Eco Cruising and Emissions - Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Eco Cruising and Emissions

The good: traveling by sea produces an estimated 36 times less carbon dioxide than flying. The bad: that’s still not good enough.

Although marine vessels are responsible for almost 3 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, the world’s fleet of around 350 oceangoing cruise ships produces just 0.1 percent of those emissions.

Eco diligence

Cruise companies try hard to achieve an integrated, industry-wide approach to reduce air emissions, to provide more fuel-efficient ships, and to retrofit older ships with more efficient replacement machinery. New ships benefit from better hydrodynamic hull design, and advanced hull coatings can also improve efficiency. Careful handling of solid and liquid waste results in lower fuel consumption, and, therefore, CO2 emissions. Flue gas from shipboard incinerators is recycled and wastewater treated according to the toughest legal and eco-friendly standards.

Since 2011, new diesel ship engines have had to comply with MARPOL Annex VI Tier II standards, requiring a more efficient use of current engine technologies, including engine timing, engine cooling, and advanced computer controls resulting in a 15 to 25 percent reduction in NOx - the term for a group of highly reactive gases, all of which contain nitrogen and oxygen in varying amounts. By 2016, new ship engines will need to comply with even stricter Tier III standards. This means using high-efficiency emissions control technology such as selective catalytic converters to reduce NOx.

The first cruise ship to be equipped with an SCR-catalytic converter, which reduces the emission of nitrogen oxides (including nitrogen dioxide) by almost 95 percent, is Europa 2. Other eco-friendly examples include all MSC Fantasia-class ships, which now use only low-sulfur fuels worldwide, while each Celebrity Solstice-class ship features 80 solar panels that help power the elevators. Some ships have their hulls painted with ‘foul release’ paint with fluoropolymers or glass-flake vinyl ester resins - non-toxic substances that help reduce CO2 emissions through reduced fuel use. However, cruise ships that have switched from heavy fuel oil to low-sulfur fuels when operating both outside and inside environmental zones have experienced greater fuel pump wear when switching over, thereby adding to maintenance, operational, and replacement costs.

Most large resort ship operators exited Antarctica in 2011 due to a ban on carrying or burning heavy fuel oil below 60 degree south latitude, leaving travel mainly in the hands of specialist expedition ship operators. ‘Antarctic’ fuel (lighter-grade distillate fuel) is the highest cost fuel in the world for ship use. However, some large resort ships and mid-size ships also carry the special fuel, which allows them to continue traveling to Antarctica - although these are for cruising only, not passenger landings.

Norwegian Breakaway, which debuted in 2013, became the first cruise ship to take advantage of MARPOL rule MEPC.1/Circ.642 - permitting the recovery and re-use of the HFO fraction of waste oil as fuel for the diesel engines. The ship’s waste oil separator system has only two moving parts and leaves only non-pumpable ‘super-dry’ solids for landing as dry waste. Waste oil volumes are reduced by 99 percent, with around 11-33lb (5-15kg) per day of solids left for disposal ashore. The separated water, with an oil content of less than 1,000ppm, is pumped to the bilge-water tank as part of an integrated waste oil and bilge-water handling system.


Solar panels on Celebrity Solstice.

Celebrity Cruises

Other measures

Other eco-friendly measures include the use of LED lighting rather than fuel-guzzling halogen lighting; cabin lights and other electrical devices that function only when a cabin key card is in a card device inside the cabin; motion-activated lighting in closets; single-use plastic cups replaced by melamine and/or porcelain; plastic single-use soap/shampoo packs replaced by permanent dispensers; plastic laundry bags replaced by re-washable cotton bags; high-tech tunnel washers fitted into laundries to save water; dry-cleaning chemicals being replaced by fruit-based washing chemical; water flow reducers fitted to faucets (taps) and showers; paper towels made from recycled paper; use of darkness-activated sensors that switch on the ship’s external lights at dusk; the use of chilled river rocks that retain low temperatures for buffet items, rather than ice; heat-deflecting window coatings; and the latest wastewater treatment technology.

Sorting of waste items is done by cabin attendants and other cleaning staff, with final sorting conducted in the garbage room. After all the sorting has been done, the resulting trash goes into the incinerator or is off-loaded ashore to be managed by reputable waste management companies. While all these measures help, they must be weighed against the costs of implementing them.

Emissions Control Areas

In 2009 the British Isles introduced the first Emissions Control Areas (ECA) around its shores and in the English Channel. They were followed by 10 countries in the Baltic and North Sea region. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) formally established a North American Emission Control Area, an area ringing the US/Canada (including Alaska) coast with a 200-mile (320-km) exclusion zone; this came into force in August 2012. The IMO’s global air emissions standards called for a progressive reduction of SOx - sulfur dioxide - emissions from 4.5 to 3.5 percent by January 2012, then to 0.5 percent by January 2020, subject to a review to be completed by 2018.

When the North American Emission Control Area was implemented in August 2012, it raised fuel costs 10 percent to 15 percent. When the sulfur limit drops to 0.1 percent in 2015, those costs will shoot up another 25 percent to 50 percent. At present, no technological solution exists.

What is MARPOL?

Short for ‘Marine Pollution,’ the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL73/78 - the dates refer to its adoption) is the convention to which all member countries of the UN specialized agency the International Maritime Organization (IMO) subscribe. It was designed to minimize pollution of the oceans and seas, including dumping, and pollution by oil and exhaust gases, whether by operational or accidental causes. The original MARPOL Convention was signed on February 17, 1973, but did not come into force then. The present Convention took effect on October 2, 1983. Presently, some 146 countries, representing 98 percent of the world’s shipping tonnage, are signatories to the Convention. Ships flagged under these countries are subject to its requirements, regardless of where they sail.

Wastewater discharge

The IMO also introduced an International Convention on the Management of Ballast Water and Sediments (wastewater discharge) in 2010. By the end of 2010, MSC Cruises, for example, had almost eliminated the use of plastics, and no chemical detergents were being used in its shipboard laundries.

Cold ironing

This means plugging a ship into a land-based energy supply capable of running its essential functions while in port. The procedure only really makes sense in areas where electricity can be generated from renewable sources through a national grid, and allows the cruise ship to turn off its generators, thus reducing emissions. So far, cold ironing has been introduced in Halifax, Juneau, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver. Other ports are looking at the possibilities of setting it up, although it costs about $5 million to install.


In future, cruise ships will probably be built with the ability to use LNG (liquefied natural gas) fuel to avoid running the diesel generators in port. (It’s worth noting, however, that the storage tanks for LNG require 3.5 times the space of conventional fuel tanks, so retrofitting existing ships would be impractical.) An LNG-based power barge could possibly generate and supply electricity while in port. This would reduce CO2 emissions considerably, and produce almost no SOx. NOx, or particle emissions. This could be a better solution than ‘bridge’ (interim solution) technology cold ironing, in which power is simply generated in the normal manner and made available to a ship in port.