New technologies are ensuring that cruise travel respects the environment, says Nick Dalton.

Cruise ships are sailing into a bright new future. Blue skies are joined by a vivid green ethical
outlook which is turning cruising into a holiday that isn’t a drain on the planet.

As exploring the farthest reaches of our world by ship becomes more accessible, we can also be confident that environmental concerns are being taken seriously.

“The cruise industry has made unprecedented progress in implementing sustainable technologies and practices,” says Andy Harmer, director, UK and Ireland, of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

“While cruise ships comprise far less than one per cent of the global maritime community, cruise lines are at the forefront in developing responsible tourism practices and innovative technologies.”

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In the past, cruise ships have been seen as environmentally challenging due to old technology engines gulping down fossil fuels and belching smoke into the atmosphere. And wastewater and mountains of disposable plastic and glass have been commented on. But there are many new ships on the scene that are pushing the boundaries of green care and others are upgrading to take into account new regulations.

“CLIA cruise lines are making an industry-wide emissions commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030,” says Harmer.

“They have invested more than $22 billion in ships with energy-efficient technologies and cleaner fuels. The entire shipping industry benefits from early adoption of these technologies, many of which did not exist five to 10 years ago, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel exhaust, gas cleaning systems (EGCS) and shoreside power.

“LNG has virtually zero sulphur emissions, resulting in a 95 to 100 per cent reduction in particulate emissions and 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. There are currently two LNG-powered ships in service and 26 on order.”

Cruise ships going green

The two CLIA ships are German AIDAnova (the world’s first ship to be powered with LNG at port and at sea) and Costa Smeralda, both part of the Carnival Corporation.

MSC Cruises is part of the LNG revolution with its coming MSC Europa (due in May 2022) – and there another four are on order. “With each new ship we will push further the boundaries of innovation, we raise the bar of environmental performance and our ultimate goal is zero emissions operations,” says MSC Cruise’s executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago. 

Newly arrived MSC Grandiosa (it launched in autumn 2019) and 10 other ships in the fleet of 17 are equipped for cleaner emissions with EGCS. The other six will have it by the end of 2021 and, until then, are using low sulphur fuels. MSC Cruises was also the first global cruise line to become carbon neutral.

P&O Cruises’ new ship Iona is LNG powered and it aims to eliminate single-use plastics from its entire fleet by 2022, by which time a second LNG ship will have emerged.

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But while LNG has been hailed as the future for cruises, it does have its drawbacks, not least that the main component is methane, which is known to speed global warming. It may burn cleaner than regular fuels but, say scientists, methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Also LNG is liquefied to reduce the volume for shipping – but it weighs more than regular fuel and takes up more space. So although the hazards are substantially less than for diesel and other liquid fuels, it’s still difficult to find the storage room at sea. These factors mean there’s still a need for other greener energy sources.

Fortunately, hybrid power is coming on board. Adventure cruise line Hurtigruten is replacing diesel engines with a combination of batteries, LNG and liquefied bio gas (LBG). LBG is made from organic waste such as fish and Hurtigruten’s move is an industry first in a world where sustainability counts.

New ships Roald Amundsen, which arrived in 2019, and Fridtjof Nansen, coming later this year, are hybrid with three current vessels in the fleet being converted for 2021.

Scenic’s new ‘discovery yacht’ Scenic Eclipse uses marine gas oil (MGO), the highest class of marine fuel, with the lowest concentration of sulphur and particulates. There’s also a GPS dynamic positioning system that allows the ship to maintain position without dropping anchor on to sensitive seabeds. 

Silversea’s Silver Origin, the first destination-specific ship from the company which arrives in the Galápagos Islands this summer, has a similar ethos… a dynamic positioning system, a fresh water purification system in each suite to cut out plastic bottles and an advanced wastewater treatment system. Silversea is pushing to make a positive impact on the environment of the islands, including a contribution to the Floreana Island Ecological Restoration Project – guests donating between $500 and $1,000 per suite get a matching credit to any future Silversea cruise.

