How environmentally friendly is cruising?

I have enjoyed cruising all over the world for the last twenty years or so and, although I occasionally hear an ill informed comment about it being a snobbish and elitist holiday choice, most people seem quite interested in cruise and cruise ships – even if its not a holiday choice for them, they can understand why it appeals to others.

Well this feels very environmentally friendly….

So I was completely blindsided by a conversation with an acquaintance the other day, the highlights of which were:

‘Cruise ships?!

What a terrible choice to make….

      Completely irresponsible….

          Awful pollution……..

            Huge carbon footprint …

               No wonder everyone hate cruisers!’


Now I’d already been thinking about the protests against cruise ships that we’ve been seeing – in Barcelona and Venice for example – and I’d been thinking about the phrase Concious Cruising and how we should consider changes to our behaviour ashore to make us more in tune with local people and the local economy ( please read ). However I really had assumed that cruising was better for the environment that flying, I was certain that it must have a smaller carbon footprint – it but turns out that I was completely wrong!

The figures actually that show that on a Transatlantic crossing the QM2, for example, gets about 45 passenger miles per gallon when running at its most efficient whereas an Airbus A321, in comparison, gets just over 107!  This is because traditionally ships burn a much worse fuel than planes – in fact its the heavy, sulphurous sludge oil that’s left once aircraft and other higher-value fuels are refined. Even while docked, cruise ships usually keep running their engines – burning fuel to provide electrical power for its passengers and crew.

Southampton, UK is one port that has had enough – Christopher Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council is quoted as saying “Communities find it difficult to see the benefits of these big cruise ships, it’s a very visible thing: a big funnel chucking out black soot and smoke. People think, I’m breathing all that in.” His suggestion is that cruise ships plug into on on shore electricity and turn off their engines while docked to avoid the problems but what else can be done? And is anybody doing it?

Celebrity Constellation alongside in Catania. She is the worlds second most environmentally aware ships according to Friends of the Earth

Over the last few years many ships have installed ‘scrubbers’ which reduce smoke emissions but whilst they reduce air pollution they work by contaminating and discharging waste water- which is just swopping one pollution problem for another! Battery power isn’t an answer, except for some smaller ships, as batteries couldn’t last for several days at sea. Other options are cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as Liquified Natural Gas, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, even trials of wind powered generators! (Sails anyone?!) 

well its one option!

Wastewater and pollution from onboard sewage brings another huge set of problems so as the Green Movement grows there is obviously a huge need to Cruise Companies to address this before cruisers become the pariahs of the tourism industry! Alaska already has a series of environmental targets for cruise ships in the area and now Europe is being advised to do the same – “With friendly words you will not get any changes,” said German environmental group NABU CEO Leif Miller “so port cities and coastal communities are now asked to ban dirty ships – like Norway is doing for some of their fjords – to protect the people and the environment.” 

Early morning fjords breakfast view
Breakfast on the balcony, watching the view heading into Bergen

Happily it does appear that these messages are getting through…

CLIA announced today that 44 percent of new cruise ships are planning to use LNG fuel for propulsion and the industry is taking its responsibilities towards safeguarding the environment seriously by investing more than 22 billion dollars into new technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, LNG fuel and shore-side power. Obviously new ships can be designed to take advantage of new technology but what about older ships? Well things are looking hopeful there too… Earlier this week MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, announced that their ship MSC Magnifica is having a major refurbishment for its 2021 season when out will be based in Southampton,  with itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords. Environmental improvements include ….

“two new major and important onboard environmental advances to complement a wide range of existing leading-edge environmental technologies across the company’s entire fleet: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. SCR technology helps reducing nitrogen oxide into pure nitrogen and water through advanced active emissions control technology. MSC Cruises also took the opportunity to install a state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment system on board that meets the highest standards and that purifies used wastewater to near tap-water quality… state-of-the-art environmental technology, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system (ECGS), as part of MSC Cruises’ longstanding commitment to minimize and continuously reduce its impact on the environment.”   

 – oh and they will be fitting Magnifica so that she can plug into the shore supply in Southampton!   So well done to MSC – lets hope other cruise lines really start to take their environmental responsibilities seriously too!

Published by Cathy Rogers

Organised, bossy, untidy, inquisitive Gemini - lover of cruising and all things cruise. Author of 'The Confident portExplorer' and 'The Cruise Planner' sharing my passion for cruise organisation and onshore adventures.

One thought on “How environmentally friendly is cruising?

  1. I wonder if there’s a way to put pressure on other lines (and ports I suppose!) to adopt using shore based power more?
    Solar panels on everyone’s balcony balustrades to get more that way?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: