The cruise industry has always struggled with its environmental image. The "big three" cruise lines (Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean) were fined tens of millions of dollars collectively in the 1990's and 2000's for dumping pollutants into the water and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cruise lines argue that their days of dumping at sea are over. But its hard to convince a skeptical public with YouTube broadcasting what is actually happening at sea. Like last year, when MSC crew members sent us several videos showing dumping of plastic bags off the mooring deck of a MSC cruise ship into a marine sanctuary at night.
The public is not as dumb as the cruise industry treats them. Calling yourself a guardian of the seas is not going to work when you are caught by cruise passengers and your own crew members dumping plastic bags into a marine sanctuary over the side under the cover of night.
The cruise industry should be embarrassed after YouTube videos are now showing the destruction of a coral reef in the Cayman Islands by an anchor and chain dropped by the Pullmantur Zenith cruise ship (an old ship last operated by Celebrity Cruises), owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Coral reefs and cruise lines, it seems, are as incongruous as cats and dogs. Just ask the formerly quaint little port of Falmouth, Jamaica where the port was dredged for Royal Caribbean's monster ships, the Allure of the Seas and the Oasis of the Seas to squeeze in, This required the destruction of some 35,000,000 cubic feet of coral reef and the annihilation of two square miles of mangroves which are now buried under pulverized reef material.
Last year, a Carnival cruise ship (the Magic) crushed a coral reef in the Caymans after a local pilot boat operated by Bodden Shipping Agency guided the Carnival cruise ship to anchor outside of the designated public port anchorage. You can read about that situation in Carnival Magic Crushes Coral Reef in Cayman Islands.
The Cayman Reporter described the situation as involving an "anchor on the reef rolling over the coral sending plumes of dust and broken coral in its wake." But the governing authority is the weak Department of the Environment of the Cayman Islands which did not even bothered to hold anyone responsible for last year's massive damage to the coral reef by the dropping of the Carnival anchor. The agency has already exonerated the Zenith cruise operator and the harbor pilot from negligence. Royal Caribbean then immediately took advantage of this free pass to defend itself from criticism on Twitter, tweeting: "When Pullmantur Zenith arrived in Grand Cayman it was directed to a government-designated anchorage spot, not in a protected area."
The fact of the matter is that live coral was directly under the Zenith cruise ship which made no efforts to verify the underwater conditions.
As the Huffington Post points out, the Cayman Islands' Marine Conservation Laws, seen on the islands' tourism website, state that "Damaging coral by anchor, chains or any other means ANYWHERE in Cayman waters is prohibited." This is clearly a case where the cruise line, the pilot agency and the Cayman's Department of the Environment should all be held accountable. Strict liability (i.e., no-fault liability) should always apply in matters this important.
The ultimate irony, of course, is that protecting the Cayman's beautiful reefs may well be a moot point. The country has decided to cater to the cruise industry's goals of building a large dock, so that cruise ships no longer have to tender passengers ashore, which will sit over the reefs. This will require extensive dredge and fill operations which will destroy large portions of the island's ancient coral reefs. Such is the result of a short sited, docile, tourism-dependent Caribbean nation trying to please its Miami coral-reef-destroying cruise line masters.
Video Credit: YouTube
December 16 2015 Update: Our article above was mentioned in Caribbean 360 - Investigation launched as video shows cruise ship damaging Cayman Islands reef.