Dear Editor,

Arlo Haskell, representing Safer Cleaner Ships (SCS), continues to weave his side’s narrative concerning cruise ships and their negative effects on the environment, the economy and the overall health of our community.

My expertise lies in maritime interests, shipping, piloting and the safe and efficient carriage of cargoes, be it humans or liquid petroleum. I don’t pretend to be an expert in communicable diseases, ecosystems or economics. I am a licensed State Harbor Pilot in the Port of Key West, and I get compensated for providing this vital service. 

In arguing for their near-ban on cruise ships, SCS and its followers claim harbor pilots are “greedy” and receive exorbitant incomes for safely moving billion-dollar ships with thousands of people aboard, as if working for a living is a bad thing. There is nothing exorbitant or deceitful about running a small business in which a large amount of the gross income goes to paying operating expenses, employees and medical insurance.

Mr. Haskell’s recent opinion piece cherrypicks the 2005 Murray report and neglects to include key portions of the report to fit his own narrative.

For example, the report also states: “Commercial fishermen observe that the passage of cruise ships in and around the harbor and main ship channel does cause increased turbidity, but feel that the effects are temporary and do not result in chronic environmental damage.” 

And: “There appears to be no evidence that cruise ship discharges are either occurring illegally or, other than through turbidity and re-suspended sediment, contributing to water quality declines in the area.” 

In regard to the economy: “Cruise ship tourism’s share of that total amounts to $88.7 million in direct and indirect expenditures and 955 jobs.” That’s not a trivial number of jobs.

The 2005 Murray report points out that excess phosphorus is the No. 1 detriment to water quality. These days the experts, such as Brian Lapointe, Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University, who was the recent guest speaker at the Reef Relief annual meeting, found that the culprit is nitrogen from land-based activities. Lapointe’s 30 years of research finds that improperly treated sewage, fertilizers and topsoil are elevating nitrogen levels, which causes phosphorus starvation in corals. This research places the blame where it belongs and has remarkably different results than the outdated Murray report.  

The state has found poor water quality at many of our beaches and again issued warnings in mid-September, although no ships have been in port for six months.

If the ill-conceived referendums limiting the size and capacity of ships, only 27 of the ships that came last year — smaller, older ships — would call on Key West in 2021. Instead of 1 million visitors getting a taste of Key West, only about 13,500 passengers would be granted access. This equates to a 99% reduction – an effective ban. 

Moreover, the ships that will be allowed to call into Key West would be older ships, 20.4 years old on average, with six of them being more than 30 years old. They are not safer or cleaner than a new, technologically advanced ship. A 1995 BMW is a nice luxury car, but it isn’t safer or cleaner than a 2019 Chevrolet.  Smaller ships burn more than twice the fuel per-person carried than a medium or large ship — hardly a cleaner operation. Additionally, many of these small, older ships lack stern thrusters and create just as much turbidity while maneuvering as a properly fitted new, large ship. 

SCS is also leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to destroy one leg of our tourism economy that they don’t like. No cases of COVID-19 were attributed to port calls in Key West. Did SCS make any effort to curtail air travel into Key West to prevent COVID from reaching our community? Of course not.  

This isn’t about saving our island from infectious diseases, this is about one group of citizens wanting to ban cruise ships. Once they finish with the cruise ship business, who will they come for next? The ideas they float on their associated Facebook pages are almost unbelievable. Commercial fishing? Dive operators? Automobiles? Limiting hotel head counts? 

Apparently One Human Family doesn’t include your average cruise passenger.

Vote no to these dangerous referenda that put our economy at risk. The job or the lifestyle you save may be your own.

Capt. Bob Maguire
Master Mariner
First Class Pilot, Key West

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.