Doctors: Plug in cruise ships

Union Pier is the home port for the Carnival cruise ship Fantasy. (Staff/File)

The South Carolina Medical Association has added its eminent voice to those calling for cruise ships in Charleston to be required to use shoreside power. The State Ports Authority and the city of Charleston should heed the message.

Scientific studies have connected cruise ship emissions to numerous health problems. The SCMA House of Delegates recommends a solution: Reduce those emissions by the use of shoreside power by cruise ships at berth. During a recent meeting, its members agreed with the Charleston County Medical Society that enforceable requirements are necessary to ensure shoreside power is used.

They resolved to work with the city of Charleston, the State Ports Authority, Carnival Cruise Lines and the General Assembly to that end.

It’s time for the city, the SPA and local legislators to cooperate.

So far, the city and the Ports Authority have dismissed other organizations’ requests for enforceable regulations for cruise ships, including shoreside power.

The Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations and the Coastal Conservation League all have asked for legal restrictions on the size, number and frequency of cruise ships visiting here. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has put Charleston on its watch list for endangered cities.

The SPA would be wrong to dismiss a recommendation to protect the health of port employees and people who live and work near the terminal. Doing so would suggest that the port of Charleston is indifferent to the community’s well-being.

Studies have linked emissions from cruise ships to asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and decreased lung function. Emissions into the water have been linked to bacterial and viral contamination of fish and shellfish.

One of the primary recommendations of the Natural Resources Defense Council is to limit the idling of vessels at dock by providing electric power and requiring ships to plug in instead of running engines. Cruise ships need power to operate lights, air conditioning and other systems.

Onshore power has been shown to reduce airborne pollutants by up to 90 percent. It is used by the country’s major cruise ports.

The American Medical Association also supports reducing portside air pollutants with onshore power, as do the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association and the Cruise Lines Industry Association.

Indeed, Carnival Cruise Lines itself, in its 2010 sustainability report, boasts of its efforts to be a “good corporate citizen” and “preserve the fragile ecosystems upon which we are so dependent.” As an example, the report points to Carnival committing to onshore power for ships calling at Long Beach, Calif.

Why not here? The State Ports Authority estimated it would cost $5.6 million to provide onshore power, and Carnival Cruise Lines would have to spend about $1.5 million to retrofit the Fantasy, the cruise ship that most often calls at Charleston. The port has said the cost is too great for a “relatively small environmental benefit” in light of new federal regulations requiring cleaner fuel to be used by ships near port.

The national cruise lobby is trying to weaken those pending requirements.

It is baffling that no one — not the SPA, the city, its mayor or City Council — has made an effort to ensure best cruise ship practices in Charleston, even as plans for a new $30 million passenger terminal are advancing.

The South Carolina Medical Association’s motive in advocating for shoreside power is simple: protecting people’s health.

That should certainly be an equally important consideration for the State Ports Authority and the city of Charleston.