Yesterday was Carnival Cruise Line’s fiftieth (50th) birthday.  The internet was filled with celebratory tweets and Facebook postings from Carnival cruise fans and travel agents extolling the cruise line’s “family fun and entertainment.”

There is no question that one thing this cruise line has successfully accomplished over the last 50 years is to market itself as a fun and affordable vacation for families on a budget.  From the first inaugural booze cruise on the Mardi Gras in 1972 through the 1980’s with Kathy Lee Gifford advertising “THREE-DAYS CRUISES WITH FREE AIRFARE for $395” (while singing “if they could see you now, on a fun ship cruise, that old gang of mine, eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine …”), Carnival has always promoted its cruise ships as the place for an inexpensive and carefree vacation at sea for the masses.

But just under the boozy facade of fun at sea is a corporation which has systematically polluted  the air and waters around the world for half of a century. Long ago, Carnival determined that it is far cheaper to dump oil overboard into the water than properly store the used oil for disposal in facilities ashore. The same is true for plastic single-use utensils, chemicals, brown water and, in some cases, black water (sewage). For fifty years, Carnival has treated the ocean as a large garbage dump.

It was initially easy for Carnival to get away with its environmental crimes. There was virtually no interest by the U.S. federal government in enforcing the few pollution laws which existed in the 1970’s and 80’s. By perfecting the business model of incorporating its cruise business outside of the United States (in Panama) and registering its cruise ships in feckless countries like Panama and the Bahamas, Carnival was able to avoid all U.S. income taxes, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety laws. Its headquarters in Miami, a location from which to launch its ships into the Caribbean, was largely just a convenient place for the founder, Ted Arison, and later his son, Micky (with a net worth in 2022 of around $10 billion) to live in waterfront mansions with yachts while socking away many billions of tax-free U.S dollars generated by its offshore business and cheap labor.

Ted Arison eventually renounced his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid estate taxes on billions of dollars and retired in Israel where there are no inheritance taxes.

The U.S. government finally began to notice Carnival’s illegal conduct and take action against it for the widespread dumping of oil and its use of illegal by-pass pipes on Carnival cruise ships in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In 2002, Carnival pled guilty to numerous felonies for discharging oily waste into the sea. Carnival routinely falsified oil record books in order to conceal its illegal practices. The U.S. government leveled a $18,000,000 fine and placed Carnival on probation. The Miami Herald reported that in the early 2000’s, Carnival Cruise Line and Carnival Corporation-owned Holland America Line were fined a “combined $20 million.”

About the same time, Miami’s “other newspaper,” the Miami New Times, published a number of articles revealing Carnival’s underbelly, including Carnival? Try Criminal – What happens when a female passenger is assaulted on a cruise ship? Not much …”   The article revealed the problem with crew members raping cruise guests and the lack of criminal accountability following such crimes. Nineteen years later, the Miami New Times published an article indicating that not much has changed on Carnival ships in the past two decades – Carnival’s per capita crime statistics for shipboard rape are higher than the rape rates for many states in the U.S.  Read: Carnival Has More Sexual Assault Reports Than Any Other Cruise Line, Statistics Show.

The per capita rate of sexual assaults on Carnival ships of 40 per 100,000 is a higher per capita rate than twenty states, including California, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia (and over a dozen other states). Read: Carnival Cruise Line Leads Cruise Industry with the Most Sexual Assaults. There is a direct correlation between excessive alcohol served on the fun ship and violence, in general, and sexual violence against women, in particular.  Bartenders and waiters on Carnival cruise ships are not paid a salary by Carnival and depend on tips and gratuities. “The bartenders are motivated to sell excessive amounts of alcohol in order to earn a living. There is no independent police force on these increasingly huge cruise ships. Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse in what is often a lawless environment.”

Twenty years ago, a well known and highly respected journalist named Jim DeFede, then employed by the Miami New Times, wrote a series of articles in which he asked the question “Is Mickey A Greedy Corporate Pig?”  DeFede also wrote “The Deep Blue Greed – The Arison Clan Built Carnival into a Money Machine by Cleverly Avoiding Tax Laws” and “Ten Questions for Micky.” These articles focused on the extraordinary steps which Carnival took to avoid paying taxes and oversight by the U.S. government while systematically underpaying its crew members and escorting them from the U.S. when they were injured or committed a crime against a guest.

But pollution has been Carnival biggest and most consistent crime. Miami senior federal district court judge Patricia Seitz fined Carnival Corporation a record $40,000,000 when its cruise ships were caught dumping oil via secret illegal by-pass valves. The scheme lasted from 2005 until 2013. Read: Miami Herald’s Carnival-owned ship caught in pollution scheme. Now they’re paying $40 million for it.

The Department of Justice had overwhelming evidence that Carnival engineers intentionally avoided the ships’ pollution systems in order to discharge the oil directly into the waters around the world for nearly a decade. And there’s no question that Carnival corporate executives were aware of the substantial savings due to the illegal pollution scheme.

Eventually, Carnival admitted and pled guilty to the environmental crimes of polluting the seas, as well as lying to the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal government and trying to cover up its scheme. It finally acknowledged its crimes in open court. Carnival Corporation and all of its cruise brands were then paced on criminal probation (where they remain today) and subjected to routine court ordered monitoring and supervision. Read: Deliberate Dumping, Cover-Up and Lies.

Carnival was forced to admit that in July of 2017, the Carnival Pride ship dumped 15 pounds of food waste into Half Moon Cay, the company’s private island used as a beach for cruise passengers. The Department of Justice’s investigation revealed that Carnival ships often also discharged large quantities of plastic items mixed with trash and garbage, in Bahamian waters among other locations. The Miami Herald also reported that the majority of the 500,000 gallons of treated sewage illegally dumped from Carnival owned ships occurred in Bahamian waters.

