By FREDERICK R M SMITH, QC
Full disclosure: My law firm, Callenders, acts for Carnival in the Freeport Grand Port project. That being said, I hope the reader will press on. And, before my colleagues and environmental warriors accuse me of “singing for my supper”, I remind them I have plenty of banquets to feast on. I don’t need Carnival for income. I was THE most vocal opponent of Carnival’s project in East GB until they converted to Freeport. I believe in the benefit of the project.
I have been an ardent environmental and human rights advocate since I could reason. I have been a card carrying member of Greenpeace and Amnesty since 1969. I am also a realist. My firm also acts for Disney and has acted for the Grand Bahama Port Authority Group of companies and many industrial businesses and developers. People need jobs and economic opportunities. Protecting the environment and sustaining opportunities for continued improvement for the lot of seven billion human beings can, with increased awareness, go hand in hand.
The media and especially the government should stop picking on Carnival. Going by the headlines of late, you’d think the company is the sum of all evil, the devil incarnate, gleefully and intentionally causing environmental damage at every turn.
Let’s be real. Is it fair, comparatively, for politicians and environmentalists to whale down on Carnival when it self-reports accidental dumping of food miles out to sea, yet applaud Equinor for being a model citizen after spilling five million gallons of oil in Grand Bahama’s water table (yet only killing 3 seagulls and 1 goat)? And salve their complicity by accepting $500,000 to turn a blind eye to the devastation?
Our politicians and environmentalists seek to visit retribution on Carnival yet ignore the other 99.99% of the environmental havoc wrought by others. We should not just pick on Carnival - like the Haitian - because it is an easy target. With our new suite of environmental laws, perhaps all polluters will be scrutinized.
Why is it so easy to pick on Carnival?
Carnival has undoubtedly suffered its share of accidents and made some serious errors over the years, but the same could be said of many large-scale industrial enterprise. What matters is the response. Today, Carnival has owned the mistakes of the past and is working diligently to ensure they are not repeated, investing heavily in training, improved environmental processes and protections and new green technology solutions to an extent that no other tourism or industrial stakeholder in this country can boast.
The company has been a strategic partner and major economic contributor to The Bahamas for decades and is on the cusp of revolutionising the economy of Grand Bahama at a time of most desperate need. Surely, we owe them a fair chance, under scrutiny, to prove they can live up to their word.
Carnival’s environmental record has been an easy target for abuse since 2017, when a Miami judge ordered a Court Appointed Monitor (CAM) review its environmental impact and issue public reports on a regular basis. None of its competitors are subject to this level of scrutiny; nor for that matter are the hugely polluting container ships and oil tankers that traverse our waters.
With the CAM examining only one company – and with Carnival self-reporting even near misses and unintended incidents that do not violate any law – the press is having a field day focusing on this low-hanging fruit. A distorted narrative has emerged of Carnival as polluter-in-chief, environmental enemy number one, when nothing could actually be farther from the truth.
The biggest polluters
What we need is some perspective. Yes, all pollution is bad, but not all polluters are equal. And the fact is, Carnival’s environmental impact is a drop in the bucket compared with the global shipping industry as a whole, a greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting “giant” that in general does not receive the amount of public scrutiny its record warrants. The larger maritime industry represents three percent of total global GHG emissions, roughly the same as the airline industry. There are around 60,000 ships on the oceans and only half of one percent of these – 300 ships – are cruise ships. And only 100 of these belong to Carnival.
The cruise industry represents only 0.015 percent of total global GHG emissions, and Carnival Corporation’s carbon foot print is even smaller.The Bahamas, one of the smallest countries in the world by population, is 19th in the world when it comes to maritime traffic. Nearly 1,500 merchant ships call at port here each year. In 2017 this included 335 bulk carrier ships, 53 container ships (the world’s worst polluters, the largest emitting 50 times the pollution of a cruise ship) and 284 oil tankers, which collectively dump 300,000 tons of fuel into the ocean per year. At least one such tanker is docked shore of the Clifton Pier power station in Nassau at almost all times.
Obviously, the Bahamas relies heavily on the shipping industry for goods, food, and energy and some level of collateral environmental impact must be accepted as a necessary evil. Of course we should strive to decrease this to the absolute minimum possible, but every benefit has a cost and we cannot simply pretend that economic and geographical realities do not exist.
I submit the same is true of the tourism industry, which is at least as necessary to our survival as marine trade, and cruise ships are a vital cornerstone of that industry. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the average cruise call in The Bahamas generates more than $650,000 in local economic benefits. Cruise tourism is estimated to have generated more than $400 million in local revenue in the 2017-18 cruise season for The Bahamas, according to an independent study by Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA), which also found that cruising creates over 9,000 jobs, paying a total of over $155 million in wages.
Transparency and environmental stewardship
To a significant degree, Carnival’s abuse by the press is the result of its own openness and commitment to transparency. In addition to the Court Appointed Monitor, Carnival voluntarily self-reports any infraction or unintentional discharge incident to a number of different regulatory bodies around the world.
Today, the cruise industry – and especially Carnival – are investing heavily in new green technologies such as LNG, Advanced Air Quality Systems and Electrical shore power, as well as new fuel cell technology and large storage batteries. In the past year alone, Carnival have increased training, adjusted processes and added new advanced technology to ships that will help crew to better ascertain the boundaries of the archipelago zone to help ensure no unintentional discharges of treated waste material occur in Bahamian waters.
The company is dramatically reducing plastics and food waste on board ships, including the use of new environmentally-friendly bio-digester technology. It is using fresh water more judiciously and implementing more efficient energy systems. Carnival is the first in the industry to run test trials on the use of battery power storage systems and advanced fuel cell technology to power ships, while 11 of its vessels are set to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). To date, the company and its brands have reduced its carbon footprint by nearly 28 per cent, surpassing its 2020 goal three years ahead of schedule.
An economic saviour
In Freeport, Carnival’s revolutionary project is shaping up to be an economic saviour for a struggling island devastated by historically ignorant government policies and Dorian. At 379 acres, it will be the largest port of its kind developed by Carnival. It has committed to leaving more than half of it untouched and seeking a partnership with the Bahamas National Trust to create tours, excursions and a nature centre. They have also committed to removal and replanting of any coral reefs affected by the marine works and there will be protective zoning of sensitive habitats and even a mangrove conservation and restoration programme.
Unlike the majority of isolated island cruise ports, all retail stores and restaurant will be local operations, as will the musical, visual and craft artistry on display. Anyone with a good idea can apply to see their vision turn into a reality within the Port, and with a need to feed, provide goods to and entertain up to 12,000 passengers a day, the economic potential is staggering. With so many tourists within easy reach, a ‘mini-town’ will spring up outside the port. The entire island will benefit.
This level of commitment to empowerment and economic opportunity for Bahamians is impressive and as far as I know, other than Freeport itself, the first of its kind in The Bahamas. The project is being pursued transparently and in accordance with the law, through a commitment to environmental preservation, with an approach that will empower Bahamians and at a site ideally placed to spark an unprecedented explosion of economic opportunity
Carnival and Dorian
And then there is Carnival’s response to Dorian. Carnival donated 10 million pounds of food and supplies; sent two cruise ships to Freeport to deliver relief supplies, including dozens of pallets of water, generators, chain saws and more in the immediate aftermath; conducted donation drives through Direct Relief and World Central Kitchen which served more than 1.5 million meals to those in need; and raised more than $500,000 for relief from guests and employees. Separately, Carnival Foundation and the company’s brands, together with the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation, pledged $2 million to The Bahamas for aid.
A fair chance
I have been a vociferous defender of the environment for more than 40 years. In that time, I and my colleagues have fought illegal and abusive governments conspiring with anchor projects but we have never been against development or commerce itself. We do not oppose for the sake of simply opposing, nor do we tar all business and industry with the same brush. Our crusade has always been against stupid, abusive and corrupt governance and developers and environmental abuse.
What the Bahamas needs is responsible economic activity and a pledge from our industrial partners to do better than they have in the past. I believe that Carnival absolutely embodies such a commitment today.
Mistakes and human error will continue to be a fact of life. But prosecute all; not just Carnival.