ABC Tourism informs readers:
The popularity of Cruise ship holidays is on the rise, with cruise passenger figures increasing year-on-year. However, cruise ships have long been associated with a bleak environmental impact due to waste generation and carbon emissions.
It is estimated that an average cruise ship generates 21,000 gallons of sewage, and emits the equivalent of 13 million cars worth of sulphur oxide per day.
It is estimated that the average cruise ship passenger creates 40-50 gallons of wastewater per day. On an average cruise ship of 3,000 passengers, that’s around 150,000 gallons of sewage created per week. It should be noted that larger cruise ships have capacities of up to 8,000 passengers.
Friends of the Earth in their study on cruise line practices estimated that operators discharged more than one billion gallons of sewage into the ocean in 2017. Much of this waste was raw or poorly treated.
Some older ships still use outdated sewage handling systems which have minimal treatment capabilities.
The only obligation for a cruise ship operator is to be three nautical miles from the shore before dumping the sewage. Even this stipulation has not always been obeyed, as was experienced at the coastal resort of Armação dos Búzios, Brazil in 2014 when a cruise ship dumped sewage near the coast.
Swimmers who came into contact with the contaminated water fell ill, and authorities closed the beaches due to the extent of the pollution.
Another wastewater issue is oil contaminated bilge waste from the engine and fuel systems. In 2013, the Caribbean Princess operated by Princess Cruises discharged 4,227 gallons of contaminated water into the sea off the English coast.
Evidence supplied by an onboard engineer revealed a secret outlet pipe was used to disguise the discharge, and the ship had been using this method since 2005. Four other ships in the Princess fleet were found to be using similar deception devices. After pleading guilty during an investigation the company was fined £32 million ($40 million).
Shipping has a significant environmental impact on air quality, with cruise ships adding a significant contribution. The two major air pollutants from shipping activity are SOx (Sulphur oxides) and NOx (Nitrogen oxides) both of which have an impact on greenhouse gas levels and influence climate change. Ships mostly burn low-grade fuel oil with high Sulphur contents which compound the problem. In international waters the regulations on fuel quality are relaxed and ships can use fuel with an even higher Sulphur content.
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that an average cruise ship while on the open sea emits the same sulphur oxide contaminants into the air in a single day, as 13 million cars.
We do not encourage cruise ship tourism due to the overall environmental impact of the industry.
Friends of the Earth release an annual cruise ship report card which evaluates 17 cruise operators on environmental factors. Cruise Lines are evaluated (A to F) on sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality, transparency, and an overall grade. The only cruise line that received an overall A rating was Disney Cruise Lines.