the noise, sign, and environmental permitting complaints. “We did appeal his view on the environmental permitting claim, and so we’re disappointed to see that claim dismissed,” Holman says. “But we think the seven remaining claims, which are ordinance claims and the nuisance claims, they are seven strong claims and this case is very much alive.”

More importantly, the Supreme Court brought up a new issue in the case: Does the City of Charleston have the authority to regulate a cruise operation based in Charleston?

“That’s really a much different question,” Holman says. “It’s a question that goes to the nature of the city’s authority, period. It goes to issues of how far the city’s authority can go when there are federal regulations in place and some limits on local authority.”

Holman and the plaintiffs believe that the city does have the jurisdiction to regulate what the ships do within city limits, and he says he hopes the City of Charleston will preserve its power over these kinds of activities.

“The cruise lines are notorious for not paying any taxes and not being very heavily regulated,” he says. “I think that the goal of the Carnival suit is to see that they’re treated like other businesses, because in Charleston we regulate and have standards for all manner, be it pedicabs or horse-drawn carriages or bus tours or what you can do to your house.”

And, he adds, those standards are key to the economic success of the peninsula and the metropolitan area. Basically, the plaintiffs just want Carnival to play by the rules. If the lawsuit succeeds, Holman hopes the cruise ship industry can continue in Charleston, but in a way that doesn’t affect the livability and health of the community or detract from other parts of the tourist industry.

The Post and Courier reports that the SELC and Carnival Cruise Lines have 30 days to submit new briefs addressing the new allegations.

“The recent order issued by the Supreme Court in the cruise ship case is encouraging because it brings into clear focus the pivotal issues of the case,” Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. told the City Paper in a statement. “And in light of the briefing schedule set by the court, I am optimistic that a decision will be rendered very soon.”

In the end, if the court decides the city does have the power to regulate cruise ships, Holman is hopeful they’ll take advantage.

“We are optimistic that when the city attorneys actually have the opportunity to drill down on the issue that they will, as has been their history, that the city attorney’s office would actively and aggressively defend the City of Charleston’s authority to control activities within its limits,” he says.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ public relations department said it was unable to comment on the case, and a call the City Paper made to the SPA was not returned.

Taken from Charleston City Paper, article by Susan Cohen

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Savannah studying cruises; won’t share study yet with public

SAVANNAH — A consultant’s report on three potential sites for a cruise ship terminal along the Savannah River has been given to city officials in Savannah, but they aren’t sharing it with residents. The city is refusing to make the taxpayer-funded analysis public, The Savannah Morning News reported. City officials say a provision in the Georgia’s open records law allows them to keep the report secret for now. The exemption pertains to potential land acquisitions.

A Savannah City Council workshop has been scheduled for June 25, and the study will be made public at that time, city spokesman Bret Bell.

The city council awarded Miami-based BEA Architects a contract to perform the study in September. It’s being divided into two phases, and the portion of the study recently given to city officials cost $197,500 to evaluate the sites.

The findings are necessary to obtain U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval and permits for construction. Results may eliminate certain sites or verify that all three sites, which have not been made public, could be used, the Savannah newspaper reported.

City Councilman Tom Bordeaux had cast the only vote against the study.

Bordeaux said he didn’t think spending millions of dollars on the terminal would be a good investment for the city, considering the amount of time cruise passengers would spend in Savannah.

Bordeaux said he also worried that the terminal would be abandoned if the industry experienced tough financial times, especially since Charleston and Jacksonville, Fla., already have cruise docks.

“Savannah would be the last in and first out,” Bordeaux told the newspaper.

A 2011 report from BEA Architects estimated that Savannah could attract 100,000 cruise visitors a year by investing $18 million, and 300,000 more if it spends another $50 million, though the latter projections have been disputed, the newspaper said.

In downtown Charleston, Carnival Cruise Lines has offered has offered regularly scheduled cruises almost year-round since 2010, when the company permanently based its 2,056-passenger ship Fantasy at a berth on Union Pier Terminal, near the City Market.

The arrival of that business has triggered a backlash among some downtown Charleston residents and preservation groups over the increased traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. Three cruise-related lawsuits are working their way through the court system.


  1. Two lawsuits are challenging the S.C. State Ports Authority plans to open a $35 million cruise terminal at the north end of Union Pier in downtown Charleston. Neighborhood associations and other groups are fighting the proposed site, saying it will bring more tourists, traffic and fumes from ships to the historic district.
  2. The Army Corps of Engineers is being sued over a permit it issued for the terminal. The plaintiffs are seeking to revoke the permit. They also want more public review.
  3. Groups are asking a state court to review a Department of Health and Environmental Control permit allowing the SPA to drive pilings as part of the project.
  4. A third lawsuit targets Carnival Cruise Lines operations in Charleston. The S.C. Supreme Court dismissed claims this month that Carnival violates local noise and sign ordinances. The high court will consider allegations that the cruises are a public nuisance and violate city zoning rules.


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Plaintiff’s Attorneys vs Carnival/SPA/Charleston respond to SC Supreme Court’s request for more info

Press Release June 11, 2013

More Info:Balancing Cruise Ship Growth & Charleston Charm

Statement from the Southern Environmental Law Center Regarding SC Supreme Court Ruling on Charleston Cruise Ships

Blan Holman, Managing Attorney, Charleston Office, 843-720-5270

Charleston, SC –  The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an order allowing a case involving Carnival Cruise Lines’ operations in historic Charleston to proceed forward for further briefing. While the Court dismissed three of the claims against Carnival – regarding noise and sign ordinances, and an environmental permitting claim – it did not adopt a Special Referee’s earlier recommendation to dismiss the remaining seven ordinance and nuisance claims.  Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office, issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that our seven strongest claims remain and look forward to showing that Carnival cannot ignore the rules every other business plays by in making Charleston a great city.

We look forward to continuing to act on behalf of citizens to ensure that Carnival follows local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment, treasured historic assets, and booming tourism industry – an industry that depends on balancing Charleston’s unique historic charm with sensible cruise ship operations.” 

As cruise ship traffic has exploded in the heart of Charleston’s historic district in recent years – growing from 33 dockings in 2009 to 89 in 2011, due mostly to the Carnival Fantasy –citizens have demanded that cruise ship operations adhere to existing standards to manage traffic, pollution, and large crowds.  Charleston has thrived through the years by applying these standards to homeowners and all manner of businesses, from hoteliers to rickshaws.

After Charleston City officials claimed to have no power over cruise operations, SELC filed suit in state courts on behalf of neighborhoods and conservation groups to establish that Carnival is indeed subject to local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment and job-creating historic assets. The Supreme Court has asked for additional briefing on whether Carnival is subject to Charleston’s local authority.  Holman said that is a core issue in the case, adding:

“We are hopeful that the city of Charleston will agree that it has the power – and responsibility – to oversee a cruise operations based in Charleston, as the Carnival Fantasy is. The City of Charleston has exerted its authority to safeguard the harbor and the surrounding community for hundreds of years. It would be a shame if officials now abandon Charleston’s waterfront all for the Carnival Fantasy.”

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case are the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Preservation Society of Charleston.

In other proceedings, briefing continues in federal court concerning a permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a new cruise terminal in Charleston.  By characterizing the $35 million new terminal as a “maintenance” project, the Corps authorized the S.C. State Ports Authority’s terminal with no public notice or consideration of ways to reduce impacts on federally-protected historic sites and the environment.  SELC represents concerned citizen groups seeking open permit review so that options for harmonizing cruise operations with existing businesses and neighborhoods can be fully evaluated.

S.C. Supreme Court Requests More Information in Cruise Case

By Matt Tomsic
Published June 12, 2013

The state Supreme Court has asked attorneys to file briefs on two outstanding issues after dismissing three claims in a lawsuit filed against Carnival Cruise Lines over its Lowcountry operations.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines in June 2011 on behalf of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston. The city of Charleston and S.C. State Ports Authority also joined the lawsuit as defendants.
The lawsuit argues Carnival is breaking local zoning, nuisance and environmental permitting laws. The legal complaint has several counts and seeks to require Carnival to go through the processes required of other Charleston tourism businesses.

The state’s highest court took jurisdiction over the case in January 2012 and appointed Judge Clifford Newman as special referee in the case. The court asked Newman to hear arguments for preliminary motions by the parties and issue a recommendation on those motions, which he did in January, recommending the S.C. Supreme Court should dismiss a handful of city ordinance and environmental claims but keep the nuisance claims.

