Carnival to install air scrubbers on cruise ships

The Carnival cruise ship Fantasy is docked along Charleston Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Leslie Burden)
The Carnival cruise ship Fantasy is docked along Charleston Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Leslie Burden)
By Liz Segrist
Published Feb. 19, 2014

The Carnival Fantasy cruise ship will be retrofitted with pollution-reducing scrubbers beginning in October 2015 in an effort to reduce harmful emissions in Charleston, the S.C. Ports Authority CEO and President Jim Newsome said today.

The 25-year-old Carnival Fantasy that calls on the Port of Charleston will be outfitted with several exhaust gas cleaning systems, also known as scrubbers, to comply with new standards on sulfur dioxide emissions. Each ship is estimated to get three scrubbers, said Tom Dow, Carnival Corp.’s public affairs vice president.

Carnival Corp. reached an agreement with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard in September to install scrubbers on 32 cruise ships over the next three years. Newsome called it a “landmark agreement.”

The filtration systems scrub emissions like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter from the ships’ exhaust in an effort to reduce air pollution. The ports authority plans to work with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to install an investigatory air monitor at Union Pier Terminal.

“Mobile emissions reductions are the global standard of reducing emissions,” Newsome said at the ports authority board meeting Wednesday.

The maritime industry is required to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions within the Emissions Control Area, or the 200-mile zone around the U.S. and Canada designated by the International Maritime Organization in 2010.

A Carnival Cruise ship is docked along Charleston Harbor in this file photo
Scrubbing Emissions

Scrubbers will be installed on the 32 Carnival ships.

Ships in 2014

Ships in 2015

Ships in the first half of 2016

In 2012, the organization mandated that ships within the ECA must use fuel with sulfur content no higher than 1%. This will drop to 0.1% by Jan. 1, 2015. Compared to the current ECA standard of 1%, the worldwide sulfur limit is 3.5%.

ECA calls for low-sulfur fuel to replace the high polluting, diesel fuel that powers most cruise ships today. As of December, the Fantasy began burning fuel with 0.1% sulfur content during port stays in Charleston, which international law does not require until 2015.

Carnival wanted to test the scrubber technology since the costs are high to retrofit the ships and cruise terminals for shore power, Dow said. Newsome said the scrubbers are “superior to shore power” in terms of emissions.

Shore power enables a ship to plug into a permanent power supply while docked, allowing the ship to turn off its auxiliary engines and stop the burning of diesel fuel while in port.

Under the agreement with the EPA, Carnival will invest $180 million in deploying this technology. The scrubbers will work while the ship is in the ECA, Dow said.

The EPA thinks the scrubbers will enable the ships to be in compliance with sulfur emissions requirements, as well as reduce particulate matter and black carbon.

“These new controls combine the use of sulfur oxide scrubbers with diesel particulate filters — thus combining technologies well known in the power plant and automotive sectors, but not previously used together on a marine vessel,” the EPA said in a statement.

Coastal Conservation League Project Manager Katie Zimmerman said the league still advocates for shore power in Charleston.

“Despite today's announcement, while Carnival is experimentally retrofitting certain cruise ships with scrubbers, the EPA anticipates that these measures will have no impact on nitrogen oxides and are uncertain if there would be any reductions in harmful particulate soot or global warming gas emissions,” Zimmerman said in an emailed statement. “Available evidence indicates that shore power would reduce more pollution than filters or fuel switching.”

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, along with several Charleston City Council members, attended the ports authority meeting today. City Council plans to discuss some resolutions related to shore power and the cruise industry at its meeting Tuesday.

Shore power discussions
The news comes during “Shore Power Now” month, an effort by the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control and the Coastal Conservation League to educate the public on potential health concerns from cruise emissions.

“The cruise ship basically operates as a small city,” said Katie Zimmerman, project manager with the Coastal Conservation League. “All of the electricity runs off of diesel fuel. If we had shore power capability, the ship could shut off its engines completely and plug into the electric grid while at port.”

Carnival has deployed shore power installations at numerous ports along the West Coast, including Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

The environmental groups want the city of Charleston and the ports authority to implement shore power at the new $35 million cruise terminal in downtown Charleston where the Carnival Fantasy calls on the port.

Carnival considers the frequency of cruise ships calling on a port, the offshore or onshore wind presence, the demand on the electrical grid and the capacity of the grid when deciding whether to implement shore power. Carnival also considers whether an area is in air quality attainment with the EPA.

Carnival primarily has shore power installations on the West Coast because multiple cruise ships are calling on each port several days of the week. Charleston has a limit of 104 ships annually, which is likely too low to justify the costs of implementing shore power, Dow said.

Several of the West Coast cities also have air quality attainment issues, which Charleston does not.

“There’s a lot that’s been done by the industry and lots that will be done in the future. We’re on top of that. All we can do on Union Pier Terminal now is build a new cruise terminal ... and make a one-step cruise process that I think the whole community will be proud of in time,” Newsome said.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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