Many of us believe that we are intelligent, caring beings, and as such, we make decisions to consciously avoid damaging our environment. Many of us have tried to change our lifestyles, and now frequently walk or cycle around our local district. We try to buy organic Fairtrade products, and attempt to live in a sustainable manner.
It’s not always that simple though, is it? Despite a seismic shift in our thinking we are still guilty of inadvertently creating damage to our home.
It’s easy to bandy about statements about our carbon footprint and boast about our hybrid cars, and our quest for low airmiles vegetables and fruit, but is that enough?
We all look forward to taking a vacation. A two-week respite from our daily labours. An annual opportunity to travel to some exotic and idyllic destination to unwind, decompress and relax.
Significant adverse publicity has demonised road transport and air travel, to the point that those of us that are sensitive to our ecological impact are reluctant to use our cars or air transport for anything other than necessity travel.
So, what of our alternatives?
Many of us are now fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to book a cruise and float around azure blue waters for a fortnight of self-indulgent luxury.
But how many of us think about the environmental impact of cruise ships? It’s a natural tendency to assume that due to the high passenger occupancy of cruise ships they are eco-friendly.
Sadly, that’s not the case.
Let’s look at a few facts about the cruise ship industry.
The world’s largest cruise company is the Anglo-American company The Carnival Corporation and Public Limited Company.
This monolithic organisation is the largest global cruise company, in terms of annual passenger carrying, revenue and the overall size of its fleet.
Started in 1975 with one ship, (The Mardi Gras) it now owns 10 cruise lines, operating over a hundred vessels and has a 49.2% share of the global cruise market.
In 1996, they launched the world’s largest ship, the 101,000 tonne Carnival Destiny.
Ever increasing demand led to the commissioning of the Carnival Dream in 2009 with a gross tonnage of 128,000 tonnes.
By 2012 the Carnival Vista launched at 133,500 tonnes.
If you thought that was large – then think again. Currently, the world’s largest cruise ship is now the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s flagship. This monster weighs in at 228,000 tonnes, and at maximum occupancy can accommodate 8,800 people. (6,880 passengers, 2,200 crew).
However, by 2012, the reputation of the cruise industry was already being tarnished. At the same time as the Vista was being launched, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that an investigation had revealed that P and O (A subsidiary of Carnival) paid their ship-borne staff a basic salary of just 75p per hour when the UK National Average wage was £15.25 per hour!
According to its own website, the organisation now employs 37,400 staff with 33,500 of those being ship based.
Whilst the cruise industry has a sparkling shop window, its underbelly reveals some profoundly ecologically damaging practices. In 2017, Princess Cruise lines were fined $40M US for illegally dumping oil into the oceans, and the intentionally covering it up.
It’s easy to assume that the economy of scale makes cruising environmentally friendly.
However, cruise ships are very poor advocates of low impact travel.
To put this into perspective, The Oasis of the Seas, weighing 225,282 tonnes, will burn just over 11,000 gallons of low quality high-sulphur fuel oil at its cruising speed of 22.6 knots. This is an eye watering gallon for every twelve feet travelled!
A smaller ship (138,000 tonnes) using the same type of diesel engines that only operate at about 30% efficiency, (rated at 75,600Kw) will burn about 6,640 gallons of low-grade oil per hour.
Maritime low-grade heavy oil fuels are incredibly damaging, with a very high sulphur content – far higher than the amount of sulphur and particulates found in car exhausts.
Bearing in mind that cruise liners take passengers to many world heritage sites, the inadvertent collateral damage could be huge, with many implications for the historic cities visited.
Cruise line marketing often focuses on the beautiful destination to which passengers may be taken – unspoilt beaches, remote island chains and ancient port cities. with fresh sea breezes and clean air.
The reality is somewhat different, with the cruise industry complacently burning the dirtiest fuel in some of the world’s most fragile environments such as the arctic.
Shipping currently accounts for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions.
It has been one of the slowest transport sectors to accept that it has a problem, and it was only in April 2018 that its first sector-specific emissions reduction target was set – to reduce emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020.
To place this into context, shipping has been linked to 400,000 premature deaths attributed to cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer each year. The shipping industry is also a regular contributor to marine pollution, and that’s not just limited to oil and debris discharged at sea.
The industry also sends many of its old ships to be broken for scrap – many to under-developed Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India
The ship breaking yard at Alang (located in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat off the Gulf of Cambay) was set up in 1983 on a small scale along a 10-km (6 miles) stretch of sandy beach. The tidal, geographical, and climatic features make Alang an ideal ship breaking location.
These types of location, whilst excellent for the convenience of breaking up old hulls, are highly inappropriate sites for the delicate marine eco-systems, bringing the risks of routinely leaking hazardous and toxic materials into the sea during the process of breaking.
Furthermore, according to data from the Gujarat Maritime Board, there have been over two hundred deaths over the years caused by fires and other accidents.
A research paper written by Dr. Maruf Hossain and Mohammad Islam of the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong details the extent to which highly dangerous materials are leaked into coastal waters, and the impact it has on marine life, and on human health via the food chain.
It makes for sombre reading.
According to the Friends of the Earth, during 2014, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of human sewage into the seas.
The US EPA stated at the time, that an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 domestic swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “greywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.
That’s a bit of an eye opener isn’t it?
Now consider on top of that, every cruise ship passenger generates 3.5 kg of rubbish every day, some of which will find its way into the azure blue waters that you went there to see in the first place.
Since then the industry has made some progress, and new cruise ships of the future may well be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which offers much lower sulphur emissions, and is therefore an improvement in this respect to the heavy oil currently used.
However, LNG isn’t the panacea to the problems of emissions. A recent report by Transport and Environment (T and E) states that LNG-powered cruise ships will not deliver sustainable tourism, as its potential widespread use will lock the industry into using fossil-based fuels for decades.
Recently, the port city of Barcelona announced that it would encourage the handling of cruise ships powered by LNG. The first LNG ship arrived in Barcelona earlier this year and was refuelled with LNG from a special barge. Barcelona hailed this as a big step forward in sustainable tourism.
This is not the case according to research conducted by T and E, which demonstrates that LNG used in shipping may generate 9% more greenhouse gases than the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.
So, even if all cruise ships were to be powered by LNG, the ecological implications are still serious.
So, maybe it’s about time that we re-considered our holidays.
Maybe it’s time to holiday locally, without creating a massive carbon footprint by flying and cruising?
 UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2011
 26 miles per hour
 101,382 Horsepower
 Transport & Environment Annual Report, 2018