On June 5, the court acted on Newman’s recommendation, dismissing three claims regarding the city of Charleston’s noise ordinance; the city’s sign ordinance; and the S.C. Pollution Control Act. The court didn’t dismiss the lawsuit’s remaining claims.

The court also asked the parties to file briefs on issues of standing and the preemption of federal or state law on municipal zoning ordinances before it ruled on the remaining claims.

The briefs are due in early July.

“We are grateful to the Supreme Court for taking this important case in its original jurisdiction,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the ports authority, in a news release. “And we are optimistic that this action will lead to an expeditious resolution to the remainder of the lawsuit.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center was also happy with the decision.

“We are pleased that our seven strongest claims remain and look forward to showing that Carnival cannot ignore the rules every other business plays by in making Charleston a great city,” said Blan Holman, an attorney with the law center, in a news release. “We look forward to continuing to act on behalf of citizens to ensure that Carnival follows local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment, treasured historic assets and booming tourism industry — an industry that depends on balancing Charleston’s unique historic charm with sensible cruise ship operations.”

South Carolina high court tosses some claims, will rule on others in Carnival Cruise lawsuit

By Tyrone Richardson
Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 12:01 p.m.
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:01 a.m.

The S.C. Supreme Court has tossed several but not all claims in a lawsuit challenging Carnival Cruise Lines’ operations in downtown Charleston, saying it will issue a final ruling after lawyers submit more information.

The court has dismissed allegations that Carnival’s year-round cruises violate the city’s noise and sign ordinances. But it also requested new written arguments from attorneys by July 5 about whether the cruises are a public nuisance or violate city zoning rules.

In a case that has attracted national attention, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Coastal Conservation League and neighborhood groups sued two years ago, seeking to block cruise operations.

The high court said in a June 5 order that it agreed with the recommendations that a court-appointed referee made earlier this year, including tossing out allegations of that Carnival was violating sign and noise ordinances as well as a state pollution act.

The referee, Judge Clifton Newman, also said in his report that the plaintiffs should be allowed to argue that the vessels are a public nuisance based on noise and pollution and that they violate city zoning rules. The five-member Supreme Court has asked both sides to submit new briefs addressing those allegations within 30 days.

Carnival spokeswoman Aly Bello-Cabreriza declined to comment. Gordon Schreck, an attorney for the cruise line, said in an e-mail that the order was “self-explanatory.”

Blan Holman, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who filed the lawsuit, said he was glad the court is taking up the nuisance argument and the allegations that Carnival is running an accommodations business in an area not zoned for that use.

“We are pleased that our seven strongest claims remain and look forward to showing that Carnival cannot ignore the rules every other business plays by in making Charleston a great city,” Holman said in a statement.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Tuesday that he was “very pleased” with the latest order. Jim Newsome, SPA’s chief executive, also lauded the decision.

“We are grateful to the Supreme Court for taking this important case in its original jurisdiction, and we are optimistic that this action will lead to an expeditious resolution to the remainder of the lawsuit,” Newsome said in a written statement.

The SPA and the city are helping Carnival fight the lawsuit.

Jane Fishman: A trip to a cruise ship

When one of my favorite cousins — who decided to become a doctor in her early 40s — wrote and said she and her poet/bon vivant husband, both from Los Angeles, would be in Charleston, S.C., for a day and would I consider visiting, I said, “Mais oui! Of course!”

They would be arriving from Key West, Fla., and before that, points in Colombia, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica and Mexico.

My cousins are of the cruise ship culture.

“You can’t miss it,” said Sheila on my cell as I drove into Charleston on a misty, humid Tuesday. “It’s just down from the Old Market.”

How hard could that be?

“Can’t miss it,” the taxicab driver said at the service station, grinning slightly as if he had views to share about the “culture” but was keeping them to himself. “It’s 12 stories tall.”

“Right by the Custom House,” a police officer on Broad Street said.

“I know the rest,” I said. “I can’t miss it.”

I missed it. Every time.

Turns out I had another image in mind. I was looking for a boat. I was expecting a vessel, a ship, maybe even a very, very big ship.

Not a shopping center, a condominium complex, a commercial center, a strip mall, a block of concrete. (And this — the Crystal Symphony — is a midsize boat with only 900 passengers, not 1,500 or 2,000. Here, there was only one boat docked, not three or four.)

“I waved at you from our room when you were walking down the entryway with Michael,” my cousin said. “Didn’t you see me?”

