Cruise ships: too big, too many, too dirty?

Cruise ship at sea

The future of the cruise industry is object of a controversial debate. The reknown trade magazine fvw covering events and developments in the tourism branch has now published a guest article by green-shipping expert Michele Acciaro, Director of the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) and Associate Professor of Maritime Logistics at Kühne Logistics University:

The number of cruise-ship passengers worldwide has risen from roughly 7 million in the year 2000, to an estimated 27 million today. In Europe, calls for more restrictions on cruise ships   are now growing louder.

Compared to other segments of the shipping sector, the total number of luxury liners is fairly small: just over 300 ships. Yet their environmental impact is considerable. Though they only have a minor influence on greenhouse-gas emissions, in port cities these ships are a major source of local air pollution in the form of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx). Cruise ships account for 15 percent of overall sulfur oxide emissions in Europe, as a study released this year by the environmental organization Transport & Environment shows. According to the study data, in 2017 Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise provider, emitted nearly ten times more sulfur oxides on European coasts than the 260 million cars on Europe’s roads. The EU and the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) have rolled out new emissions limits in order to improve air quality. The only practicable option to date is to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel, instead of heavy fuel oil. But the technology remains expensive.

Moreover, the trend toward larger and larger ships, some of which can now carry more than 6,500 passengers, raises further questions. For example, the cruise-ship industry produces major quantities of garbage, and when ships visit port cities, they rapidly release large numbers of people into inner cities already overfilled with tourists and ecologically fragile regions. Cities like Venice, and the Greek island Santorini, are representative examples.

Given many port cities’ interest in attracting cruise ships, and the difficulties of regulating shipping on the high seas, environmental protection is largely left in the hands of the ships’ owners and operators. Considering the tremendous amount of capital generated by the sector, they have the resources: ships like the massive Harmony of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean, transport 295,000 passengers per year and generate nearly half a billion euros in revenues.

The sector’s profile needs to be made more sustainable with the help of concrete measures:

  1. Adhering to the most stringent environmental standards, e.g. climate-neutral cruises – currently the exception – has to become the rule.
  2. The costs of improving sustainability have to be passed on to the customer. In this regard, transparent mechanisms need to be developed.
  3. Fair means of sharing the economic benefits of cruise ships with local communities have to be introduced.
  4. Growth strategies should be based on a more diversified portfolio, not on bigger and bigger ships.

If these aspects can be taken into account, the cruise-ship industry can continue to grow – on a sustainable course.

(Publication with kind permission of the trade magazine fvw)

Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL)
The research center at the KLU combines academic research with practical experience in shipping and container transport. Its goals are to enhance the sector’s competitiveness and foster Hamburg’s development as an international hub for maritime expertise.

More information:
Prof. Michele Acciaro