Port of Galveston leaders should make it abundantly clear to Carnival Cruise Line they expect a corporate partner, with which it does substantial business, to be a responsible environmental steward. Port leaders should insist on action by the cruise line, not more empty public relations babble.
More crucially, cruise passengers should make that clear to the Florida-based cruise line. Consumers, through their pocketbooks, have the power to reform a corporate system.
Along with the health of the Gulf of Mexico and oceans upon which Carnival passenger ships sail, much is a stake. Thousands of livelihoods depend on Carnival’s ability to continuing sailing from U.S. ports, including Galveston’s.
Three Carnival Corp. ships — the Freedom, Valor and Vista – travel out of Galveston to ports in the Caribbean, Mexico, Jamaica, Belize and Honduras.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz, of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, has threatened to block Carnival ships from docking at U.S. ports after assertions the cruise line repeatedly dumped waste into the ocean and lied to federal regulators about its actions despite being on probation for breaking environmental laws, according to a report published Tuesday by the Miami Herald.
The newly released data, which was collected and shared by a Miami newspaper, records more than 800 environmental compliance problems from April 2017 to April 2018, and includes incidents during which ships that sailed from Galveston dumped sewage, food waste and oil.
The environmental compliance report was written by a Washington, D.C. attorney appointed to oversee Carnival Corp. after it pleaded guilty to illegal dumping and a coverup in 2016. Carnival at the time agreed to pay a $40 million fine and to five years probation, and was ordered to undergo five years of court-supervised environmental compliance monitoring aboard 78 ships from its 101-ship fleet, according to the Miami Herald.
While on probation, Carnival Freedom, sailing from Galveston, discharged 123,368 gallons of “treated black water/sewage” and 1,637 gallons of food waste in Bahaman waters in June 2017, according to the report.
Carnival Cruise Line apparently didn’t learn an expensive lesson. Or perhaps it wasn’t expensive enough.
While on probation, according to court filings, Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary cruise lines “have sought to avoid unfavorable findings by preparing ships in advance of court-ordered audits, falsified records, dumped plastic garbage into the ocean and illegally discharged gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
“The company also has tried to lobby the U.S. Coast Guard through a back channel to change the terms of the settlement, prosecutors allege,” according to the Miami Herald report.
At a hearing earlier this month, Seitz mentioned a 45-minute presentation she received as a guest aboard Carnival Corp.’s ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn about how damaging plastic straws are to the marine environment.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m impressed,’ “ she said. “Obviously they talk the talk, but they’re not walking the walk.”
Seitz is set to decide in June whether the new report proves Carnival violated its probation, during which time she could decide whether to block Carnival ships from U.S. ports.
Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said the company would continue to attempt to meet the terms of its probation.
“Our environmental responsibility has been and remains a top priority for the company,” Donald said. “Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than we first arrived.”
If Carnival doesn’t shape up and Seitz does more than talk, the port and the island, which has invested many millions of dollars to build cruise ship terminals and accommodate passengers, stands to lose in the most painful way.
Members of the wharves board expect Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees to brief the board about what Carnival’s travails might mean for Galveston.
In reality, there’s only so much the Port of Galveston can do, short of severing its business relationship with Carnival, to get the attention of cruise lines. And no one wants to see that, leaving the port to do little more than some stern finger-wagging. Pressure must come from cruise passengers, who hold the real power. To believe cruise ship passengers don’t care about marine life and sustainable measures in the industry is to underestimate today’s consumer.
Earlier this month, Adam Goldstein, vice chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises and global chairman of Cruise Lines International Association, speaking at the associations’ annual conference in Port Everglades, Florida, spent most of his keynote talking about the environmental and sustainability side of the industry and how it likely would influence future sales discussions.
“It’s the challenge of being responsible stewards of sustainable activity, so that we maintain the wonderful privilege that we have of navigating the oceans of the world and bringing you and your customers to more than 1,000 destinations,” Goldstein told the audience, according to Travel Agent Central.
Let’s hope Carnival listens.
• Laura Elder