The cruise industry has a horrible reputation when it comes to sustainability and pollution. While the industry is making some headway in becoming green-friendly, the climactic mess in the wake of big ships is still slick as cheap, nasty oil. Without new technologies, hybrid solutions, and a new industry mindset, the fate of cruise vacationing will remain uncertain. Here’s a candid look at the most unsustainable form of vacationing.
Underneath the waterline of those fabulous ships you see in adventurous advertisements, there are gigantic engineering spaces run on heavy oil no automobile could operate off of. Ship diesel is cheap and plentiful, but marine fuels are also packed with harmful substances like sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and fine particles that can clog lungs and hearts. Despite what you may believe about environmental regulation, the used of these heavy fuels is allowed everywhere but in the Antarctic. Yes, you read correctly. The only place big ships can burn Diesel Fuel Marine (DFM) is the place where nobody lives.
It will also surprise many readers to know that 203 cruise ships in Europe generated more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2017. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of Luxembourg or Cyprus, according to a report by campaign group Transport & Environment. In addition, their report showed that the ships spewed 20 times more sulphur oxide than the 260 million cars on all of Europe’s roads. There is progress being made through regulation, but we are looking at decades before the negative effects of cruise travel will be mitigated. We have this from Vox about a contingent of travelers who say they’ll never take a cruise.
“Despite steadily climbing ticket sales and evidently broader appeal, there is a vocal contingent of anti-cruisers — people who take pride in saying they would never book one, citing their refined tastes and disdain for being ferried from port to port on a floating amusement park.”
According to the report above from Reuters, sulphur levels allowed in ship fuel will be reduced from 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent under new International Maritime Organisation rules from January 1, 2020. And in some parts of the North Sea and the Baltic, the maximum level authorized is already 0.1 percent. Meanwhile, hybrid shipbuilding as in the case of French shipbuilder Ponant and its hybrid dual-fuel LNG/battery propulsion for its icebreaking cruise ship Le Commandant Charcot, is small potatoes and/or far off in the future.
Some good news exists in the form of two behemoth ships owned by Italy’s Costa Cruises and its German subsidiary Aida, which run entirely on Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and carry 6,500 passengers. And MSC Cruises of Switzerland aims to become the first big cruise company to be carbon neutral by offsetting its emissions worldwide as of January 1, 2020. But, these innovative companies are overshadowed by an industry weened on heavy fuels, and fleets of ships that would cost billions (maybe trillions) to retrofit. Sadly, most of the talk today with regard to fuels is from stock market speculation over the effect of more costly fuel refining. Yes, you read this correctly. “Fuel Markets Calm Ahead of IMO Changeover,” this is what any search for marine diesel or marine fuels will get you today.
From a PR perspective, look at this Skift interview with two Norwegian Cruise Lines executives. Outgoing CEO Andy Stuart, and incoming CEO Harry Sommer discuss the cruise line’s future with Skift’s Andrew Sheivachman. If you’re into a read, please follow the link. The gist is pure sales and PR fluff, which makes sense because Skift does not “just do” interviews. I’ll paraphrase the Norwegian line for you by melding the company narrative together for you:
“There’s no resort like this in the world, plus the benefit of getting to a different beautiful port every day (Sommer). Gross demand for our product (Sommer) that’s what travel agents generate for us. We’re getting rid of plastic on our ships, as for our carbon footprint, I have no clue (Sommer). We do, however, separate all the waste onboard, making sure the poop and the glass go to different places (Stuart). As for cruising compared to taking the train to Italy, we can deliver Rome in one day, maybe even a deep Rome experience! Or, maybe not (Stuart).”
You get the drift. These guys are accountants trained to answer any question with a vision of an elegant ship carving its way through pristine seas. Sorry guys, somebody had to say it. Stuart, who just friended me the other day on LinkedIn, goes so far as to relate his bad landlubber experience in the Carribean. I had rather he’d informed Skift readers about Norwegian Cruise Lines’ private island in the Bahamas and the super-swanky villa at Great Stirrup Cay featuring beachside accommodations that cost as much as $1,100 per day. Read all about Silver Cove here. The Points Guy also plugs Andy Stuart and another Norwegian interview in his post. But there’s a bigger problem than huge ships sullying up the waters of the world. The revenue model of cruise lines just sucks. We have this from a BBC report from this year:
“Cruise ships seek a low-cost and high-profit model that works to exploit the destinations they call into. This needs to change if the cruise lines want continued access to places such as Venice.”
Returning to the Skift story, or Norwegian Cruise Lines advertisement, paid or not, and we can begin to see why cruise ships will continue to be the least climate-friendly means of vacationing on Earth. So, for all you Wall Street investors out there interested in diesel fuel prices and Norwegian Cruise Lines growth, here’s a Yahoo! Finance piece to convince you to watch the cruise line. I only picked on Norwegian’s bosses because the cruise line was fresh in my mind. The industry overall just plain stinks of unsustainability.
Fo the rest of you, take the plane, it’s less harmful in the long run.
Partially sourced from The Straights Times