Viking’s six sleek, near identical ocean ships were from the very start designed with the environment in mind. Viking Star, the first, launched five years ago, came with energy-efficient hybrid engines, a ‘hydrodynamically optimised streamlined hull’ for maximum fuel efficiency (in particular this refers to the bulbous bow, a bulb-shaped structure sticking out from the front of the ship just below sea level, which reduces wave resistance) and equipment that limits exhaust emissions. Water that cools the engines comes from the sea and is then used to heat the ship before being returned at near original temperature.

Other eco-friendly initiatives

It’s not just propulsion that is getting a makeover, says Harmer: “All cruise ships on order must have advanced wastewater treatment systems which generate effluent discharges often equivalent to shoreside treatment plants and – consistent with CLIA policy – are well beyond international requirements.  

“Cruise ships can operate on shoreside electricity at 16 ports worldwide, reducing emissions while docked,” adds Harmer. “Currently 30 per cent of cruise ships are fitted to operate on shoreside electricity, 18 per cent are to be refitted and 88 per cent of new ships will be fitted with the systems.”

Lighting is under the spotlight with LED systems coming into use, creating less heat and so reducing the use of air-conditioning. Solar panels are increasingly used to generate power, too.

Way back in 2001 Princess Cruises pioneered the use of shore power in Juneau, Alaska. This year, 16 Princess ships will be able to turn off their diesel engines and use local power.

But well before that, in 1993, Princess launched the Planet Princess environmental programme to ‘encourage and inspire’ crew and guests to care for the environment. Moves include minimising air pollution, saving water, treating waste water and managing waste, including reducing the use of single-use plastics.

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Recycling is a top priority. “CLIA ships carefully follow waste management and recycling practices – thanks to advanced technologies, cruise ships each day recycle 60 per cent more waste per person than the average person on shore,” says Harmer. “Up to 80,000 tons of paper, plastic, aluminium and glass is recycled each year, and some cruise ships can re-purpose 100 per cent of waste by reducing, reusing, donating, recycling and converting into energy.”

It’s not just the big stuff. Think of all the little things that get thrown away – the straws, the coffee creamer packets, the plastic water bottles and shampoo bottles. Cruise companies are very determined to get rid of disposable items. 

Norwegian Cruise Line aims to be the first cruise company to be plastic-free by 2020. It eliminated plastic straws across its 16-ship fleet and its private islands in 2018. From 1 January, in a link-up with US water gurus JUST, it is replacing six million single-use plastic bottles every year with refillable and recyclable cartons made of 82 per cent renewable materials – a paper carton made from trees grown in responsibly-managed forests and a cap from sugarcane-based plastic.

Oceania Cruises’ Sail & Sustain ethos aims to foster ‘a culture of awareness and respect for our world’s resources’. In 2019, the cruise line joined forces with luxury water brand Vero, provider of both still and sparkling water to the likes of New York’s fêted Tribeca Grill. It has installed Vero’s distillation system on all its ships and now provides guests with a reusable souvenir glass bottle, saving up to three million plastic bottles a year.

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In a move ready to roll out across its European fleet, Emerald Waterways’ new Emerald Harmony, sailing from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, is its first Star-Ship to abandon single-use plastic, giving guests a refillable metal flask. Toiletry miniatures are washed up, too, with dispensers taking their place while, in a Asian touch, there are bamboo straws in the restaurant and bar.

Even the look of ships can be a help. Those futuristic looking vessels with a snub front rather than the old tapered design are more energy efficient as well as offering more space inside.

Other river cruise operators are cutting back on plastics while most river ships are modern with cutting-edge technology.

Cruising is a way to see the world at its best – and the lines involved are pushing to make sure it stays that way.  

Fore more cruise inspiration, look at the new cruise ships for 2020 and the best places to cruise to in 2020.