In the summer of 2019, Judge Seitz again sanctioned Carnival, this time for $20,000,000, after Carnival ships were caught discharging large quantities of plastics mixed with garbage and trash, as well as grey water, chemicals and other pollutants throughout Bahamian waters. It also dumped chemicals in a U.S. national water park in Glacier’s Bay, Alaska, among other locations.

By the fall of 2020, the court appointed monitor (“CAM”) informed Judge Seitz that Carnival “appears to be among the few corporate defendants to have violated the terms of a corporate probation so significantly that it faced probation revocation proceedings by the Office of Probation.”  The CAM’s interim report, which can be viewed here, details multiple findings of ongoing environmental violations and non-compliance with the Court’s environmental compliance plan (“ECP”).

By all accounts, the $40,000,000 and $20,000,000 fines were grossly inadequate to convince Carnival to change its illegal ways. Carnival Corporation collected over $3,200,000,000 (billion) in profits from over $20,000,000,000 (billion) in gross revenue in 2019. These monetary fines were just proverbial drops in the bucket. Judge Seitz had raised hopes that a more significant sanction would be entered when she stated during a conference that she was contemplating prohibiting Carnival cruise ships from calling on U.S. ports as punishment for Carnival continuing to pollute. She also mentioned the possibility of imprisoning some of the Carnival cruise executives for violating her prior orders. But in the end, the Court levied just these relatively non-consequential fines.

Not surprisingly, the Court was forced to fine Carnival a third time, just three months ago, when it imposed a $1,000,000 penalty for the ongoing violation of the Court’s authority. Among many other findings, the U.S. Department of Justice stated that Carnival has “a culture that seeks to minimize or avoid information that is negative, uncomfortable, or threatening to the company, including its top leadership (i.e., the Board of Directors, executives and brand presidents/CEOs).”

In addition to dumping oil, plastics, and chemicals in the oceans, Carnival Cruise Line and its parent. Carnival Corporation, have systematically polluted the air and sea on an ongoing basis, first by billowing low grade / high sulfur bunker fuel fumes from the funnels of its ships, and currently by dumping toxic waste water sludge from its “scrubbing” devices (which are theoretically intended to reduce air pollution). Read: Smoke and Mirrors: Cruise Line Scrubbers Turn Air Pollution Into Water Pollution.

Carnival Corporation embarked on a misleading public relations campaign with a pro-scrubber website. It argues that scrubbers, which it calls “Advanced Air Quality Systems,” are an effective way to reduce sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

In reality, sulfur, heavy metals, and other toxic wastes are either washed overboard or collected as sludge after many thousands of tons of water are sprayed in the stacks of Carnival ships which are still burning high-sulfur fuel. This sludge, which should be brought ashore for proper disposal, is often dumped at seas causing significant water pollution.

Trusting Carnival to operate a clean and law-abiding business has proven to be futile. Carnival and other Carnival Corporation cruise brands have a long history of illegally discharging oily water, chemicals, bilge water, grey water, chemicals, and food mixed with plastic items, trash and garbage from numerous ships around the world, even while on probation. Every single status report by the CAM over the course of its five year pobbation has documented substantial environmental violations. Given the tendency of Carnival owned ships to dump waste products overboard, rather than incur the expenses of collecting, storing and properly disposing the pollutants ashore, the continued dumping of toxic scrubber sludge appears to be a certainty.

If anyone believes that Carnival has recently improved its treatment of the environment, please read the Court Appointed Monitor’s (263 Page) Fifth Annual Report (filed last month) outlining Carnival’s continued violation of environmental laws and the the Court’s Environmental Protection plan.

Many cruise fan bloggers published articles and posts yesterday about Carnival cruise ships meeting in ports like Nassau and Cozumel to celebrate Carnival’s 50th birthday. Popular cruise fan and blogger Doug Parker’s Cruise Radio, for example, published an article showing members of Bahamian governmental leaders, including the Bahamian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, along with Bahamas tourism industry leaders and Carnival executive Christine Duffy cutting a 50th birthday cake for Carnival alongside the sounds of a traditional Bahamian Junkanoo Band.


The Bahamas has suffered from more than its share of illegal dumping of plastics and sewage from Carnival’s ships over the years. The Carnival birthday celebration in Nassau, which shows the disturbing spectacle of Bahamian leaders smiling and posing for photos with the executive of a cruise line which dumped massive quantities of plastic and garbage and a half million gallons of sewage into its sovereign waters, is particularly jarring.

But such is the nature of the relationship between Carnival and small, beholden port countries in the Caribbean. The port countries are powerless to stop the air and water pollution from the increasingly massive Carnival cruise ships which crowd into their ports.

Of course, cities in the U.S. are also unable to stop the over-sized polluting Carnival ships from calling on their ports, even when their citizens have decided to limit the size of cruise ships. Take, for example, the tiny port of Key West which remains on Carnival’s itinerary even though Key West citizens voted overwhelmingly to stop large cruise ships, including Carnival ships, from calling. The drafts of the Carnival ships are far too deep for the waters of the Florida Keys and churn up silt which covers surrounding reefs as the Carnival “fun ships” tear through the channel to the small port.

We can only hope that over the next fifty years, the federal court in Miami imposes more significant fines and penalties against this recidivist corporate felon, including jail time for Carnival’s executives. The court should also be prepared to bar Carnival ships from calling at U.S. ports, in order to enforce environmental laws which Carnival has flaunted for far too long.

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Carnival Elation – Cayman News Service; bottom – Carnival Freedom – Cayman  News Service; Carnival Freedom – Photographer wishes to remain anonymous; birthday photo of Bahamian leaders and Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy – Carnival PR via Cruise Radio.