Carnival Corp. is pouring more than $180 million into new technology to clean fuel exhaust on roughly a third of its fleet in an effort to meet strict air pollution standards off North American coasts that go into effect in 2015.
The Miami-based cruise ship company will announce the plan Thursday along with the Environmental Protection Agency, which along with the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada is supporting Carnival’s efforts to develop and install dual filtration and scrubbing devices on 32 ships. The EPA will allow Carnival to use standard fuel at sea while it tests the equipment rather than forcing the company to burn cleaner but more expensive fuel on the ships included in the program.
The move could open the door for Carnival to return ships to ports that is has recently announced plans to abandon due to fuel costs, including Baltimore and Norfolk.
While Carnival hasn’t yet identified all 32 ships to test the technology, they will come mostly from brands that spent a significant part of their time in waters around the U.S. and Canada: Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Two Cunard Line ships will also be included.
“It means that we’re going to be able to burn more economical fuel with a better environmental impact,” said Tom Dow, the company’s vice president of public affairs. “The outcome’s better, the cost is less. But in order to get there, you’ve got to commit a significant amount of time and money and effort to develop these things.”
Dow said the company’s fast-paced plan — installing more than 100 devices between 2014 and 2016 — is meant to show the approach is commercially viable. While so proprietary now that Carnival wouldn’t even reveal its development partner, the technology is eventually expected to be available to other cruise companies.
“There’s no doubt that Carnival is going big and they’re going fast, which I think demonstrates their faith in this technology solution,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality.
Carnival’s plan is the latest — and largest — announced by North American cruise companies, which are working to ensure they can comply with International Maritime Organization requirements that limit the sulfur content in fuel near shore. The new standards limit large oceangoing ships to fuel that contains a maximum of .1 percent sulfur by 2015 in specified zones that extend up to 200 miles from North American shores. The restricted area off South Florida is significantly smaller because of its proximity to the Bahamas.
An earlier phase of the crackdown, which limited sulfur to 1 percent, went into place in August of 2012.
A few other zones exist worldwide, including in the Baltic and North seas, but popular cruise destinations such as Australia, Asia, Mexico, the Mediterranean and most of the Caribbean are not covered by such restrictions. (The area surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will get its own zone in 2014.) By 2020, a global standard that places a limit of .5 percent sulfur will be in effect.
The EPA says air pollution from large marine vessels damages the environment and causes public health problems.
By 2020, the agency says, compliance with the emission control area standards are expected to annually reduce harmful nitrogen oxides by 320,000 tons and sulfur oxides by 920,000 tons — an 86 percent reduction. A decade after that, the agency forecasts that reductions associated with the emissions rules will prevent between 12,000 and 31,000 premature deaths.