BY NORTH CAIRN

Portland Press Herald

A cruise line that regularly calls on Portland will fit many of its ships with new controls to reduce air emissions under a tentative agreement with U.S. and Canadian regulators.

Thirty-two ships in the North American branch of Carnival Cruise Lines — the world’s largest cruise line — will be equipped with new exhaust gas cleaning systems, said Roger Frizzell, senior vice president of corporate communications with the company.

Frizzell said the company hasn’t determined whether the new technology will be installed on ships that visit Portland. By the end of the 2013 season, Carnival will have brought eight cruises to Portland this year. Five are scheduled to visit between now and Dec. 31. Its full fleet of vessels carries 6.5 million cruise passengers a year, Frizzell said.

Carnival agreed to install the controls as part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and Transport Canada. Carnival is the most recent of several shipping companies, including other cruise lines, that are taking steps to support the development of advanced pollution-control technology, particularly suited to maritime conditions.

The new emission controls, featuring technology derived from the power plant, manufacturing and auto industries, include sulfur oxide scrubbers and diesel particulate filters designed to eliminate some of the air pollution from the burning of fuel to power the line’s ships, Frizzell said. The two technologies never had been combined for use on a cruise ship or any other marine vessel, he said.

The cost of the upgrades is expected to reach $180 million, about 10 percent of the company’s $1 billion-to-$2 billion-per-year fuel costs for the cruise lines, Frizzell said. However, Carnival, with a fleet of 102 ships worldwide, anticipates that the new equipment, once fully developed and deployed, will result in “considerable savings” for the company, he said.

That’s because the technology will enable the ships to avoid burning a more costly type of fuel.

Carnival Corp. is the largest cruise company in the world, with a portfolio of several cruise brands that operate in the waters off North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. The company has seven new ships scheduled to be delivered by April 2016.

The Carnival brands that sail regularly in what regulators call the North American Emission Control Area include Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard.

Emission Control Areas are waters that constitute a buffer zone around U.S. and Canadian coasts and where, under federal law, vessels must reduce harmful air pollution emissions and comply with stricter regulatory requirements on sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter for ships, according to EPA officials. The areas were developed in 2012 by the United States and Canada through an agreement with the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. The zones are meant to protect human health and the environment also by substantially reducing air pollution from ocean-going vessels.

EPA officials said the new emissions controls probably would mean the cruise lines’ pollution reduction would surpass the regulatory levels required by 2020.

“This is a significant accomplishment as well as an important milestone for our company,” said Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald. “Working together with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada, we have developed a breakthrough solution for cleaner air that will set a new course in environmental protection for years to come.”

That comes as good news to environmental organizations, which have long been alarmed by the level of pollution generated by large cruise ships and other vessels.

“The ships are really a big source of pollution,” said Emily Figdor, executive director of Environment Maine in Portland. She said she had not studied the agreement’s details.

“But these vessels are quite dirty and polluting,” Figdor said. “We’re very concerned about the air-quality impacts of cruise ships.”

By 2020, the EPA limits are expected to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, a key ingredient in smog, by 320,000 tons; particulate matter (or soot) emissions by 90,000 tons; and sulfur oxide by 920,000 tons. Each year, the standard should result in the prevention of tens of thousands of premature deaths and relieve respiratory symptoms for nearly 5 million people, according to EPA estimates.

While this round of improvements will be limited to ships serving North America, Carnival hopes eventually to extend the upgrades to all ports it serves, Frizzell said. It is not known whether the systems will be installed in ships that dock in Portland. No final selection of which particular vessels in the fleet will be improved with the new air emissions technology has been made, Frizzell said.