A new set of laws from the International Maritime Organization will create a 200 mile buffer zone around the United States and Canada where cruise ships cannot burn bunker fuel - the fuel for which their engines are designed. The law will require them to use a more expensive but cleaner burning fuel.
Although cleaner air is certainly a good thing - fuel prices were already creeping higher for other reasons, now add in the cost of this new fuel requirement and cruise prices could soon go dramatically higher. In addition, look for cruise line repositioning ships to ports where they can escape the zone more quickly.
Unfortunately, while the law affects all ships, the cruise industry gets hit especially hard compared to cargo ships because cruise ships spend far more time within 200 miles of the U.S. and Canada for many reasons. Cruises to Alaska, for example tend to hug the coastline for thousands of miles.
For some reason, the cleaner fuel zone is shorter in Southern Florida - probably because of the proximity of the nearby Bahamian archipelago which includes hundreds of islands spread out between Fort Lauderdale and Puerto Rico. Galveston, Texas, currently enjoying its status as one the most popular cruise ports in the nation, might soon see some competition from developing cruise port facilities in Brownsville, the most southerly point on the Texas coast - right next to Mexico.
Naturally, everyone agrees that cleaner air is a good thing - but it comes with a price. Unfortunately, Mobile, Alabama, was already dealt a blow when Carnival Cruise Line suddenly announced it will no longer sail from the city. The line cited the new law as the main reason, saying it was unable to raise cruise fares enough to pay for the new fuel requirements.
Rising fuel costs will also compel some cruise lines to drop more distant ports of call. The island of Barbados - located near the end of the Caribbean chain, is expecting a significant slowdown in cruise ship visits starting in 2012.