Friends of the Earth releases 2016 Cruise Ship Report Card

Friends of the Earth releases 2016 Cruise Ship Report Card

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced 2015 passenger numbers and forecast 2016 expectations on 2 June this year, predicting that during 2016 the number of global passenger numbers on ocean cruises will rise to 24.2 million from the 23.2 million in 2015. On 8 June, the CLIA issued a press release lauding the environmental record of the industry. But among environmentalists, there is concern about how the trend towards ever-larger cruise ships brings greater environmental impact, with the air pollution effect of one cruise ship claimed to be as great as that of five million cars going the same distance.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has released the 2016 edition of its Cruise Ship Report Card, documenting the environmental footprint of the cruise industry and grading 17 cruise lines and their 171 ships. The report card, last released in 2014, claims an ongoing lack of initiative by cruise companies to install technologies that reduce their air and water pollution impact on travel destinations and local peoples. It also lambasts the industry for a lack of transparency, with the CLIA no longer cooperating with FoE in production of the scorecard after a dispute over how data is analysed.

Friends of the Earth’s report card grades cruise lines on four criteria:

  • sewage treatment technology;
  • air pollution reduction (whether ships have installed shoreside power or scrubbers and if they use cleaner fuel than required by U.S. and international law);
  • compliance with Alaska’s water quality regulations to protect the state’s coastal waters; and
  • transparency.

Disney Cruise Line was the sole cruise line this year to earn an “A” for transparency by responding to information requests. Every other line refused to confirm its current environmental technologies, resulting in a failing ‘F’ grade being awarded for transparency. TheGuardian has reported that in 2014, CLIA announced that it would no longer work with FoE to produce the scorecard, and its members followed suit. The CLIA calls the report card “unscientific” and says that it uses outdated sources: FoE says that without the cruise industry supplying data, information has to be sourced online, and admits to the Guardian that this may mean mistakes being made.

The FoE press release says that cruise ships are responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the dirty fuel they burn. While the new scorecard shows that companies have made the biggest improvement in reducing their air pollution by using newer technology (a recent international regulation requires all ships sailing within 200 nautical miles of the US and Canada coastline to use cleaner fuel or install technology that reduces the sulfur content in emissions), FoE maintains that more should be done. Even at the dock, cruise ships often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew. According to the EPA in the USA, each day an average cruise ship is at sea it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars.

In response to the new regulations, rather than use cleaner fuel, many cruise ships have installed scrubber technology which “scrubs” the sulfur from ship smokestacks. And even with this new technology, the cruise industry lags behind land based transportation standards and has yet to install critical, health-protective technologies like diesel particulate filters. To contrast, international ship emission rules allow fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur (35,000 parts per million), while the Emission Control Area rules limit sulfur to 0.1% (1,000 parts per million), and on-road diesel truck fuel is limited to 15 parts per million sulfur.

Southampton, which has Britain’s second largest container port and is Europe’s busiest cruise terminal, is one of nine UK cities cited by the World Health Organisation as breaching air quality guidelines even though it has little manufacturing.

“Up to five large liners a day can be berthed in the docks at the same time, all running engines 24/7, said Chris Hinds, vice chair of the Southampton docks watchdog group WDCF, quoted in the Guardian newspaper on 21 May. “Pollution from the port is leading to asthma and chest diseases. We are now seeing more, bigger liners but also very large bulk cargo ships.” This Guardian article says that the Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world which recently sailed from Southampton, burns 66,000 gallons a day of diesel when operating at full power.

Sewage is also an issue for the cruise industry. The Environmental Protection Agency says an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day. 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 8,800 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “graywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

FoE’s grades for sewage treatment on the report card highlight the gaps between cruise ships that have adopted the most advanced sewage treatment systems and those that still use 35-year-old technology giving minimal treatment before discharging sewage into the water. In addition to calling for an upgrade to the almost 40 percent of cruise ships that use this old technology, FoE continues to push the Environmental Protection Agency to update the ship sewage treatment standards under the Clean Water Act.

Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for FoE. said: “With the Northwest Passage now open in the summer due to climate change, the cruise industry’s expanding itineraries will bring increasingly damaging pollution to even more sensitive areas like the Arctic. It’s way past time to set a higher bar for this dirty industry.”

The 8 June press release from the CLIA says that cruise lines have invested more than $1 billion to date on the development of environmental technologies and cleaner fuels. It states that they are also using LED lighting that lasts 25 times longer and uses 80 percent less energy, and special hull coatings that can reduce fuel consumption by 5 percent. New standards required by the International Maritime Organization include mandatory 30 percent reduction in carbon emission rates by 2025 for new cruise ships.

“CLIA member cruise lines are committed to protecting the environment because it is the right thing to do, and it is fundamental to the success of our industry,” said Donnie Brown, CLIA director of technical and regulatory affairs, environmental and health. “The cruise industry’s commitment to preserving and protecting the environment can be seen through its leadership, investment and engagement in advancing sustainable solutions.”

But installing new technologies doesn’t mean cruise companies are using them, especially when they are further out in the sea and difficult to monitor, says FoE’s Keever. FoE hopes that pressure from advocacy groups and consumers will prompt cruise lines to provide more data and demonstrate improvements.

“We’re hopeful that Disney’s willingness to respond to our information requests points to the beginnings of a sea change [by cruise companies to be] transparent about environmental responsibility,” Keever said.

This article was first published on CABI and is reprinted with permission here. 

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