Downtown gained a new skyscraper last week when the American cruise industry slowly began taking on water, swamped with concern over the spread of coronavirus from the close-quarters ships sailing into South Carolina's busiest tourism hub.
Carnival's Sunshine cruise liner let off its final passengers before a 30-day industry stoppage over coronavirus worries last Monday, but the 900-foot ship will remain in Charleston for a few more weeks with its 1,100 crew on board.
The Sunshine is hard to miss if you travel downtown from its temporary mooring at the Columbus Street Terminal, usually home to cargo ships and the occasional military vessel.
Carnival says the Sunshine's crew are "expected" to stay on board for 14 days beginning when the last passengers lugged their bags ashore on March 16. The South Florida-based company says "that the crew is all healthy, and that they will remain on the ship for the mutual benefit and safety of both residents and crew members," according to a South Carolina State Ports Authority communications manager. Crew members will perform ongoing maintenance and sanitation operations while on the ship, which is stocked for its stay in Charleston.
The ship will periodically sail into open waters off the coast to discharge "gray water" — non-sewage wastewater — and take on more water for their own operation.
One of Sunshine's six engines will idle while it is in port since ships do not connect to shore power in Charleston — many are not equipped to anyway. While at sea, the Sunshine and many other Carnival ships still run on cheaper, high-sulfur diesel fuel with exhaust scrubbers added in recent years to comply with international regulations to cut down on sulfur emissions. While in port, the ships switch to cleaner-burning, low-sulfur fuel to comply with regulations, but do not run their exhaust cleaning systems because the ships are not equipped with filtration systems to clean the wastewater the scrubbers generate.
The South Carolina State Ports Authority liaison declined to disclose what Carnival is paying to tie up at the Columbus Street Terminal, calling the information "contractual."
After the initial 30-day stoppage, cruise operators will coordinate with federal authorities to assess what's next.