As It Happens

A cruise ship's emissions are the same as 1 million cars: report

In its annual report on cruise ships, the German environmental group Nabu says the industry is not doing its part to minimize pollution.
The cruise ship MS Anthem of the Seas (which was not included in the NABU report), operated by Royal Caribbean International, arrives in Saint John, N.B. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
A luxury cruise vacation may sound like a perfect dream holiday, but a German environmental organization says that in terms of environmental impact, the industry is an absolute nightmare.

​Nabu has just released its annual report on cruise ship pollution. It looked at dozens of vessels travelling in Europe, and decided not to recommend any of them. 

Dietmar Oeliger is one of the authors and head of transport policy at Nabu. He spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Berlin. Here is part of their conversation. 
Dietmar Oeliger is head of transport at Nabu, a German environmental association. He co-authored a study that gives a failing grade to the cruise ship industry's environmental management. (Twitter)

Were there really no cruise ships that you looked at that you could recommend?

Unfortunately not. We found out that pollution from the cruise ship industry is still massive, even despite that they claim newer vessels are clean and green. We made measurements at quite a few cruise lines, and it proves that nearly all of them, their attitude to the environment is still poor.

Why are they so bad for the environment?

All of them run on the dirtiest fuel you can imagine. It's heavy fuel oil, it's quite toxic. It's a residual of the petrol industry, and it contains a lot of dirty stuff.

The cruise companies know what they are doing, and they know about the problems. But still, they order new ships and don't install emission abatement systems.- Dietmar Oeliger

And on top of that, nearly all of the cruise ships don't have a catalyst or a particulate filter, [like] trucks and cars. That, altogether, sums up to really poor environmental situations.

The report says that a mid-sized cruise ship can use as much as 150 tonnes of fuel each day, which emits as much particulate as one million cars. Is that right?

That's correct. And the reason for this is that their engines run 24/7. Even if they're in the ports, they have to keep running their engines, because it's not only a transport mode, it's a hotel facility. They have a spa on board, restaurants ... and that needs a lot of energy — more or less the same energy a mid-sized city needs.

What does it mean for those who are actually cruising around on the boats themselves?

Unfortunately, we were not allowed as an organization to have measurements on board. Therefore, we helped two major TV stations from Germany and one from France to go undercover on board and take measurements with our help. It showed that the amount of emissions that passengers breathe on board is more than twenty times higher than on a main road with a lot of pollution. 

You write in the report that the cruise ship companies "show contempt for their customers." What do you mean by that?

The cruise companies know what they are doing. And they know about the problems that result from their emissions.

But, still, they order new ships and don't install emission abatement systems on their ships. Most of the newest ships, that cost about a billion dollars, they don't even have an emission abatement system that would cost about a million. I would say this is really irresponsible. 
A group prepares to take a polar plunge in the Bering Sea in front of the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity (which was not included in the NABU report). (Mark Thiessen/The Associated Press)

This is a competitive industry, they're all cutting costs where they can. So is it really the companies themselves that should be making these changes, or should this be legislated?

Of course, legislation would be the most effective way. But legislation is made by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is located in London. It's an organization where countries like Liberia, Panama or Greece have a strong position.

And that is because most of the ships are flagged in these states. These countries are very often not interested in environmental regulation and strong enforcement. And that's why we say we can't wait for IMO. We have to be much faster. 

Would you recommend to people not to take cruises?

Well, I wouldn't go on a cruise ship for many reasons. I would not say that people shouldn't go. If it's a once-in-a-lifetime dream for them, if they saved a lot of money to do it, that's fine for me. But if you have the choice to take this or that ship, then take one that is doing quite well in terms of environmental regulation.