Consider This | Dumping in The Bahamas, pt. 1
“I could cut my leg off; I could cut my arm off. I could gouge my eye out – I’d still probably survive, but not very well, and that’s what we’re doing to the ocean. It’s the life support system of this planet. We’ve been dumping in it, we’ve been polluting it, we’ve been destroying it for decades, and we’re essentially maiming ourselves.”
– Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
This past week, Bahamians awoke to reports that several Carnival Corporation (Carnival) cruise ships had discharged nearly 500,000 gallons of treated sewage into Bahamian waters in 2017. This is truly alarming and represents a fear that many Bahamians had for many years.
The cruise industry has grown exponentially over the past few decades, with more tourists visiting our shores via cruise ships for relatively short stays as compared to those who visit The Bahamas by air and stay over. The revelations this week regarding Carnival’s assault on our country begs the question: How many other similar incidents have been committed by Carnival over the years and the myriad of other cruise lines that annually transport hundreds of thousands of tourists through Bahamian waters?
Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider this… what is the extent of the dumping of passenger waste by the cruise industry in Bahamian waters?
Carnival contempt for our marine environment
This week, we learned that several Carnival cruise ships discharged nearly 500,000 gallons of treated sewage, which is referred to as “black water”, into Bahamian waters in 2017. It was noted that, just in June 2017, more than 450,000 gallons were discharged in The Bahamas. We learned about Carnival’s dumping from Steven Solow, who was appointed by United States District Court Judge Patricia Seitz to monitor Carnival’s adherence to its environmental compliance plan (ECP) following that corporation’s conviction and fine in U.S. court.
In 2016, Carnival pleaded guilty to several charges stemming from illegally dumping oily bilge water into the ocean between the years 2005 to 2013. Carnival also admitted to its systematic coverup of the illegal actions. Carnival was fined $40 million by the U.S. court and put on a five-year probation, which included Carnival’s development and implementation of an environmental compliance plan (ECP). Steven Solow recently submitted his first annual report, covering his findings from the first year of the ECP’s implementation. Solow’s report was released by Judge Patricia Seitz.
According to Solow’s report, in reference to an incident on the Carnival Elation: “Approximately 1,270 cubic meters of treated black water and 22 cubic meters of comminuted food waste were discharged inside Bahamian waters in violation of MARPOL and company procedures between June 4, 2017, and June 16, 2017.”
Referring to an incident on the Carnival Freedom, the report added, “Approximately 467 cubic meters of treated black water/sewage and 6.2 cubic meters of comminuted food waste was discharged inside Bahamian archipelagic baselines between June 13, 2017, and June 15, 2017, due to misinterpretation of Bahamas baselines.” One cubic meter is approximately 264 liquid gallons; 467 cubic meters is 123,288 gallons of black water and 6.2 cubic meters is 1,638 gallons of food waste.
In two separate incidents, which occurred between June 2 and June 3, 2017, Solow reported that the Carnival Ecstasy and the Carnival Conquest discharged food waste and treated black water within 12 nautical miles of Bahamas archipelagic baselines on eight occasions.
Again, on June 15, 2017, several ships improperly discharged comminuted food waste and treated black water within the 12-mile baseline. The ships included Carnival Liberty, Carnival Magic, Carnival Vista and Carnival Conquest.
On July 15, 2017, “treated black water was potentially discharged” from the Carnival Splendor inside the Bahamian baseline due to the accidental opening of an overboard discharge valve.
The report said on July 23, 2017, the Carnival Vista, while sailing through the Old Bahama Channel, “accidentally discharged” four cubic meters of comminuted food waste and 100 cubic meters of treated black water.
“Crew was aware of baseline issue, properly planned and briefed multiple times,” the report said. It added, “When the officer on watch realized the mistake, he immediately stopped all discharge operations and self-reported… This incident was caused by a separate human error and not a fundamental misunderstanding of the baseline restrictions.”
