Cruising and the environment: A cleaner, greener future?

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Cruising has attracted plenty of comment from campaigners for its perceived negative effects on the environment, even though cruise ships make up less than 1% of the world's 50,000 commercial maritime vessels.

Contrary to perceptions, cruise lines are taking huge strides towards achieving carbon neutrality in their operations, and the sudden growth in expedition new builds has seen the cruise industry at the forefront of innovative technological developments which will be embraced across the sector.

In China, SunStone Ships' expedition cruise ships feature Ulstein Design & Solutions' X-Bow hull design which doesn't slam and brake in bad weather, making their ships more fuel-efficient and more comfortable for the passenger too.

Aurora Expeditions - Greg Mortimer in Antarctica

Ponant's icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot, currently being built at the Vard shipyard, will be the world's first cruise ship built to PC2-class as an icebreaker, and the first expedition cruise ship to use dual-fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG). The vessel will also use batteries to provide the hotel load when it has stopped to observe something of interest, allowing the main engines to be turned off and the vessel to be silent, with no vibration.

Ponant - Le Commandant Charcot in Antarctica

Meanwhile SeaDream Innovation will be equipped with a large battery pack of approximately 4 MWh, enabling silent, emissions-free sailing for up to three hours. SeaDream will be assisted in this endeavour by a $1.8 million grant from Enova, a Norwegian government enterprise to promote clean energy.

SeaDream Innovation

Enova has also supported Hurtigruten in its development of battery power for new builds Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen, the first expedition ships to sail with full hybrid capabilities, reducing emissions by as much as 20 percent. Excursions in Svalbard are to be operated by a hybrid catamaran, which can operate on electric power for 10 hours at a cruising speed of 10 knots.

Hurtigruten - MS Roald Amundsen

We are seeing widespread adoption of ABB's innovative Azipod propulsion units, not just by expedition ships but also by Virgin Voyages, for example, which help cut fuel consumption by up to 15%.

Cold ironing - also known as shore connection, shore-to-ship power (SSP) or alternative maritime power (AMP) - is the process of providing shoreside electrical power to a ship at berth while its main and auxiliary engines are turned off. The Baltic ports in particular (take Kiel for example) are investing heavily in this technology to enhance the services they can provide to cruise ships.

There is plenty of investment by the cruise lines in retrofitting older ships, in particular with the installation of "scrubber" or exhaust gas cleaning systems that help minimize emissions. This is currently the subject of a bitter dispute between the International Maritime Organisation and ten NGOs which have called for an immediate moratorium, challenging the cruise industry's assertion that this is the optimum way of reducing emissions of sulphur, black carbon, particulate matter and other noxious substances.

Silversea Expeditions - Polar bear in Svalbard

Quite apart from technological advances, we are seeing high levels of collaboration with agencies such as the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, as well as scientific projects whereby cruise lines report back with extensive marine data including ocean circulation dynamics.

And we haven't even started to talk about actions on board to recycle, incinerate, treat or process, all of which are now accepted as standard. Nor the widely adopted ban on single use plastics. Nor indeed the well developed outreach and educational programmes and beach clean-ups, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the positive benefits of taking people around the world by sea outweighs any negative impact.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Adventures.

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