According to a study carried out in 2009 on the environmental impact of cruise ships by Dr. Ross Klein, sociologist at the University of Newfoundland, on the average cruise ship, 401 g of CO2 – one of the main causes of global warming – are emitted per passenger per kilometer. “This is 36 times more than the carbon footprint of a Eurostar passenger and more than three times that of a person traveling on a standard Boeing 747 or passenger ferry,” he wrote in his report.
One of the reasons for the high environmental impact is the industry’s use of cheap but dirty heavy fuel oil to operate its ships. Heavy fuel oil is a byproduct of the refining process that is so dirty that it is illegal to burn on land in most jurisdictions. According to the German environmental group NABU, a medium-sized cruise ship engine can use 150 tonnes of fuel per day, which would emit as much particulate pollution as a million cars.
The United States banned its use without scrubbers to clean exhaust gases within 200 nautical miles of the coast years ago, and cruise ships are required to burn low-sulfur fuel for one part of the time they have been docked in Sydney Harbor since late 2015. Since In January of this year, new international regulations have made it mandatory to use cleaner fuel, but critics say that oxide emissions dangerous nitrogen continues.
When the US government started outlining its economic stimulus plans last month, a group of Democratic senators argued that the airline and cruise lines should be supported only in exchange for environmental improvements. “Requiring reductions in carbon pollution from foreign-flagged cruise ships, as well as reductions in other air pollutants and increased penalties for illegal discharges, would result in cleaner air and a healthier ocean”, they wrote in a letter to Congress.
Perhaps more worrisome to the industry, President Donald Trump suggested in his statement regarding a $ 2 trillion stimulus package that it would be aimed at businesses, “created or organized in the United States or in under the laws of the United States and has significant operations and a majority of its employees based in the United States. “
This was important because many of the world’s largest cruise lines are infamous in tax havens rather than in the countries where their customers live.
This point was raised by New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller when he announced a criminal investigation into whether Ruby Princess officers had lied about the extent of the spread of COVID -19 on board. “They don’t pay taxes in Australia, they don’t park their boats in Australia, their main flags are often in the Caribbean. [It’s] time to go home, ”he said.
Jamie Parker, NSW Greens MP for Balmain, which houses the White Bay cruise terminal, says the cruise industry should be better regulated when it revives.
For years, his constituents have campaigned against the emissions and noise of cruise ships. The problem did not exist when the port was used for container ships, says Parker, because these ships are lower in the water and have less impact on local neighborhoods.
Katrina Horrobin, member of Stop Cruise Ship Pollution, says Carnival has fought residents and blocked all solutions – from restrictions on heavy fuel oil to the introduction of shore power that would allow ships to connect to the network and turn their engines off at the port. “We estimate it would cost them between half a million and $ 2 million to upgrade their ships, but they don’t want to do it,” she said.
Similar campaigns have been carried out by harbor residents in Melbourne and Tasmania.
Since 2001, 21 overseas ports have introduced shore power. Three years ago, the New South Wales government rejected a proposal to install the technology in Sydney due to the cost of $ 36 million, although last month it reported that it would review the proposal.
A spokesperson for Carnival Australia said the company objected to the selection of White Bay when it was first proposed by the government, “but has since pledged to work cooperatively to make the new facility a success.” and, overall, it was. ”
“This included adopting operating procedures to minimize the impact on the local community and to protect the environment.”
Despite concerns from environmentalists and residents around the world, despite the complete global shutdown of the industry, indications are that the cruise remains popular. Thursday The Los Angeles Times said bookings for 2021 were up 40% from 2019 in the online cruise market CruiseCompete.com, while Swiss bank UBS found that bookings for next year had increased compared to the last year, with many usage credits for cruises canceled due to a coronavirus.
Nick O’Malley is the National Environment and Climate Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and former American correspondent.