Sustainable Cruising: How Cruise Lines Are Thinking About the Environment


The topic of sustainability is growing increasingly more urgent. We saw the raft of extreme weather hit the UK this past week with Storm Dennis and Ciara. The horrors of the Australian fires, and the devastation of the Amazon wildfires. Greta Thunberg (the Swedish environmentalist activist) has been making waves since 2018 when she addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Her infamous quote, ‘how dare you’ has remained prevalent as she addressed world leaders for their “betrayal” of young people.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that arguably one of the most severe impacts on our planet, is cruise ships. Cruising is becoming increasingly more popular, especially with younger customers booking. There are now over 25 million passengers setting sail per year. According to Vox; “the ships heavy use of fossil fuels means that someone on a seven-day cruise produces the same amount of emissions as they would during 18 days on land. They can also damage fragile ocean ecosystems, due to practices like irresponsible disposal of sewage.”

Apparently “each passengers’ carbon footprint is three times what it would be on land,” says the Pacific Standard. Therefore it comes as no surprise that cruise lines are reacting.

Environmental Awareness

The environmental movement has not only infiltrated the cruising industry but in fact the travel industry as a whole. New guidelines and standards and defining where steps are needing to be taken to reduce the carbon footprint.

Royal Caribbean, Oceania and MSC have been big players when it comes to the investment of optimising their ships to offset their carbon emissions. As of January 1st 2020, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has introduced a new regulation that requires ships to change from heavy sulphur fuel to more expensive low-sulphur alternatives. The maximum sulphur content of such fuels is 0.5 per cent compared to the previous content of 3.5 per cent.

According to the 2019 Cruise Lines International Association Technologies & Practices Report; 22 billion US dollars are said to have been invested in ships with new, energy-efficient technologies and cleaner fuels. 

Negative Press

As cruise liners are increasingly being perceived as heavy polluters, offsetting negative press is also proving to be a challenging feat. The good news, however, is that the solution is to not stop or limit travelling. Rather, alternatives are being sought and innovations made to ensure more sustainable cruising. The goal of zero-emission cruises is not necessarily impossible, either!

The word ‘sustainable’ is a pretty abstract word, though. We read it a lot in company’s mission statements and often hear it on the news and on social media… but what does it exactly mean? We’ve taken a look at some of the onboard measures, technology and policies that cruise lines have taken in favour of eco-conscious, sustainable cruising.

Knowledge is Power

There has been heavy investment placed on research to find the most environmentally friendly way to sail the seas. There have been significant advances in research that have led to the testing and implementation of new technologies. Below is a list of the most frequently used technologies that have been installed on cruise ships. Content derived from CruiseAway:

What? According to Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2017 Stewardship Report, roughly 50 per cent of the total energy use on a ship comes from propulsion power. Air lubrication systems coat the bottom of the ship with air bubbles to reduce friction whilst it moves, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel needed to propel the ship. 

Optimising ships’ hulls can also include using special environmentally friendly hull paints, which eliminate the growth of barnacles, algae and marine organisms in order to significantly increase hydrodynamic efficiency. Through this coating, cruise lines can also avoid transporting invasive species such as sea snails and sea stars to other cruising areas.
Where?According to MSC, environmentally friendly hull coating is used on all MSC’s ships. In a 2017 report published by Norwegian, this also seems to be the case for 92 per cent of Norwegian’s ships.

Thanks to its more energy-efficient hull, MSC’s MSC Grandiosa, released in 2019, uses 28% less fuel compared to its counterpart ships in the Fantasia class. The cruise line claims that this equates to roughly 255 kilogrammes less carbon dioxide per passenger, per cruise.

ECAs (emission control areas)

What? ECAs are sensitive waters where emission levels cannot surpass a certain level set by the MARPOL Convention. This makes it important for cruise lines to invest in technology to reduce their emissions; they can only cruise in these areas if they comply with these guidelines.
Where?Examples of ECAs are waters surrounding Antarctica, North America, the Gulf of Mexico, Kamchatka and the Arctic.

EGCS (exhaust gas cleaning systems)

What?Also known as ‘scrubbers’, EGCS are designed to eliminate 99 per cent of sulphur and over 50 per cent of particulates. This technology is considered an important investment for cruise lines, as they need to ensure their cruise ships comply with the previously mentioned sulphur cap set by the IMO.
Where? MSC aims to ensure that 100 per cent of its cruise ships, such as MSC Fantasia and MSC Preziosa, will be equipped with EGCS by the end of 2023. 

