A local Charleston South Carolina television station (WCIV ABC-4) is reporting that the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston is preparing to file a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines to make the cruise line subject to city and state regulations.
The lawsuit is the latest development in the debate about the suitability of cruise ships in this quaint old southern city. Many citizens are concerned with the scale of the cruise industry’s presence in Charleston, as well as air emissions, waste discharge, noise and passenger congestion.
The Coastal Conservation League and the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood are named as plaintiffs in the proposed lawsuit.
These groups in Charleston are wise to hold Carnival accountable to laws and regulations. Other than the states of Alaska and California, few places have taken steps to hold cruise lines accountable to public health and community standards. In March, we reported on a landmark legal decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that the state of California can regulate the shipping and cruise industries and require vessels that call on the state’s ports to use cleaner fuel.
One of the problems with the cruise industry is that cruise ship use diesel and nasty bunker fuels which spew toxic particulate matter into the air. Unlike most states, California requires that ships use cleaner fuel starting 24 nautical miles from California’s shore. The cruise industry unsuccessfully tried to avoid the public health law by arguing that it was not subject to state law.
Last year, Charleston went through quite an ordeal with the cruise industry when four consecutive sailings of the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship from its port were plagued by massive norovirus outbreaks until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a rare "no sail" order for the cruise line to clean up its cruise ship.
The South Carolina Post and Courier ran an interesting article "Norovirus Confirmed Aboard Mercury" which reported on the concern that the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship – with over 400 norovirus infected passengers – could infect people living in Charleston.
The newspaper reports that Katie Zimmerman, a project manager with the Coastal Conservation League, received frantic calls and e-mails from residents concerned not only about infected passengers entering the city but also about trash from the ship entering local waters.
Cruise ships like the Mercury can dump completely untreated sewage 12 miles offshore. Although the article concludes that waste from the Mercury poses no risk to marine life or people who eat local seafood, there is a risk of contaminated water infecting shellfish which filter-feed.
In this day and age, it is barbaric to think that hundreds of cruise ships routinely dump human waste into the sea. Cruise lines dump waste because they register their cruise ships outside of U.S. jurisdiction in places like Liberia and Panama which don’t care what the cruise lines do.
The thought of a cruise ship like the Mercury dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of norovirus infected feces just 12 miles offshore South Carolina is particularly disgusting.
Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are corporate felons for environmental crimes and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard. Trusting them to act responsibly is foolish. That’s why South Carolina is smart to protect its waters and its people by holding the cruise ships accountable to local regulations and ordinances.