The Dirty Secret Behind This Cruise Ship Super Bowl Ad

The commercial showed majestic scenery—but not the billion gallons of sewage the industry dumps in the ocean every year.
Feb 2, 2015·
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

In its first-ever Super Bowl commercial, Carnival Corporation—the world’s largest cruise-ship company—painted quite a nice picture of an industry whose real-life practices are not so pretty, according to environmental groups.

The commercial, titled “Come Back to the Sea,” features audio of President John F. Kennedy’s speech to sailors competing in the 1962 America’s Cup. “We all came from the sea,” Kennedy intones as the ad shows sweeping shots of cruise ships majestically navigating the open ocean, steering by glacial cliffs, and anchoring under the northern lights. Then, we see couples gazing at breathtaking sunsets and scuba diving in pristine waters.

But would Kennedy be telling us to return to the sea if he saw the state it’s in now?

Not according to environmental group Friends of the Earth, which indicated on its 2014 report card that although the 16 major cruise lines were improving their environmental record, they were still dumping about 1 billion gallons of sewage into the ocean every year.

That’s because federal law that forces ships to treat wastewater only applies within three nautical miles from shore. Much of the sewage dumped outside that boundary is poorly treated or not treated at all, according to the report.

The environmental group gave Carnival Cruise Lines’ 24 ships—which include big boys like the 6,000-passenger Carnival Breeze—an F in the sewage treatment category.

“Carnival should have spent $8 million on retrofitting its ships to reduce its significant contribution to ocean pollution rather than on a Super Bowl ad,” said Marcie Keever, FOE’s oceans and vessels program director. “How can passengers ‘come back to a sea’ that is polluted?”

The environmental group has been grading the cruise line industry for almost a decade.

"As the industry leader, Carnival Corp. has to step up its environmental game throughout all of its different lines,” Keever said.

The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, said FOE used a “highly flawed” methodology to interpret the data for its report card, such as including ships in the report that were built before advanced wastewater treatment systems were available and declaring them "harmful to the environment."

“While the decision to participate in the FOE survey is up to each individual cruise line, CLIA member cruise lines have indicated their unwillingness to participate in the FOE survey,” Christine Duffy, CLIA president, wrote in a letter to FOE.

Keever wasn’t surprised by Carnival's lack of transparency.

“This is an industry worth billions of dollars that could install the most advanced sewage treatment and air pollution reduction technology available,” she said.