The Holland America Cruise Ship Westerdam prepares to dock in Juneau July 16, 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The world’s largest cruise corporation will soon install new pollution-control equipment on 32 of its ships. Carnival, Princess and Holland-America vessels sailing Alaska waters are likely to be among those getting the gear.

Carnival Corporation owns 10 cruise lines operating about 100 ships from ports in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

It’s a significant player in the Alaska market.

Corporate officials say the technology, called scrubbing, will meet new international requirements for sulfur and smoke emissions. They say they’ll spend about $180 million on the equipment over the next two to three years.

“We haven’t determined which ships of the 32 will be implemented in what markets and what ports,” says Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami and London.

“Alaska’s obviously an important market, and I’m expecting that if they don’t have it right away they will have it shortly,” he says. (Read Carnival’s announcement.)

The equipment has been tested on one ship’s diesel engines so far. The evidence helped win conditional approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Frizzell says Carnival eventually plans to use scrubbing on all of its 102 vessels.

“This is going to be a real change in our industry and I think it’s something for Alaska and some other key ports it’s going to be beneficial to the environment,” he says.

Carnival’s scrubbers target sulfur oxides, which contribute to global warming and acid rain. They also remove soot and other small particles that make up ships’ exhaust.  (Read an EPA paper on scrubber technology.)

A dog watches as a Holland-America cruise ship, part of Carnival Corporation’s holdings, sails down Gastineau Channel off Sandy Beach in Douglas Sept. 5, 2013. Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News photo.

Frizzell says the technology is common onshore.

“This is the first time this combination is being developed to accommodate restricted spaces on the ships. Q: Did that require significant reengineering of the technology? A: It did. When we moved it from the power plants and the factories to the ship it really was a complete overhaul of the systems and resizing.”

“I think there’s just been a whole shift at Carnival, with all the problems they’ve had and everything,” says industry critic Chip Thoma of Juneau.

He says the corporation is making a significant – and welcome – change. But the president of the group Responsible Cruising in Alaska says it’s not all good attentions.

“They’re making so much money. It’s such a lucrative corporation that they’ve decided to switch gears and get into the 21st Century. And it’s a wonderful move that they’ve done so,” Thomas says.

The EPA says the agreement is a trial effort and the technology will be closely monitored. (Read the EPA’s announcement.)

Carnival spokesman Frizzell says it exempts equipped ships from new, stronger air-quality regulations aimed at lowering pollution along the coast.

“The exemption gives us the flexibility to use whatever fuel source we determine. And that’s significant for us because it gives an economic value,” Frizzell says.

That’s because low-sulfur fuel is more expensive than what cruise ships usually burn.

The agreement still requires Carnival ships to use that fuel while in port – or plug into an onshore power source.

The EPA has also reached agreements with Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines, as well as barge companies and owners of some other large vessels. Some are using different approaches.