09 July 2016 Feature Guest Environment
Cruise Ship Pollution - Are Bigger Ships A Future Liability?
A warning shot across the bows - Guest Writer

(Picture: Ah, fresh, lovely air! )


Cruise ships are getting bigger. Much bigger. We have already breached the 200,000 ton mark, which a decade ago seemed like fantasy. There is talk of bigger, much bigger, indeed, all that stops these behemoths growing ever more like floating cities is where to dock them. Designers seem to have overcome all design-related problems with size.

But size leads to other problems: its the numbers of passengers, living in luxury, up to 6,000 of them plus the crew of maybe 1700. (Going by what's on order books so far) That's a town. A town full of houses and shops and bars and cinemas and spas, all running at levels that require power, lots of power. Every single thing the passenger wants, it needs power from re-charging the mobile phone to watching a film, from getting a meal to having their hair done. And all in air conditioned fully lit splendour. No house in this town is getting by on a light bulb and keeping the heating off until its freezing either!

Imagine that if you will, what it takes to power a town of luxurious living. It's quite mind boggling isnt it?
Now take that town and move it.

Every day.

For years.

And when you stop moving it, keep it powered up.

That takes fuel. Lots of. Thousands of gallons of heavy fuel per hour. Per hour. And not all the cleanest you can get. So far we still power these floating towns, largely, with fuels that on land we'd be a bit wary of letting our kids near. Cruise ships are pretty polluting pieces of kit - and they are big as we have said.

Now take that town and have it meet another town, and another. Imagine these towns chuntering along, and none of them powered by hydro, or wind turbine, or nuclear. Side by side. You'd be pretty disappointed with the way things were going if you saw the power plants of these towns running naked.

This is how environmentalists see it - and whichever way you cut it, they have a point, a very major and moral one.

It would lead to chagrin even amongst the environmentalist's sworn enemy, the motorist. There's you gone all clean in your hybrid, or electric car that cost a premium, there's you car sharing and so on, and here's the floating towns docking down the road and cancelling out all your efforts so a small population can descend on your own town or little paradise for a couple of hours, say "aw gee that's cute", and bugger off in a puff of giant fumes that coat your solar panels - and your smoke free lungs - later that night.

It really, really doesn't make much sense does it?

But, people must have their fun and cruise ships permit lots of carefree fun. In any case, all those people, if they weren't in that floating polluting town would be in their cars or a traditional fixed brick house burning stuff out of either necessity or even pure joy, so what's the bloody odds?

The odds are this: there is no escaping the fact that concentrated populations with no option to do their bit as individuals, are then part of a single source problem that also has the barefaced cheek to export itself around the world, often to places that are as filthy as a field of daisies (and worked damned hard to be little flowers), and undo the good for the sake of a camera snap and a feeling of having 'been there' that is ever so brief, in between watching the latest movies, gorging on steaks and having their hair done.

You see we try to justify it but its pretty darned hard. Just as eco-tourists really ought to have a word with themselves about going to look at polar bears in ships that spew pollutants into the last pristine environments, (quite apart from the culture shock of polar bear meets giant floating terror machine), then cruise passengers really ought to ask themselves if there's any point of buying a Prius or a Tesla and proudly showing off their solar panels if for two weeks of the year they engulf little harbours with a few thousand diesel cars worth of pollutants and toxins for the sake of a picture they could google on their solar-powered Ipad.

So what's the answer? The answer clearly is that we all need to stop and pause.

Cruise ship owners say they do all they can to minimise damage to the environment, but let's be honest with each other here, they are doing no such thing. Its fig leaf politicking as nonsensical as turning the tap off between brushing whilst tumble drying a handkerchief.

The industry needs to get a grip. Otherwise its going to find itself in real trouble pretty soon.

How so?

Let us imagine that someone somewhere, and there will be, is looking to perfect the most environmentally sound cruise ship possible. And you are in the middle of a programme of ordering ten years ahead, placing orders, for filthy old tech. What are you going to do when 200,ooo tons of metal suddenly becomes as welcome as a defecating cow at a garden party?

You are going to end up with one giant liability for one thing, and no way to recoup the costs. When the market has an attack of moral conscience and you've not bothered to factor in that possibility, then how brief the glory and how long the pain?

The cruise ship industry needs to stop chasing profits, because that's all bigger and bigger is for, and start thinking smart. Think smaller, powered by better cleaner fuels, or by no fuels at all. Make that investment, and maybe the harbours wont mind at all your passengers cooing over their pristine environments for two hours and maybe the legislators wont need to close you down at all....