This morning, a delegation of Arctic Indigenous leaders and marine and environmental experts delivered a petition signed by 104,000 concerned people from countries across Europe and North America, to cruise giant Carnival Corporation at its UK headquarters in Southampton, demanding that it cease burning dirty heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and Subarctic.
At the International Maritime Organization headquarters in London, a gathering of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, MEPC73, will this week consider steps towards banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic Waters.
George Edwardson, President of the Iñupiat community of the Arctic Slope, Board Member for Inuit Circumpolar Council – Alaska, one of the Indigenous leaders who travelled to Southampton to deliver his message to Carnival executives, said of the company’s continued use of ultra-dirty heavy fuel oil: “I need to reach you. We have to save the ocean. My people and my food are important. There are over 13,000 of us in eight communities, with a 90,000-mile jurisdiction. I need everyone’s help to make sure it’s safe. Don’t save money using dirty oil. I need to stay alive.”
Carnival, the largest cruise line operator in the world with over 40% of the global market share and ten brands that operate worldwide, uses one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world to power the vast majority of its ships: heavy fuel oil. This is the thick, bottom-of-the-barrel waste sludge left over after other petroleum products are distilled from crude. High in toxic heavy metals and other contaminants, it’s so dirty that on land, it’s classified as hazardous waste. And because it’s a waste product, it is dirt cheap for companies like Carnival. When burned for ship fuel, it releases enormous amounts of soot, also called black carbon. When that soot deposits on the pristine Arctic ice, it accelerates the rate of ice melt. A spill of heavy fuel oil in the harsh and often inaccessible Arctic waters would be impossible to clean up and would be a long-term environmental disaster, as it persists in the environment for much longer periods of time, due to its thick, tar-like consistency.
Delbert Pungowiyi, President of the Native Village of Savoonga, Alaska and member of the delegation to Carnival’s HQ stressed that the company ending its use of heavy fuel oil wasn’t just about his communities and other Arctic peoples, saying: “We’re at a critical time to protect what we have left. It’s not just about protecting our own [people’s] survival, it’s about the good of all.”
Burning heavy fuel oil also poses a risk to human health: The British Heart Foundation advises cruise ship passengers to not sit downwind of the funnel, and says that even short-term exposure of under two hours to such fumes may cause long-term heart health problems, as well as increasing the risks of heart attack and stroke in people with pre-existing conditions.
“Carnival claims that sustainability and human rights are core company values, but it cannot be an environmental leader while burning one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the pristine Arctic. We are asking Carnival to step up to meet its own higher standards, respect the express will of Arctic peoples, and end its use of heavy fuel oil in this fragile and imperilled region,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner for Stand.earth. “Carnival can become an industry leader by making the move sooner than international regulations would require”.
Representatives from Clean Up Carnival Coalition member organizations — Stand.earth (North America); Transport & Environment (Europe); Friends of the Earth US; Pacific Environment (North America, Europe, Asia)– and Alaska Native and Arctic Indigenous communities participated in the delivery of the petition.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), which includes territories in Alaska, Canada, Russia, issued the Utqiaġvik declaration in July, which included a call to end the use of heavy fuel oil. Many Carnival ships travel in these areas but continue to burn heavy fuel oil.