Brooklyn Law Review


The global cruise line industry enjoyed an incredible surge in popularity before the coronavirus pandemic. While the industry nearly sank in the wake of the pandemic, cruise lines are poised to continue to enjoy record-breaking profits while continuing to build larger and more opulent ships. This boom exacts a heavy toll on the environment, as cruise ships burn dirty fuel and dump dirty water into the world’s oceans. The current international legal framework for regulating the world’s shipping industry allows companies to effectively select which nation’s environmental laws to submit to, with ships flying under so-called “flags of convenience”. While the doctrine allows for ships to move freely upon the world’s seas, it creates a safe harbor for pollution, as companies routinely register their ships in countries with lackadaisical environmental laws and enforcement. As the climate crisis intensifies, effective solutions are needed. One potential solution would require any cruise ship attempting to dock at an American port to use the Best Available Technology for preventing pollution onboard the vessel by modifying the Clean Water Act. Another potential solution would see individual state governments adopt regulations similar to California’s Vessel Fuel Rules that regulate the emissions produced by vessels seeking to dock in that state. These solutions are clear and apply directly to ships, bypassing the convoluted international maritime legal apparatus while also keeping it intact. Such solutions are necessary because when it comes to the climate crisis, humanity must either sink or swim.