Will the Oil Spill Impact Cruises Out of Galveston?

July 10, 2010
Will Your Cruise Be Impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill?
Update, 8:15 p.m.: Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen says all of the line's ships are still sailing as planned and have not yet been impacted by oil.

What's the issue?
(July 6, 5 p.m. EDT) -- The Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to spread in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the weekend, tar balls from the slick reached the shores of Galveston, homeport to two Carnival Cruise Lines ships.

According to a spokesperson from the U.S. Coast Guard, tests confirmed that tar balls collected from the Crystal Beach area of the Bolivar Peninsula on Saturday and Galveston's East Beach on Saturday and Sunday came from the Deepwater Horizon spill. It is still unclear, however, how the balls arrived in Texas.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm told Cruise Critic that the consistency of the tar balls indicates that they traveled to Texas by way of ship rather than natural Gulf current. "If the balls had traveled 400 miles on their own, they would have weathered a lot more, been a lot tougher. What everyone's guessing is that they were sucked up in the ballast water of a ship," noted Officer Brahm, "and carried here that way."

Decontamination areas have since been set up off the Port of Galveston, and Brahm added that the general consensus from authorities is that it's unlikely that the oil will impact shipping off the shores of Texas. All Galveston beaches and Southeast Texas waterways remain open.

Tar balls from the spill have also reached Alabama, beaches near Pensacola, Florida, as well as near the cruise ports of New Orleans and Mobile.

Still, Gulf cruisers continue to ask, "Will my upcoming cruise be impacted?" and spokespersons for Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line today reaffirmed that cruises have been departing on schedule. As always, changing weather patterns and currents could impact how close the oil comes to cruise ports and future departures could be affected.

Which ports and ship could be impacted?
Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Conquest are currently the only two ships sailing out of Galveston, the last of five Gulf States to be affected by the oil spill. Carnival Conquest, currently in the midst of a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise, is due back in Galveston on July 11, and Carnival Ecstasy, in the middle of a five-night Western Caribbean sailing, is due back to Galveston on July 10.

Meanwhile, Carnival Elation, which sails from Mobile, has high priority at the decontamination center should it need its hull cleaned, but Carnival representative Vance Gulliksen said that the ship has not needed any such cleaning so far -- and that Carnival ships have been able to successfully sail around the spill. Sheila H. Gurganus, general manager for the Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal, reaffirmed that the port has not yet been impacted and that Alabama is doing everything possible to make sure oil is kept out of Mobile Bay. "We've had more than 2,600 passengers on every cruise in June. Haven't had an un-full ship yet," she added.

In addition to ships that cruise out of Galveston and Mobile, we're keeping a close eye on ships that call on Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas, as well as those that turn around regularly in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, New Orleans and Tampa.

What's the cruise impact?
Carnival -- which sails from Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Florida ports -- reports that "ships sailing from New Orleans and Mobile are making slight course alterations as necessary to avoid the most heavily impacted spill areas. There are no impacts to cruises out of Galveston or Florida ports at this point."

What should I do?
At this time, all cruises are sailing as usual; stay tuned.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor