Steve Jones’ Say

IT was always a topic that appeared to irritate cruise line executives. The impatience tangible. The subject that so irked them was the marine environment. Specifically, questions relating to the impact their mighty vessels had on its health.

Scripted answers invariably followed, earnestly stressing the responsible approach adopted by their respective companies.

Fast forward to recent events, which explain why a healthy dose of cynicism is rarely misplaced and why scrutiny is legitimate and necessary.

Carnival Corporation has, yet again, admitted numerous violations which show a flagrant disregard for the environment it purports to cherish.

Six times in a Miami court, chief executive Arnold Donald pleaded guilty to violations perpetrated by ships under his stewardship. They included deliberately dumping plastic in the Bahamas, falsifying environmental training records and sending in teams ahead of scheduled inspections to ensure no violations were uncovered. Carnival also acknowledged it dumped grey water in prohibited areas, Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park among them.

Even more concerning, these latest abuses occurred in the early stages of a five-year probation, imposed after a similar court appearance in 2016. On that occasion, Princess, one of Carnival’s brands, admitted to polluting the seas with oil-contaminated waste, and covering it up.

The judge now overseeing the case described the persistent indiscretions as “incredible”. How right she is. It is lamentable.

All in, Carnival has been fined US$80m. In 2018 the company generated revenue of just shy of $19b. Unsurprisingly, a chorus of protests were led by lobby groups, no doubt sick and tired at the persistent nature of Carnival’s misdemeanours. There was also frustration at a failure to follow through on judicial threats to ban ships from US ports.

The court’s “weak enforcement”, one watchdog complained, has allowed Carnival to profit from the environment while contributing to its destruction. It’s hard to disagree.

Donald, reminded by the judge he was a steward of the environment and not just beholden to shareholders, told the court he took responsibility and “sincerely regrets these mistakes”. Furthermore, he was “personally committed” to improving compliance. That’s all very well. But given Carnival’s history of offending, it all sounds so hollow, even if a report from an independent monitor did accept improvements had been made.

Even harder to swallow was the company’s extraordinary statement claiming it “remained committed to environmental excellence” and aspired to “leave the places we touch even better than when we arrived”.

Such words are meaningless without the actions to back them up. Whether it will start doing so remains a matter of conjecture.

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