Before sailings resume, the cruise industry must regain the public’s trust. Here’s how.

Cruise ships must stop polluting our air and the climate, quit dumping waste into the oceans, and prioritize the health of crewmembers, passengers, and port communities.

Activists protest Carnival Corporation’s pollution impacts at the company’s Holland America cruise terminal in September 2018 in Seattle, Washington, with a floating polar bear sculpture and sign that reads “Carnival’s pollution: Bad news for polar bears.” Credit: Bernhard Uhl for

Now, a growing chorus of people, from residents living in port communities to former cruise workers and environmental advocates, are leading the charge to ensure cruise companies change their reckless behavior, once and for all.

If cruise companies want to set sail again, they need to heed society’s warning and clean up their act. It’s time to stop polluting our air and the climate, quit dumping waste into the oceans, and prioritize the health of crewmembers, passengers, and port communities.

Exhaust from Carnival Cruise Line’s cruise ship the Carnival Legend is seen billowing into the air in May 2017 at the cruise terminal dock in Seattle, Washington. Cruise ships have long relied on ultra-dirty heavy fuel oil to support the massive energy demands required to power these floating cities. Credit:

Profits over people and the environment

Due to the cruise industry’s role in spreading COVID-19, governments around the world forced a temporary shut down of cruise ship sailings. Many countries also rejected the sector’s plans to restart sooner, demanding they have a plan to handle future outbreaks on board. But so far, the plans that have been announced allowing cruises to resume later this summer do little to address two pervasive public health and environmental threats: ultra-dirty fuels and ocean dumping.

Despite traveling to some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world, cruise ships also have long operated with utter disregard for the people and places they visit.

The worst offender, Carnival Corporation, which owns multiple subsidiary brands including Princess and Holland America, has been convicted of 13 federal felony violations since the early 2000s.

Wanda Culp of the Huna Tlingit tribe in Alaska speaks at a press conference in February 2020 outside the National Park Service regional office in Anchorage, Alaska. Activists delivered a petition signed by 46,000 people asking the National Park Service to suspend cruise ship permits in Glacier Bay National Park — the ancestral lands of the Huna Tlingit — after Carnival Corporation’s Holland America cruise line was caught illegally dumping there in 2018. Credit:

Transformational change

In this current age of coronavirus and the looming threat of climate change, the cruise industry needs to fundamentally rethink how it pursues profits over people. Instead of images of cruise ships acting as petri dishes for disease, smokestacks billowing dirty fuels, and ships dumping toxic waste, cruise executives have a moral imperative to help the world envision a healthier, cleaner future for the cruise industry, one where ships don’t threaten public health and pollute our air, our oceans, and the climate.

If it wants to exist in our post-pandemic world, the cruise industry must undergo transformational change.

Cruise companies cannot stop at introducing protocols to deal with public health threats like COVID-19. They must also standardize pollution monitoring, prevent ocean dumping, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They must make the switch to the cleanest fuels available right now (we’re not talking about LNG) and further cut fuel use by implementing slow steaming and investing in renewable technologies.

We challenge corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect, because our lives depend on it.

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