On October 21, 2017, the Carnival Conquest “unintentionally discharged 50 cubic meters of treated sewage and five cubic meters of comminuted food waste” in Bahamian waters.
The report noted that on November 26, 2017 after departing Nassau, while discharging wastewater from sinks, showers, laundry and the kitchen, 15 to 20 cubic meters of black water was accidentally discharged by the Carnival Victory.
The report referred to other instance where Carnival violated its ECP and internal policies.
In October 2017 the cruise line also burned heavy fuel oil (HFO) in an emission control area (ECA) in Bahamian waters after the exhaust gas cleaning systems (ECGS) on the Carnival Ecstasy shut down while underway to Princess Cay off Eleuthera.
“The ship burned HFO for three hours and 24 minutes without the EGCS, resulting in a violation of the North American ECA requirements and MARPOL Annex VI,” the report said.
“Four alarms related to the EGCS were activated but were not acknowledged due to a lack of situational awareness to call for assistance.
“The engineer officer of the watch stated there were too many alarms sounding at the same time, and he misjudged the importance of the EGCS alarm.”
In his report, Solow said, “While these incidents are concerning, the company’s deeper and more pressing barriers to compliance relate to its larger corporate governance and culture issues.”
Solow noted that the company’s internal investigations were “critically flawed”. He observed, “There is no consistent, reliable means to investigate incidents or near misses and identify root causes that can lead to meaningful corrective actions.”
Solow’s report cited complex corporate culture, the culture of blame and the lack of a learning culture as “unresolved barriers” to improvement at Carnival Corporation.
There is absolutely no question that Carnival has abused our environment and all Bahamians should be deeply concerned as to how many other abuses go undetected. An even more pressing concern is how much damage is being done to Bahamian waters by the other cruise line companies that go undetected because no one is minding the shop.
There is an urgent need for the government to act to protect our environment, to more closely monitor the cruise industry and to impose painfully harsh financial fines and imprisonment on the culprits who have no regard for our marine environment. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Can Carnival be trusted?
In light of these blatant abuses of our environment, the important question that must urgently be addressed is whether Carnival can be trusted to protect our environment. The evidence presented in Solow’s first annual report is: absolutely not. So what do we do? Reward Carnival with more opportunities to invest in our country?
Carnival’s plans for future developments
In February, Carnival and The Bahamas government announced the development of a new cruise port in Grand Bahama. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said this development would provide more than 1,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs for Grand Bahama. This project has been touted as a much-needed catalyst for economic growth on that island.
However, the government should send a very strong message to Carnival Cruise Lines that it will not begin any negotiations with them until it has paid the Bahamas government for the documented violations reflected in Solow’s report.
In addition, the government should not allow the Carnival cruise port in Grand Bahama to proceed until and unless the government is satisfied that the deficiencies noted in Solow’s report have been satisfactorily addressed. And in this case, it must be an independent arbiter who presides over this process. We simply cannot trust the government or any of its agencies to act in our best interest in this matter because they are motivated by the urgent need to promote the Grand Bahama cruise port.
We need to fully accept that it is up to us to patrol and police our marine environment, which is one of the main attractions for our visitors, whether they come by sea or spend time in land-based accommodations. We cannot depend on others to respect our country’s resources. This is not their home so they do not worry about preserving our fragile environment for future generations. In fact, truth be told, they really do not care about what they do in any waters through which they sail.
We must, as Phillipe Cousteau, Jr. says, understand that, by standing by and allowing the destruction of our ocean to take place without any punishment, we are “essentially maiming ourselves” and, by extension, damaging our future beyond repair. We must recognize that the long-term preservation of the natural, God-given resource of our ocean must outweigh any short-term investment. A clear-eyed government must put our solid future triumphs ahead of any ephemeral present achievements and act swiftly and decisively to punish those who would destroy that future.
Our ocean deserves that kind of stewardship – and so do we.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.