Wednesday 17 July 2019

Pól Ó Conghaile: How passenger pester power can help cut cruise ship pollution

Cruising is more exciting than ever, but it has to get to grips with sustainability... fast.

Cruising in the Caribbean. Photo: Deposit
Cruising in the Caribbean. Photo: Deposit
Stock image
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Forget stereotypes of the newly wed, over-fed and nearly dead.

The cruise industry is changing fast, as you'll see in this week's travel pages. That's exciting, but we shouldn't forget that beyond all the rollercoasters and ritzy restaurants, one thing isn't changing fast enough: sustainability.

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Cruise ships are floating resorts. They carry millions of guests a year - with all the fuel, energy and waste that entails.

A recent study of emissions, by think tank Transport & Environment, found that cruise ships spewed far more sulphur oxides around Europe's coast than its 260m cars combined.

Recently, Carnival Corporation agreed to pay a $20m penalty for violations including discharging plastic at sea. "I sincerely regret these mistakes", its CEO said, and the line has pledged to clean up its act.

An industry of this size can't change tack overnight, but there are some positive signs. Hurtigruten has removed single-use plastic from its fleet and is building hybrid electric-powered expedition ships, for example.

Celebrity's new Edge class is 20pc more fuel efficient than its Solstice class, and sustainability improvements range from waste water treatment to LED lights.

"We spend a billion dollars a year on fuel," Nicholas Rose, Royal Caribbean's director of environmental programs, told me. "Any way we can reduce that is a win-win for everyone."

Ships can be retrofitted with greener tech, consumption reduced and better recycling put in place. Investments are being made in emissions purifications systems (though cleaner fuels like liquefied natural gas can't come quickly enough).

Oceans are "the essence of our business", Royal Caribbean says. Carbon emissions will fall by 30pc by 2025, according to industry group, CLIA.

That said, we can't be naive. You could argue that environmental laws haven't kept pace with the industry, that enforcement is difficult, that there's a huge amount of 'greenwashing' on the seas - what kind of dent can paper straws, or a token charity partnership, really put in this pollution, after all?

Then there's us.

Climate change is front and centre in our lives, but we tend to let standards slip on holidays. Yes, the onus is on cruise companies to step up - but we can play our part with a little pester power.

We can ask questions when we book and board. We can choose lines that are proactive, rather than meeting minimum goals.

Conscious consumerism can encourage companies to see not changing as a business risk. We are environmentally woke. We just need to help the cruise industry to wake up too.

Read more:

How to choose a cruise: Which line is best for budget, luxury, families or adventure?

Irish Independent

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