What is the Clean Up Carnival Campaign?

The shipping industry’s use of toxic, bottom-of -the-barrel heavy fuel oil is a matter of grave concern for our climate, the health of passengers, and the employees onboard. And instead of turning to real solutions like investing in clean shipping technology, Carnival has decided to spend millions of dollars on false solutions like scrubbers (so it can keep using ultra-dirty heavy fuel oil) and new ships that just run on more fossil fuels — this time liquified natural gas.

We are pressing Carnival Corporation, the largest and most influential actor in the cruise sector, to take the lead and set industry environmental standards that others can follow. Simply put, Carnival needs to stop using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, Subarctic, and Alaska.

As the largest player in the cruise industry, Carnival Corporation has a responsibility, to both the people it serves and the planet it pollutes, to become an environmental leader by cleaning up its ships.

What can Carnival use instead?

Carnival could drastically reduce its black carbon, carbon, sulfur, and ultrafine air pollution – as well as eliminate scrubber discharges – by switching to cleaner, low-sulfur distillate fuel and installing appropriate pollution filters. Right now, there is nothing preventing the company from switching to cleaner distillate fuel; no new retrofits are needed for the engines, nor is there any new infrastructure needed. Such an easy change to make, with an immediate impact on environmental pollution, so how much better can it get?

Carnival should also be investing in zero emissions technologies to achieve long-term emissions reduction targets, rather than more fossil fuelled, fracked gas ships!

What is heavy fuel oil?

Heavy fuel oil is a toxic, bottom-of-the-barrel oil made from refinery waste sludge. On land, it’d be considered hazardous waste, but shipping companies like Carnival are allowed to use it to power its vessels. And because of this, it is dirt cheap at the expense of the planet. When heavy fuel oil is burned for ship fuel, it releases enormous amounts of black carbon, or soot. When soot settles on Arctic sea ice, it darkens the surface, causing it to retain heat – rather than reflect it. This accelerates the rate of ice melt, further amplifying the effects of global warming in a region that is already experiencing warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world.

It gets even worse. Due to its thick, tar-like nature, heavy fuel oil is more challenging to clean up than other petroleum products because it sinks to the ocean floor – where it can have a devastating and long-term impact on sea life. You see, heavy fuel oil persists in the environment for long periods of time, and can be carried by ocean currents far from the spill site.

What happens when there’s a heavy fuel oil spill?

In January last year, a tanker carrying 136,000 tons of condensate — a very light petroleum product — collided with a cargo ship. The tanker also had 1,900 tons of heavy fuel oil onboard for its own engines. The collision caused the tanker to catch fire and sink in the South China Sea. The condensate spill created one of the largest oil spills in decades. Weeks later, oil from the wreck began washing up on Japanese beaches — but it wasn’t the condensate. It was the thick, heavy fuel oil sludge that had persisted in the environment and carried on the ocean currents to threaten Japanese coral reefs and key fisheries. The Sanchi spill response was hindered by days of rough seas. The unfortunate reality is that many ship accidents happen during challenging weather and rough sea conditions, and nowhere is this more true than in the harsh and unpredictable Arctic and Subarctic regions. If spilled in the Arctic, an effective response would be all but impossible.

We were reminded of this reality in March 2019, when the world watched as a harrowing, high-risk rescue effort unfolded over many hours off the coast of Norway. The Norwegian luxury cruise liner, the Viking Sky, listed dangerously to 45 degrees – with complete engine failure and in waves over 26 feet with wind gusts up to 43 mph. Norway is one of the best equipped nations to conduct such a high-risk operation. For 10 hours, five helicopters worked to rescue those onboard the floundering cruise ship. A cargo ship attempted to assist the cruise ship, and its engines also failed leaving its crew members also in need of emergency rescue. Even with their heroic efforts, only 464 passengers of the 1373 people onboard, plus the nine cargo crew members, were able to be evacuated over the course of 10 hours in the intense storm.

The ship – loaded with 343 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 465 tonnes of diesel – came within 100 meters of grounding. Should that have happened, the human loss of life could have been catastrophic. Should there have been an oil spill in this harsh Subarctic region, an effective spill response in such conditions would have been impossible – even just off the coast of one of the most prepared nations in the world. The environmental damage would have been devastating and long-term.

Many Arctic nations and Arctic Indigenous leaders and organizations have called for an end to the use and carriage for use as ship fuel of heavy fuel oil into the Arctic. This is because in the event of a spill, this highly viscous oil would cause long-term irreparable damage to one of the world’s most fragile regions.

Yet, like the Viking Sky, most of the ships in Carnival’s global fleet are burning heavy fuel oil for some or most of their journey. And that means, like the Viking Sky, these ships have it onboard – which creates the spill risk that Arctic nations and Indigenous leaders are concerned about.

The International Maritime Organization has already banned ships from using heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic. So why isn’t it banned in the Arctic? Why are companies like Carnival Corporation still using heavy fuel oil to power its ships for any part of its journeys?

Why are scrubbers not a solution?

Open-loop exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS), or scrubbers, are problematic because they essentially just remove pollution from the air and discharge it into water. This effluent discharge contains harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and is often unacceptably acidic. Scrubbers are intended to remove SOX and NOX particles, but not CO2 or other pollutants.

For the past two years, Carnival has been on probation as part of a settlement for illegally dumping oil into the ocean…and lying about it. On April 11, 2019, news broke that within its first year of probation, Carnival “falsified records, dumped plastic garbage into the ocean and illegally discharged gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.” In addition, Carnival illegally discharged scrubber effluent in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and burned unfiltered heavy fuel oil inside Emissions Control Areas. These violations were due to a variety of problems, from system or equipment failures to human error and lack of adequate voyage planning.

Carnival is forcing scrubber technology to be something it’s not (environmentally friendly). Instead of depending on unreliable equipment to “clean up” one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, the company could instead simply switch to the cleaner marine gas oil (MGO) that is already compliant. And ultimately, Carnival could invest in zero emissions technologies instead of investing in an unreliable and faulty “solution.”

What is wrong with LNG as a bridge fuel for ships?

A true ‘bridge fuel’ is one that can quickly and easily be taken up by the industry, reducing short-term climate emissions, as the sector moves toward complete decarbonization. Nothing could be further from the reality of a ‘switch’ to liquified natural gas (LNG) — more appropriately called fracked gas — to power ships.

Very few ships are currently equipped to be powered by LNG. A shift toward using a fracked gas fossil fuel instead of an oil-based fossil fuel would require a massive infrastructure buildout to support it. It’d also need either massive retrofits to existing ships or newbuilds designed to run solely on LNG. Rather than a bridge, we would be building a massive barrier to a carbon-free future.

With unintentional methane emissions throughout the fuel cycle, from fracking wells to ship engines, the carbon savings from a switch to LNG are less than 10% at best. Methane is, unfortunately, a greenhouse gas that is 32 times more potent than carbon over a 100-year period. Some studies show that LNG could be even worse for the climate than the current petroleum products in use. A switch to fracked gas will not get Carnival to the carbon savings it must achieve to meet the target set by the International Maritime Organization of at least a 50% reduction by 2050 — much less zero emissions.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), within the next twelve years, we have to make “rapid, far-reaching, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to prevent catastrophic effects of global warming.” Time and monetary resources wasted on the false ‘solution’ of LNG only slows down progress toward meaningful reductions at a time when climate action has never been more urgent.