Cruise Ship Pollution Is Causing Serious Health And Environmental Problems


James EllsmoorFormer ContributorA Forbes 30U30 entrepreneur and founder of the Virtual Island Summit.

The cruise industry transported over 26 million customers last year and was worth upwards of $117 billion in 2017. All market projections show that the industry will continue to grow as operators continue to build new state-of-the-art ships with the latest in leisure opportunities. However, as nations strive to reduce their CO2 emissions and companies come under pressure to decrease their carbon footprint, the maritime industry is finding itself under growing scrutiny . Whilst commercial shipping has always been at the center of environmental concerns, the issues surrounding cruise ships are being increasingly called out in the port cities in which they dock.

A cruise ship sails past the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Hong Kong under polluting…

Leisure & Pollution

Cruise ships have often been described as ‘floating cities’, and as environmental groups have pointed out that they are just as if not more polluting. A passenger’s carbon footprint triples in size when taking a cruise and the emissions produced can contribute to serious health issues. On top of the pollution caused by their exhaust fumes, cruise ships have been caught discarding trash, fuel, and sewage directly into the ocean.

Last year, the German watchdog Nabu surveyed 77 cruise ships and found that all but one used toxic heavy fuel oil that the group described as “dirtiest of all fuels”. This came a year after the same watchdog blew the whistle on German cruise operators for failing to adhere to their own air quality safety standards. The data collected reveals that standing on the deck of a cruise ship is similar to being in one of the world’s most polluted cities, with health experts warning of the issues surrounding poor air quality.

The Blue Star Ferry Boat in Piraeus Port, Greece.

In France, 10% of air pollution in the port city of Marseilles can be directly contributed to the shipping industry. Locals lament the increase in pollution and health issues with more luxury cruise liners docking in the harbor, and now environmental groups and the regional government are implementing emissions tests and issuing fines to the offending cruise lines. It is estimated that over 50,000 Europeans die prematurely every year as a result of shipping-based pollution.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, local environmental groups have demonstrated that a single cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 trucks and as much particulate matter as a million cars. It has been estimated that between 40,000 and 100,000 Britons die prematurely every year as a result of emissions from the shipping and cruise industries, with major port-cities such as Southampton, Grimsby and Liverpool particularly affected. In recent years there have been several moves towards reducing the amount of pollution being emitted by ships, however, half the UK seashore lacks the legal protection of maritime pollution laws.

Cruise ship ‘Independence of the Seas’ at the cruise terminal on Wilhelmina Pier, Netherlands,… [+]

Solutions Versus Reality

Carbon emissions and dangerous particulates emitted by cruise ships are caused by the quantity and quality of the fuel used by these floating citadels . The biggest issues with cruise emissions are the levels of nitrogen oxide, which has been linked to acid rain, higher rates of cancer and other forms of respiratory diseases. As such, cruise operators have been urged to switch to cleaner fuel alternatives with a lower sulfur content by 2020, but few have heeded these calls.

Safer fuel, such as liquefied natural gas, is more expensive and operators have favored using scrubbers, which have been called “emission cheat” systems. These scrubbers wash cheap fuel in order to meet environmental standards, but then discharge the pollutants collected directly into the ocean, as independent shipping analyst Ned Molloy explains: “This is sulfurous waste going into the sea. It would be illegal to just dump this anywhere on land anywhere in the EU, except in specialist facilities.”

The dumping of sewage and other such pollutants into the ocean has only aggravated environmental groups and governments charged with cleaning it up, leading the decisions made by some in the cruise industry’s to release more pollutants to be met with widespread condemnation. There exists a range of new technologies aimed at reducing the waste produced by cruise liners, such as onboard incineration plants, recycling programs, as well as cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as LNG. However, without homogenized standards and strictly enforced international rules, the cruise and shipping industry is likely to continue side-stepping many of the possible solutions.Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out my websiteJames EllsmoorFollow

James Ellsmoor is the founder of the Virtual Island Summit and a Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur, dedicated to his passion for sustainable development… Read More