An initial 32 Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Cunard ships are expected to test and install newly developed filtration and scrubbing devices – which are designed to meet Environmental Protection Standards of cutting sulfur emissions to .1 percent – by 2016, said line spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. “Carnival Corp. is in the process of making final determinations” on which ships will get the technology first, she said.
As Cruise Critic has reported, the low-sulfur fuel requirements of the North American Emission Control Area (known as ECA), have had wide-ranging effects on the cruise industry and the ports that benefit from it. Within the 200-mile nautical border, which runs from the tip of Labrador in Canada around the bottom of Florida, to Texas on the East, from California to Alaska on the West Coast and Hawaii, ships must switch to low-sulfur fuel by Jan. 1, 2015.
Most vessels currently use fuel with no more than 1 percent sulfur, the result of an earlier EPA change. With the scrubbers, cruise lines will receive an exemption that allows them continue to use the heavier fuel – which is significantly cheaper – than that with the .1 percent limit, while still meeting the required environmental goals.
The regulations have altered popular routes that lie squarely within the ECA zone. In June, Carnival announced that they would pull ships from Baltimore and Norfolk in 2014 and dramatically reduce the number of Atlantic Canada cruises. "Itinerary operating costs including fuel costs are a factor in our deployment decisions," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said at the time. “(ECA requirements) would significantly impact our fuels costs for operating cruises from Norfolk and Boston and many other ports around North America."
So will Carnival return to these ports, once the scrubbing technology is implemented? “At this time, Carnival Cruise Lines has not made any new modifications to previously announced ship deployment plans,” de la Cruz said. “The cruise line will, however, factor in today's announcement as future deployment decisions are made.”
Other cruise lines have also been preparing their ships for ECA. Norwegian Cruise Line announced in July that its upcoming newbuild ships, codenamed Breakaway Plus and Breakaway Plus II, would each feature five scrubbers. The ships debut in October 2015 and early 2017, respectively. Royal Caribbean has also announced that scrubbers will be installed on newbuilds Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas; they have already been tested on Liberty of the Seas and Independent of the Seas, according to the company's blog.
Carnival Corp's entry into their ranks is a significant one – not only because the company is the world's largest – but because implementation of the scrubbers may likely keep operating costs, and thus cruise prices, down. The Miami Herald has also reported that if successful, the proprietary technology is expected to be available to other cruise companies.
“Today's announcement is a significant milestone involving the next generation of scrubber technology,” de la Cruz said. “Carnival Corp. has been an industry leader in this space with early pilots of the technology on both Holland America and Cunard along with a robust solution being implemented by AIDA, the company's German cruise line.”
--Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor