“If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center.”
Cruise lines promise their guests a dream vacation, but that tourism often means a nightmare in terms of environmental impact. Now a United States federal judge is threatening to ban one cruise line from using any U.S. port because of its flagrant disregard for environmental laws that it’s already on probation for breaking.
In fact, Judge Patricia Seitz says she wishes she could send the board chairman and president of Carnival Corporation to jail. “The people at the top are treating this as a gnat,” Seitz told the Miami Herald. “If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center for a couple of days. It’s amazing how that helps people come to focus on reality.”
What Seitz is referring to is Carnival’s noncompliance with environmental monitoring that’s required under a five-year probation that began in 2017. That, along with a hefty USD$40 million fine – the largest ever imposed by the U.S. for intentional vessel pollution – is part of a court-ordered penalty after ships in Carnival’s Princess Cruise line were caught dumping oil in the ocean for eight years.
They were finally stopped by a whistleblower, a new crew engineer, who in August 2013 reported the oil dumping in UK waters to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). The crew member got off in Southampton and quit, while the UK and U.S. authorities worked together to build the case.
Now, more than five years later, Carnival’s top company executives didn’t even bother to appear on April 10 for the hearing on their probation violation, and Seitz warned that she expects them to be there when she makes her final ruling in June. If she makes good on her threat, Carnival ships will not be allowed to dock at U.S. ports.
That’s a lot of U.S. ports, but Carnival Corporation is one of the biggest names in the global cruise industry and has 102 ships all over the world. The Company’s nine brands include Holland America Line N.V., Cunard, P&O Australia, the Germany-based AIDA and the Seabourn cruises on the Mediterranean.
The Friends of the Earth (FOE) rated 17 cruise lines and 171 specific ships in 2016, as part of their effort to raise awareness about the heavy footprint of these holidays. Seabourn, for example, got an “F” for its air pollution reduction and its corporate transparency; P&O got an overall “F” for air, sewage and more.
“Most travelers don’t realize that taking a cruise is more harmful to the environment and human health than many other forms of travel,” the FOE said. Their environmental advocacy counterparts at NABU in Germany published a 2017 report with findings that the emissions of one ship are like millions of cars.
Carnival has responded by saying that sustainability is its highest priority, but its track record of violations dates back to at least 2002. Among other things, the company has been cited for dumping plastic trash in the sea, and illegally discharging grey water into protected areas of Alaska, with obstruction of justice charges for trying to cover their tracks. Yet it’s by no means alone in posing a severe threat to the environment.
“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden of the U.S. Department of Justice, at the time of Carnival’s December 2016 guilty plea for the cruise line. “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better. Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well.”