Travel Weekly Cruise Month - April 2008More than 90% of the world’s trade is conducted at sea but shipping is responsible for just 1.4% of greenhouse gasses, a Passenger Shipping Association report has said.

The new report outlines some of cruising’s green ­credentials, but stops short of providing the long-awaited and much-needed PSA ­research into the size of the ­industry’s carbon footprint.

That’s partly because the ­issue is very complex. Cruise ships combine the role of transport provider and hotel, which not only means they burn fuel keeping the lights and air-conditioning working as well as moving from A to B, but have to deal with other ­environmental factors such as waste water and garbage ­disposal – although an anonymous source suggested cruiselines are not in a hurry to come up with figures for fear they won’t look good.

PSA director Bill Gibbons said: “We are in the process of forming a sustainability committee to discuss environmental issues and look at best practice. It is working with its members and various environmental advisors to produce an up-to-date summary of the issues and industry guidelines.”

Rather than tackling the who-is-greener issue of cruising v flying, the new report pitches the cruise industry’s greenhouse gas emissions against agriculture and deforestation – and it comes out very well.

But it does go some way to answering critics who accuse cruise ships of being environmentally unfriendly, not only because of their emissions but also the waste they dump in the sea and their impact on the places they visit.

A report in the Daily Telegraph in February, Responsible Travel, which promotes holidays from companies that care for the environment, labelled cruiselines as the bad guys of the industry for their carbon emissions, waste, cultural and environmental impact, and sourcing of food and services.

Responsible Travel’s comments took no account of the complex rules and regulations relating to emissions, garbage and waste disposal laid down by the International Maritime Organisation, the body responsible for developing the regulatory framework in which all shipping is supposed to operate.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines general sales manager Lol Nichols said: “It is very fashionable to be green, but cruiselines have had to abide by a lot of rules and regulations on the disposal of waste for a long time, and increasingly on the types of fuel they can use.”

In addition to the IMO, the EU and a rising number of ­individual countries and US states are introducing waste regulations. The industry also has its own waste management standards, drawn up by the ­International Council of Cruise Lines, part of the Cruise Lines International Association.#

As a result some companies now employ environmental ­officers on their ships to ­ensure compliance. Holland America has one on each of its vessels to make sure the rules are not broken.

The PSA report said about 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities and only 10% from shipping. It also points to efforts the cruiselines have made to develop systems to minimise pollution.

These include food and product waste grinders recycling separators – according to the report, the largest cruise companies are achieving 60%-65% recycling, which is much higher than equivalent-size communities on land food, ­paper and other waste by-product incinerators and engine room equipment to reduce or eliminate liquid discharge.

Cruise companies have also moved to reduce the potential for waste by controlling or eliminating the use of items such as plastics and by requiring suppliers to minimise packaging.

For example, Royal Caribbean International, picked out by Responsible Tourism as the most environmentally-friendly cruiseline, has told suppliers to reduce the volume of material delivered to the ships that must be processed as waste.

It operates an environmental protection programme called Save The Waves, which aims to reduce the creation or generation of waste material, recycle as much as possible and ensure the proper disposal of any remaining waste through water purification systems, for instance.

However, other lines are also doing their bit with initiatives such as cold ironing – switching to land-based power when ships are in port so they can turn off their engines – ­using environmentally-friendly cleaning products on board and recycling water.

MSC Cruises chief executive officer Pierfrancesco Vago said all waste water on the ships is reused, with the last drop used to wash the windows.

On new ship MSC Poesia, named in Dover this month, a new non-toxic paint has been used on the hull that doesn’t release acidity and therefore doesn’t alter the bacterial make-up of the sea. Vago said this will be applied to all MSC’s future new builds.

He said: “We live by the sea it’s all we know. It’s ­important to look after the ­environment. The future of cruising depends on being eco-friendly.”

MSC Cruises was also one of the first cruiselines to sign up to the Venice Blue Flag project set up to control sulphurous anhydride (SOX) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) ­emissions from ships sailing through the city. This is achieved by switching to a ­diesel fuel with a sulphur ­content below 2.5%.

The Blue Flag Project is voluntary however, since January 2007 the Norwegian government has imposed a NOX tax on nitrogen oxides burned carrying non-Norwegian cruise passengers between ports in Norway, which means cruiselines have to adjust the types of fuel they are using.

Time taken for objects to dissolve at sea

  • Paper bus ticket: two to four weeks
  • Cotton cloth: one to five months
  • Rope: three to 14 months
  • Woollen cloth: one year
  • Painted wood: 13 years
  • Tin can: 100 years
  • Aluminium can: 200-500 years
  • Plastic bottle: 450 years

What the cruiselines are doing

Princess Cruises has pioneered a system known as cold ironing in a number of ports in Alasca and West Coast America.  This means its ships plug into shore power when docked so they can turn off their diesel engines for the day.

Holland America Line’s Noordam, Westerdam and Oosterdam have been modified to use the cold ironing technique in Seattle.

All aluminium – cans and foil – used on MSC Cruises’ ships is being collected in Genoa or Venice and sent for recycling.  An estimated 15 tonnes was recycled in the last half of 2007, equivalent to 1,300 bikes.

Hurtigruten encourages passengers and crew in Spitsbergen to pick up litter found on beaches during excursions.