Cruise Industry Says Report Card "Regrettable"

cruise ships

Published Jun 9, 2016 5:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

The environmental group Friends of the Earth has released its 2016 edition of its Cruise Ship Report Card, causing Cruise Lines International Association to again defend its members against what it considers to be a misleading and inaccurate system.

The Report Card documents the environmental footprint of the cruise industry, grading 17 cruise lines and their 171 ships. The report card, last released in 2014, shows 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, says Friends of the Earth (FOE).

Disney Cruise Line was the sole cruise line this year to earn an “A” for transparency by responding to information requests. Every other line, like the year before, refused to confirm its current environmental technologies, resulting in failing grades for transparency.

“Despite its PR blitz regarding installation of new pollution reduction technology, the cruise industry continues to get an ‘F’ for transparency, and many are failing when it comes to air or water pollution or both,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for FOE. “Even with the new cleaner fuel rules in North America resulting in the installation of scrubbers on many cruise ships, the industry continues its greenwashing to try and hide its dirty practices from the public.”

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.

FOE says that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each day an average cruise ship is at sea it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than one million cars. The group says that even with the installation of scrubbers, 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 percent sulfur (35,000 parts per million), while the Emission Control Area rules limit sulfur to 0.1 percent (1,000 parts per million), and on-road diesel truck fuel is limited to 15 parts per million sulfur.

An average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day, enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than one 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 highlight the gaps between cruise ships that have adopted the most advanced sewage treatment systems and those that still use 35-year-old technology. 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. 

Keever 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.”

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Responds

“Once again it is regrettable that FOE has issued a report on the cruise industry that is misleading and inaccurate, said the Cruise Lines International Association in a statement. “Through CLIA, the industry has offered numerous times to meet with FOE. However, our requests have either been put off or outright ignored. While we recognize that this is largely a fundraising effort for FOE, we also believe that they do a disservice to the public in providing inaccurate information.”

CLIA says:

The cruise industry is committed to preserving and protecting the environment as evidenced through our leadership, investments and collaboration to develop and deploy sustainable solutions.

The FOE report is subjective, non-scientific and misleading to the public. It is based on outdated sources and does not factor available current data. Here are the facts:

1. Transparency: CLIA has offered several times to meet with FOE and share information about the cruise industry’s technologies to reduce emissions and waste. They have yet to accept. However, we remain open to having a productive dialogue. 

2. Waste treatment and management: The cruise industry has pioneered and operates advanced systems that reduce and often eliminate waste and sewage. CLIA members must process all sewage through treatment systems that meet or exceed international requirements prior to discharge. The industry pioneered advanced wastewater treatment systems that can produce water that is cleaner than most wastewater treatment facilities in cities along the coastal U.S.

3. Air Emissions: The cruise industry develops and deploys innovative technologies to ensure cruise ships are energy efficient and decrease emissions. The industry has invested $1 billion in new technologies and cleaner fuels, to significantly reduce ships’ air emissions. The industry has committed more than $8 billion to construction of highly advanced LNG-fueled cruise ships that will have lower emissions and higher energy efficiency.

As of January 2015, The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) requires that ships travelling in designated Emissions Control Areas, including most waters in and adjacent to the U.S. and Canada, must use low-sulfur fuel (0.1 percent) or employ technology to achieve equivalent reduction in sulfur emissions.

Exhaust gas cleaning systems on ships have been shown to reduce by as much as 98 percent the level of sulfur oxides in a ship’s exhaust.

CLIA supports continued port infrastructure development, including shore power, in the ports where cruise ships call and the availability of a clean supply of power close to the port that will achieve an overall emission reduction. 

4. Annual Comparisons: The cruise industry’s investments in new technologies and designs continue to improve energy efficiency and performance. Cruise ship owners work closely with equipment manufacturers to modernize existing equipment and update procedures to improve energy efficiency. 

CLIA members are actively developing engines that run more efficiently and with significantly reduced emissions. CLIA has been an active partner with the IMO in developing mandatory measures for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emission rates for new cruise ships by 2025.

The 2016 Report Card is available here.
The 2014 Report Card is discussed here.