Carnival reverses plan to depart Baltimore port

Environmental regulations had driven cruise line toward Florida

  • Carnival Cruise Line's ship Carnival Pride sails past the guns at Fort McHenry.
Carnival Cruise Line's ship Carnival Pride sails past… (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore…)
January 30, 2014|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Pride will only leave the port of Baltimore for a few months.

Carnival Cruise Lines announced Thursday that its Carnival Pride cruise liner will return to the port of Baltimore in March 2015, after only a brief stint in Florida, thanks to new technologies that will help the ship meet federal emissions standards.

Its return limits the economic impact of a decision in June, when the Miami-based company said it would move the Pride to Tampa starting in November 2014 due to increased costs of operating in coastal waters under the new regulations.

It also allows the world's largest cruise company to continue tapping the lucrative customer market in the Baltimore-Washington region. It secures hundreds of jobs at the port, where the line's business produces an estimated $50 million a year in economic value to the state, officials said.

"We're really excited that things have worked out so that we'll be able to return," said Terry Thornton, Carnival's senior vice president. "The Baltimore market is really important to us."

The Pride will depart in October for Tampa, where it will be drydocked through November as emission controls and other upgrades are installed, Thornton said. It will operate out of Tampa until March 2015, when it will return to Baltimore.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who announced the decision along with Carnival and port of Baltimore officials in Annapolis, said in a statement that retaining the cruise line in the state "will keep family-supporting jobs in Maryland and allow a greener Carnival Pride to return to this thriving cruise market."

The Pride became the first ship to operate year-round cruises out of the port of Baltimore in 2009, launching an industry that now supports about $90 million in economic activity each year, including hotel reservations, restaurant dining and other local spending, according to O'Malley's office.

The other ship operating out of the Cruise Maryland terminal in Locust Point is Royal Carribbean's Grandeur of the Seas.

Last summer, however, Carnival decided to move the Pride to Tampa after the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard outlined new standards for limiting emissions from ships in coastal waters.

Under international environmental regulations, cruise and cargo vessels must use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel or install equipment that "scrubs" or cleans fuel exhaust in coastal waters, bringing it to acceptable emission levels before it is emitted into the air. The burning of so-called "bunker" fuel — an inexpensive fuel high in suflur — by ships is considered a leading source of pollution in ports around the world.

The International Maritime Organization already requires oceangoing ships to burn low-sulfur fuel within 200 nautical miles of U.S. and Canadian coasts. And starting in 2015, ships are supposed to burn fuel with 90 percent less sulfur.

The EPA has said the emissions limits will prevent thousands of premature deaths nationwide and save millions in health care costs for treating respiratory illnesses associated with the particles and gases released when cruise liners and other ships burn low-grade fuel.

Cruises out of Baltimore, which travel out of the Chesapeake Bay and down the coast, spend much of their time in coastal waters where the new standards will apply. Cruises out of Tampa generally spend just a few hours in coastal waters, Thornton said.

Thornton said Carnival already uses fuel with lower sulfur in Baltimore, but scheduled the shift to Tampa because it feared it would be unable to meet the full EPA requirements in time to operate cruises out of Baltimore in 2015.

"It was more of a timing issue than anything else," he said, noting cruises out of Baltimore have been wildly successful and were never something Carnival wanted to abandon.

While it is drydocked in a shipyard, the Pride will be retrofitted with pollution controls to limit its sulfur emissions, Thornton said, including "scrubbing" technology to directly remove the pollutant from exhaust gases.

With the state-of-the-art emissions control technology in place, Carnival will be eager to get the 2,124-passenger Pride back into the Baltimore market, he said.

Cruises out of Baltimore are routinely full, and a higher percentage of their passengers are first-time cruisers, which Thornton described as a "really important" demographic. The Baltimore trips are also accessible to millions of people who don't like to first fly to a southern destination to reach a departing ship.

"All of that just goes away," Thornton said. "We get so many emails, so many letters, so many comments from our guests saying how convenient and affordable it is to sail from Baltimore."

The news of the Pride's quick return to Baltimore was cheered by port officials, who have been working since the summer to bring Carnival back, and see growing potential in Baltimore's cruise industry.

"Professionally and personally, I'm very pleased," said James White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

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