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The good intentions of the new regulations had the unintended side effect of driving job-making cruise ships out of port. The new technology should reverse that impact for all affected communities.

When Carnival Cruise Lines decided to leave Baltimore last summer, saying the port had become too expensive because of environmental regulations, it was with substantial regret.

The world’s largest cruise line regularly filled its Carnival Pride cruise ship at the port of Baltimore with affluent first-time cruisers who found the Mid-Atlantic jumping-off point convenient.

Meanwhile, Maryland saw about $50 million a year in economic value from the ship. After hearing the Pride would be heading to Florida to cut costs, state officials immediately began trying to salvage the relationship.

So it was with smiles that Gov. Martin O’Malley and Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president for revenue management and deployment, announced last month that a course had been plotted for the Pride to return to Baltimore.

Carnival decided to leave because of new regulations restricting fuel emissions in U.S. coastal waters. The changes increased the cost for cruise ships out of Baltimore, which must travel up and down the Chesapeake Bay. Ships leaving from Florida spend a fraction of the time in U.S. coastal waters.

Carnival officials now say they’ve found a way to reduce emissions but keep costs low. Federal regulators approved Carnival’s plan to add the new technology to its ships.

The Pride still will depart for Florida in October as planned, but only for a few months. Part of that time will be spent in dry dock, where the ship will be upgraded with the emissions controls and new amenities. The ship will return to Baltimore by March 2015.

O’Malley said the deal will “keep family-supporting jobs in Maryland.” Thornton said Carnival is “excited that things worked out.”

Thornton also answered a few questions about how Carnival upped its environmental game to stay in the lucrative Baltimore market.

Baltimore Sun: You’ve said Pride is going to be among the first cruise ships ever equipped with the new fuel-cleaning technology you’re installing. Can you describe the technology and how it works?

Terry L. Thornton: Scrubber technology combines the removal of sulfur with the substantial reduction of particulate matter and black carbon to allow ships to sail within [Emission Control Area] guidelines. Carnival’s design combines two established technologies, which have been successfully used in power plants, factories and vehicles to clean — or scrub — the exhaust from high-sulfur fuel. For the first time, this combination is being developed to accommodate restricted spaces on existing ships. The International Maritime Organization‘s MARPOL Annex VI places a cap on sulfur within ECAs at 1 percent, which took effect in North America in 2012. In 2015, the limit will be 0.1 percent.

Baltimore Sun: Can you explain how Carnival balances environmental considerations with the need to remain profitable?

Terry L. Thornton: The first phase of ECA went into effect in August 2012. The second phase of ECA goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. Both of these events represent a significant increase in fuel costs for Carnival. The new exhaust gas cleaning technology [scrubbers] that Carnival has now developed will allow us to operate with emission levels that exceed the ECA standards and to mitigate these escalating fuel cost impacts.

Baltimore Sun: Carnival Pride also is getting other enhancements. How do guest preferences and feedback play a role in what onboard upgrades you make?

Terry L. Thornton: We carefully monitor and often solicit feedback from our guests on all aspects of our product experience. The significant enhancements that will be added on the Carnival Pride are part of our $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 fleet-wide product enhancement initiative. With extensive input and feedback from our guests, we are focusing this initiative on the addition of a wide range of dining, bar and entertainment innovations. These new features and amenities have proven to be a huge success with our guests on the ships where the Fun Ship 2.0 initiative has already been completed.

Baltimore Sun: Where are passengers on Baltimore cruises coming from, and how does that affect ticket pricing and cruise schedules?

Terry L. Thornton: Guests for the Carnival Pride cruises from Baltimore generally reside within a five-hour driving range from the port of Baltimore. We know from our guests that the convenience and affordability of cruising from the port of Baltimore is an important factor in their choice of vacation. Our cruises from Baltimore that began in 2009 have performed very favorably and generated strong guest satisfaction. In fact, we’ve carried nearly half a million satisfied guests from Baltimore since we launched service five years ago. We have also been very pleased with the number of first-time cruisers that our Baltimore cruises attract. The combination of a great Carnival vacation experience and the opportunity to cruise from Baltimore makes this an exceptional vacation value.

Baltimore Sun: Cruises aside, what’s your idea of a perfect vacation?

Terry L. Thornton: I may be a little biased, but cruising is the perfect vacation. It is by far the best vacation value. There are really no land-based vacation options that can match all that a cruise vacation provides. Plus, cruises include the opportunity to visit a wide variety of exciting destinations throughout the world. The ships that are being introduced by the cruise industry today provide consumers with highly innovative new features and amenities. Carnival features 10 different brands — and 102 ships — that offer the industry-leading variety of cruises that are perfect for consumers with all different lifestyles and interests.

Terry L. Thornton
Title: Senior vice president of revenue management and deployment
Age: 59
Residence: Miami
Birthplace: West Virginia
Education: Bachelor of Science in finance, Miami University of Ohio
Family: Married with three adult children
Hobbies/interests: Huge Miami Heat and college basketball fan; indoor cycling

(c)2014 The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Tags: carnival, executives, interviews

Photo Credit: Carnival Pride docks in Nassau, Bahamas after departing from Baltimore. Stephanie / Flickr