Didn’t I see her? She was a speck, a dot, a smidgen on this white behemoth of a structure sitting absolutely still as if it were a permanent fixture on the horizon. I saw the water, sort of. I saw the beast. I did not see anyone waving at me.

I showed my passport (though previously vetted), emptied my pockets, left my driver’s license with the uniformed guard and entered another world. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before. I’ve never been anywhere with a karaoke bar, a well-stocked library, a bridge room, a computer room, a whirlpool, a sauna, a golf driving net, a cigar bar, a sommelier, a movie theater or a Las Vegas-style showroom under one roof. It’s a small city.

The library looked impressive.

“How many books have you read?” I asked.

Five for Sheila, three for Michael.

On our way to a restaurant that’s open all day, we passed many fine, upscale stores. By agreement with the port city, none are open when the ship is docked. Once it sets sail (well, that’s the terminology, but I doubt there are any actual sails), the shops open for business.

“Are you hungry? Want some coffee?” Michael said.

We headed to the buffet table of lox, croissants, fruit, bagels — and that was just the cold stuff. In minutes, a beautiful latte was delivered to the table.

When we finished, we got up for a spin around the ship. There was no bill. There’s never a bill.

The menus on the ship’s restaurants do not include prices. No one needs to carry money on a cruise ship. There’s no money exchange.

It’s all “handled” ahead of time. More food? More wine or beer (not the really good stuff; that costs extra)? Bring it on.

“A friend of mine likes to say after he got back from a cruise he went out to a restaurant and when he was finished he got up without paying,” Michael said. “The same friend said he had to remind his wife to put her napkin on her lap. Usually it’s the waiter who tends to such things.”

Or a butler, if you want to pay for it.

Later that day we left the ship — the efficiency of waiters cleaning the carpet, setting up for lunch, the conviviality of other guests — and headed to Charleston for lunch (though who could be hungry?) It was low tide, the sky a teal blue, the pluff mud a shiny, squishy gray.

I stopped to consider the sweet, pungent yet rotten-egg odor of the marsh and I wanted to take my shoes off and feel the mud in my toes.

I took a deep breath. My shoulders dropped three inches.

Then I thought about Savannah as a port for cruise ships. I thought about more horse-drawn carriages crossing Liberty Street, more tour buses ambling around the tender infrastructure of River Street, more multiple bicycle thingeys clogging up Bull Street, and my shoulders went up three inches.

When we parted, we hugged and kvelled (Yiddish for being happy and proud) and said how great it was to be with family, especially since we’re so spread apart.

“But if we do meet again on a cruise ship,” I told them, “Please, dear God, don’t let it be in Savannah.”

Jane Fishman’s columns appear weekly in Accent. Contact her at or call 912-484-3045.

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Cruise Ship Industry’s Environmental Record: Not Triumphant

Cruise lines are big on luxury, with an environmental impact to match. With outdated regulations and uneven cleanup efforts, there may be rough seas ahead for the industry (and the environment).


Much was made in the media about the days-long stranding of the Carnival Cruise ship Triumph this winter, after a fire disabled the ship’s power systems, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Passengers complained of having to defecate into plastic bags and other things one doesn’t expect to do on vacation. Then, while it was being repaired at an Alabama shipyard, high winds dislodged the boat from its mooring and sent it into the Mobile River, where it collided with a cargo ship and sustained further damage. A shipyard employee was blown into the water as well, and went missing.

The Triumph appears to be cursed. But the bigger blighting, over time, has been the environmental impacts left in the wake of many other cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation (which also owns Princess Cruise Lines, Holland America, Costa Cruises and a few other lines), Royal Caribbean and a handful of other cruise ship operators, dating back decades.

Polluted discharges (of sewage, grey water and oily bilge water) and air emissions are the chief sources of problems, but they also mark the biggest potential areas for improvement, says Marcie Keever, who directs the Oceans & Vessels Program for environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE). Keever also leads a yearly Cruise Report Card, which tracks the progress, or lack thereof, various cruise lines are making, year to year, in cleaning up their operations and complying with new environmental policies.

Over the past two decades, cruise lines have been cited and fined many millions of dollars due to significant missteps, from discharging sewage close to shore and dumping trash to spilling fuel and violating air quality standards. Knowing all this would take weeks of research were it not for the dogged efforts of Ross Klein, a professor in the school of social work at Memorial University of Newfoundland and a cruise industry watchdog. You’ll find a detailed list of environmental fines here and a summary of the largest ones here.

