French court fines Carnival Corporation for illegally burning dirty fuel, throwing cruise company’s abysmal environmental record under a spotlight

International group Stand.earth calls on cruise giant to reduce its climate, human health impact by transitioning away from using heavy fuel oil to power its ships

Arctic Cruise

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — A captain for a Carnival Corporation-owned P&O Cruises ship was fined €100,000 today in France for burning bunker fuel with sulphur levels above the European limit — the first such ruling in France and an indication of a new intent among European countries to tackle pollution from cruise ships. The fine comes on the heels of multiple violations this summer in Alaska, where 6 of the 8 ships cited by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation for violating air quality standards were Carnival Corporation brands. 

Since 2016, international environmental organization Stand.earth has called on cruise giant Carnival Corporation to reduce its environmental and human health impacts by transitioning away from burning heavy fuel oil to power most of its ships. Heavy fuel oil, also called bunker fuel, is the dirtiest fossil fuel available for marine transportation.

Heavy fuel oil is a thick, bottom-of-the-barrel sludge that is left over from the refining process. When burned, it releases enormous amounts of toxins, heavy metals, greenhouse gases, and black carbon (or soot) into the atmosphere. Carnival Corporation relies on heavy fuel oil largely because it is dirt cheap.

“Illegally burning bunker fuel in France is yet another black mark on Carnival Corporation’s abysmal track record of violations. Carnival’s use of heavy fuel oil to power its ships harms human lives and threatens our climate. The cruise giant has the power to change the type of fuel it uses today to a cleaner-burning fuel. This move would benefit Carnival’s passengers and the cities and ports its cruise ships visit, and address the growing threat of climate change,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner at Stand.earth.

Air pollution is becoming an increasing concern for global health officials, with the head of the World Health Organization calling air pollution “the new tobacco.”

Air pollution related to ship exhaust from the global shipping industry is well-documented. A 2018 study attributed up to 400,000 annual premature deaths from lung and cardiovascular disease to ship engine exhaust. And a 2018 investigation measuring air pollution from cruise ships in Greece prompted the British Heart Foundation to issue advice in September telling cruise passengers to avoid standing downwind of the ship’s smokestacks.

“It’s not about toeing the line, it’s about doing the right thing. Carnival knows it can use a different fuel to power its ships — a fuel that will have fewer human health and climate impacts. The only reason Carnival is not doing so is because it costs more. Instead, we’re seeing situations like the recent fine in France, which shows that instead of being the environmental and human rights leader it imagines itself to be, Carnival continues to put human health and the climate at serious risk,” said Ulrich.

At the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) this October in London, more than a dozen member states gave their support to commence work on developing a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters — where a spill of this type of fuel would be impossible to clean up. However, the ban would likely include an exemption for cruise ships that install sulfur scrubbers. 

Also during MEPC 73, a delegation of Arctic Indigenous leaders and the Clean Up Carnival coalition delivered a petition signed by 104,000 people to Carnival Corporation executives at its UK headquarters in Southampton, demanding that it cease burning heavy fuel oil in its global fleet, starting in the Arctic and Subarctic. 

“This latest violation demonstrates the urgency with which Carnival Corporation must give up its heavy fuel oil addiction. As long as heavy fuel oil remains on board cruise ships, there will be the temptation to burn it to save money — even where it’s illegal to use,” said Ulrich.

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Media contact: Virginia Cleaveland, Press Secretary, virginia@stand.earth510-858-9902 (US), 778-984-3994 (Canada)