09 March 2017
Environmental standards for shipping are so low, cruise companies have a huge opportunity to improve their policies.
Not many of the 25 million people enjoying the sea breeze on a cruise ship this year are likely to think about the air pollutants being emitted from the vessel.
<p></p><p>Mostly running on heavy fuel oil, a medium-sized cruise ship produces around the same volume of air pollutants – including greenhouse gases, sulphur, nitric oxides and particulate matter – as 5m cars going the same distance, estimates the German environmental NGO Nabu.</p><p></p><p>“The standards for the shipping industry are really low compared to what we can see in road transport,” says Dietmar Oeliger, head of environmental policy at Nabu. “For a long time, politics served it well. People didn’t care about emissions on open water.” </p><p></p><p>Most countries devolve responsibility for regulating the industry to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), says Tristan Smith, shipping and climate change expert at University College London. He adds that many smaller countries do not have the resources to regulate it themselves and some choose not to restrict it – after all, the industry is a boon to local economies, bringing in tourists and providing jobs.</p><p></p><p>Air pollution</p><p>New IMO legislation coming into force in 2020 will require cruise ships to reduce their sulphur emissions from 3.5% to 0.5%. In order to comply with the limit, several cruise companies have installed scrubber technology on their ships, which uses seawater to wash the exhausts. While this reduces sulphur in the air, it puts it into the water instead, says Oeliger. “You take one problem away, but create another.”</p><p></p><p></p><p>A better alternative would be to install emission abatement technology, like in road vehicles, and switch from heavy fuel oil to cleaner marine or road diesel, or liquefied natural gas (LNG), says Oeliger.</p><p></p><p>Several companies have already invested in LNG powered ships. Royal Caribbean Cruises will be introducing its first fleet of LNG ships in 2022 and is investing in fuel cell technology, which converts chemicals into electricity. Carnival Group, which owns Aida and the P&O; lines, has also increased its investment in LNG.</p><p></p><p>But LNG is not without problems. Smith explains that LNG is a high carbon fuel that only makes a marginal CO2 reduction for ships. “In a decarbonising world, there is no place for LNG as more than a short-term transition marine fuel, and it will need to be replaced by genuine low carbon fuels,” he said.</p><p></p><p>Hybrid and wind power</p><p>Alternative energy sources such as renewables and biofuels, as well as battery-powered ships, could be a better solution and some companies have started to explore these avenues. Cruise liner Hurtigruten has ordered a pair of hybrid powered cruise ships, which will use a battery system to power them. Color Line has also announced plans for a battery powered plug-in hybrid.</p><p></p><p></p><p>Ports in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego also allow ships to plug into the mains when docked, reducing air pollution for residents, though the lack of an international standard plug and high infrastructure costs presents a barrier to mass rollout.</p><p></p><p>Meanwhile Finish cruise company Viking Line is exploring wind power, having partnered with energy company Norsepower to install a rotor sail system on an LNG-powered ship, helping to cut emissions. </p><p></p><p>As well as reducing fuel consumption and emissions, Fabian Lundgren, project manager and marine superintendent at Viking Line, believes the investment will give the company a competitive advantage. “In northern Europe, everyone is thinking about environment, so this is also a good push for our marketing – I think people will choose us maybe because of the rotor sails,” he says.</p><p></p><p></p><p>But the cost of investing in green technology is high for shipping companies, Lundgren adds, and if companies are forced to move too fast to meet legislation, “you can kill the cruise industry”.</p><p></p><p>Who will take the lead?</p><p>With oil prices low and competition in the market fierce, campaigners warn that cruise companies’ environmental efforts are too limited. Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels programme director at Friends of the Earth, warns that despite companies’ sustainability pledges, “bad behaviour” still occurs.</p><p></p><p>In December 2016, for example, Princess Cruises was fined a record US$40m (£33m) after it was found guilty of illegally dumping oil contaminated waste and covering it up. </p><p></p><p></p><p></p><p>Likewise Aida, the Carnival cruise line which positions itself as an environmentally conscious company, has been criticised by Nabu, despite the NGO giving it the top spot in its annual cruise ship rankings. </p><p></p><p>There is a huge opportunity for cruise companies to improve their environmental policies and introduce more clean technology, says Oeliger.</p><p></p><p>Curbing pollution is not just an environmental issue but directly impacts passenger wellbeing too, he adds. “[Cruise companies] are not shipping containers, they are shipping passengers, and they are responsible for their health,” he says.</p><p></p>
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