Norwegian has also implemented EGCS on five of its ships, including the Norwegian Sun and the Norwegian Jade, since 2016.

Future cell technology

What? Fuel cell technology is considered the future of cruising, as it only emits water. The process involves generating emission-free energy through an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

This innovative technology also promises to significantly reduce noise pollution in comparison with conventional systems using marine diesel or heavy fuel oil.
Where?Royal Caribbean intends to implement this technology in all newbuilds of its Icon Class from 2022. According to various sources, the MSC Europa is also set to integrate this new fuel cell technology.

LNG (liquified natural gas)

What? LNG is natural gas (mostly methane) that has been converted to liquid form for simplifying storage and transportation. 
Considered the world’s cleanest fossil fuel, LNG ensures that ships emit no dust, soot or particles and is, according to CLIA, expected to eliminate sulphur emissions by more than 99 per cent and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 85 per cent in comparison with conventional fossil fuels.
Where?MSC is set to power some of its future World Class ships with LNG.
Princess Cruises also has two LNG ships in the pipeline with expected delivery dates in 2023 and 2025.

Shore power

What? Shower power, also known as ‘cold ironing’, ensures that electricity is brought to the ship by connecting to a port’s electric grid and using local power. Once connected, the ship’s engines are turned off, reducing ship emissions whilst the ship is at berth.
Where?Examples of ports where you might find shore power are Hamburg, Juneau, Seattle and Vancouver.

Princess ships, such as Coral PrincessGolden Princess and Island Princess, as well Norwegian’s Norwegian Star have all been retrofitted to run on shore power.

Onboard policies

Cruise lines have also implemented on-board policies to encourage passengers to be more sustainable. Some of these measures might even be worth carrying out at home, too.

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Princess use energy-saving LED or fluorescent lighting on their ships. Royal Caribbean has even installed card-activated cabin lighting and air-conditioning that turns off once the veranda doors are opened. It’s been reported that the introduction of the LED lighting on Norwegian’s Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Star in 2018 has resulted in a 70 per cent reduction in daily energy consumption and 50 per cent reduced heat output.

Saving water has also been high on the list of sustainable priorities. Water reduction technology has been installed in the kitchens, bathrooms and laundry facilities. Princess also encourages their guests to ensure they turn off running water and report any leaky taps, as well as reusing towels and linens.

Onboard learning

Often, cruise lines such as Oceania organises onboard lectures about marine life and the environment. Norwegian employs trained environmental experts who teach young guests about the planet, clean water and how to prevent pollution. Its crew also has to attend ‘Environmental Familiarisation Training’ to ensure compliance with environmental policies. 

Seabourn also promotes sustainable tourism at the World Heritage Sites in its partnerships with UNESCO. Guests are then offered educational lectures on World Heritage Sites by experts. The proceeds collected from the guide tours are then donated to UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund.

Single-use plastic

Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Oceania, MSC and Regent Seven Seas have opted to eliminate or reduce single-use plastics on board. They’re being replaced with metal utensils and dispensers instead of small toiletry bottles, alongside more strict food packaging, too. Plastic straws have also been banned. Royal Caribbean has pledged to ban all single-use plastics and Regent Seven Seas has become the first luxury liner to completely eliminate them. Norwegian also introduced the ‘Skip the Straw’ campaign in 2018 and subsequently removed all plastic straws from their ships and two private island destinations. It has been claimed that 50 million straws have been prevented from use, and Virgin Voyages are offering disposable paper products made from tree-free material.

Sustainable procedures already in place

As the topic of sustainability is so current and evolving, it’s hard to predict what to expect on the horizon of “green technology” that will produce tangible results. Stricter cruise regulations have proven progress, but there is still a long way to go. to truly respect and appreciate our oceans. CLIA has also recently announced its commitment to globally reduce the rate of carbon emissions in the cruise industry by 40 per cent by 2030. This means we can expect more breakthroughs and technological advancements set to come our way to make more sustainable cruising! So watch this space!

To book a cruise, please call one of our friendly advisors on 0808 2746 777 or check out our impressive offers online!


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Darcy is a writer and blogger, with a passion for travel. When she's not exploring somewhere new, or writing about her experiences, you'll most likely find her on the field-hockey pitch, or indulging in a good book!

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