The late 1990s, says Keever, were the really dark days. “All these cruise lines were busted for discharging,” she says. “They were on probation for a decade, and that was a learning experience for them.”

Those lessons have been unevenly learned, however. For example, despite the fact the Carnival is the parent company of Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, the former appears at the top of the FOE report card, with a B+, while Costa landed an F.

To understand what does and does not constitute illegal behavior, here’s a very short primer.

The international standard is that no boats may discharge things like untreated wastewater within three nautical miles offshore. Ships are required to have treatment systems called marine sanitation devices, which settle out the solids and treat the liquid waste before it is discharged. The Coast Guard inspects ships, but beyond 3 nautical miles, “there really isn’t anyone watching what is coming out the tailpipe,” says Keever.

These federal standards for cruise ships were actually part of the Clean Water Act, but they’ve not been updated in more than 30 years, according to Keever. When the Clean Water Act was written, the cruise industry bore little resemblance to its current size – it has seen significant growth and the size and capacity of the ships mushroomed. The largest cruise ships now serve upwards of 6,000 guests.

In a 2009 report, Ross Klein wrote that Explorer of the Seas, a 3,000 passenger Royal Caribbean ship, produces “40,000 gallons of sewage, over 450,000 gallons of gray water, 4,000 gallons of oily bilge water, and as much as 19 tons of solid waste” each day. They’re floating mini-cities.

Like cities, they consume massive amounts of power. In his 2009 book Paradise Lost At Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations, Klein cites research showing cruise ships have a carbon footprint that is three times larger, per passenger, than a Boeing 747.

Air emissions have been another major concerns; ships have historically run on bunker fuel, which burns significantly dirtier than even diesel truck fuel.

“The Environmental Protection Agency put forward data that shows not only how damaging bunker fuel emissions are to public health in port communities, but also how far [these emissions] traveled inland,” says Keever. This finding pushed the U.S. and Canada to create an emissions control area that requires all ships to burn cleaner fuel within 200 nautical miles of shore – something that Keever says will prevent more than 10,000 early mortalities and save millions in healthcare costs.

FOE and other groups have lobbied Congress to pass comprehensive cleaner cruise ship regulations, but no dice. The State of Alaska, however, did take a proactive stance as it started attracting more and more cruise ships to its ports. It enacted a law requiring ships that ply its waters to install advanced water treatment systems that are designed to remove nearly all traces of really harmful bacteria, such as fecal coliform. It also monitors air pollution from ships and employs observers to ensure compliance. Maine, Washington, and California also have regulations that exceed federal laws.

The industry has not suffered a recent environmental catastrophe on par with the grounding of the Costa Concordia in a marine national park in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tuscany in early 2012, which left 32 passengers and crew dead. But Keever says the turbulent waters the industry finds itself in – from Costa Concordia tragedy to the stranded and battered Triumph – could have a side-effect of drawing more public attention to the flipside of the postcard-perfect vacations it advertises.

With more and more cruise lines pointing their ships toward the pristine waters of the lower Arctic region and with greatly discounted rooms being offered as the industry tries to return from its recent missteps, the environmental pressures are building.

Following the Triumph disaster, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller launched an inquiry into the event and Carnival’s overall safety record. His probing brought to the public’s attention that many cruise corporations are structured as foreign corporations that pay little in U.S. taxes despite the amount they rely on services such as U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and local municipalities that maintain the ports and land facilities they use here.

According to a 2011 New York Times article, from 2005 to 2010, Carnival Corporation “paid total corporate taxes — federal, state, local and foreign — equal to only 1.1 percent of its cumulative $11.3 billion in profits.”

Sen. Rockefeller has pressed Carnival to pay the government’s nearly $780,000 tab for rescuing the Triumph. He also sought payback for rescuing another of its ships in 2010. Carnival initially inferred it would not, noting the “maritime tradition” that any ship helps another in time of need. But the company has since agreed to pay for the rescues and says it is pledging $300,000 to make safety improvements to its fleet.

“We hope these disasters push the industry to clean up its act and be a more open industry than it has been,” says Keever, adding that more transparency will make FOE’s report card an even stronger tool for consumers. “If people are going to take a cruise – which continues to be an affordable choice, especially for families, we want them to vote for the best operators with their pocketbooks.”


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