Carnival agrees to cut cruise ship air pollution

The world’s largest cruise ship company has agreed to use air pollution control equipment to clean exhaust from the giant diesel engines that power its vessels.

Carnival Corp. will install scrubbers to cut sulfur oxide emissions and filters to capture soot from 32 cruise ships over the next three years under a tentative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard, the EPA and Carnival announced Thursday.

Instead of using cleaner, but more expensive, low-sulfur fuel to cut emissions, some of Carnival’s ships will be outfitted with pollution-trapping technology used for years in power plants, factories and vehicles.

The devices were designed to reduce air pollution while fitting into cruise ships’ cramped quarters. When the company’s vessels are in port, they will turn off their engines and plug into the electrical grid or use low-sulfur fuel to limit pollution.

Ocean vessels are major contributors to air pollution in about 30 U.S. ports that are in violation of federal health standards. Yet their emissions went mostly unregulated until 2010, when the International Maritime Organization designated a buffer zone along the coasts of the United States and Canada where ships are required to reduce emissions.

The agreement on pollution-trapping technology, which exempts 32 of Carnival's cruise ships from requirements to use low-sulfur fuel, could bring about superior reductions in air pollution for less than half the cost, according to the EPA. Installing the scrubbers and filters will cost Carnival $180 million, the company said.

The agreement covers vessels operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard that spend most of their time near North America. If the scrubber technology successfully reduces emissions, the company said, they could be installed in more of its 102-vessel fleet, which carries about 10 million passengers a year.

Carnival is the latest of several cruise ship companies, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, that have agreed to equip their vessels with air pollution control devices.

Twitter: @tonybarboza

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