Port officials looking to replace Pride

Neither Carnival nor the EPA would discuss their talks, including how long a deferral or for how many ships Carnival has been seeking.

White said the looming added cost of cruising from Baltimore, and uncertainty about whether the EPA would approve its scrubber plan, prompted Carnival to relocate the Pride. Port officials said the higher-priced clean fuel could raise costs by as much as $140 per passenger per cruise.

Environmentalists called Carnival's decision to pull ships from the East Coast a ploy apparently intended to pressure the EPA to approve its pollution control plan.

"I'm frankly surprised they would do something that drastic," said Marcie Keever, who tracks cruise ship environmental performance for Friends of the Earth. "To a certain extent these ships get rerouted all the time. To me, it seems more of a publicity stunt than a money-saving measure."

Carnival Glory, now based in Norfolk and, seasonally, Boston and New York, will sail year-round from Miami starting this November. The cruise line announced earlier this year that Carnival Splendor will cruise year-round out of New York.

Cruise experts say that, as the world's largest cruise line, Carnival can afford to be tough in bargaining while still leaving room to be wooed. In January, the company announced that it was dropping 10 calls this year to Belize City, because local officials had allowed the port to become too congested, industry observers say. It switched Carnival Glory and Carnival Legend to Mexico's Costa Maya along the Yucatan Peninsula — but only through the end of the year.

White said he thinks Carnival's abandonment of Baltimore is only temporary, for similar reasons.

"We fully expect that we can get Carnival back because we honestly feel that the Florida market is going to be glutted with ships," he said.

In March, before the pollution issue peaked, CrusieCritic's Brown told The Sun that Baltimore might be able to attract a third cruise line, suggesting Holland America or Princess, both owned by Carnival.

"It's clear that Baltimore-area cruisers are still passionate about the port and eager to see it continue to grow," she said.

The port's marketing staff, which had been scouting for a third cruise line for Baltimore, has been wooing in earnest for the past month, once Carnival signaled it might leave Baltimore, White said.

"Two ships a week. That's our goal," he said. "Between Washington and Philadelphia, we're a region with 14 million people. … I like those odds."