Take a cruise and pollute the cities you love (unless you choose carefully)!

Photo by By kees torn – Harmony of the Seas, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48998971

Most cruise ships are huge polluters. They typically burn high-sulfur bunker fuel while at sea, and switch to lower sulfur bunker fuel when within 200 miles of the US coast.

However, even low sulfur bunker fuel has 100 times the toxic sulfur of a diesel truck, and also contains the toxic metals nickel and vanadium, which, as we recently reported in Children near ports may suffer lung damage from ships burning fuel oil, are suspected of causing lung damage to children.

Emissions from a large cruise ship compared to the equivalent numbers of cars, the Guardian


Like container ships, cruise ships are getting bigger and dirtier with each generation. For example, experts say that huge new Royal Caribbean “Harmony of the Seas” cruise ship  probably emits more sulphur than several million cars, more NO2 gas than all the traffic passing through a medium-sized town and more particulate emissions than thousands of buses.

Pollution from cruise ships has resulted in battles in some cities, such as Charleston SC, where cruise ship air pollution threatens the health of those in and near the city’s historic district, and the port authority has vigorously fought efforts to install shore power so cruise ship engines can be shut down while in port, or to dock cruise ships further from town.

Given the bad actors in the industry (both cruise lines and port authorities), what can you do to avoid contributing to the problem?

One approach is to travel by another mode.  Air travel, for example, is much less polluting than travel by ship.  But if you must cruise, check to see if your cruise line has the capabilities of running on shore power (also called cold ironing), and if they can use it in the ports your cruise will visit.

To learn more, check out a few of the resources below:

The Guardian Harmony of the Seas launch inconsistent with Royal Caribbean’s commitment to sustainability, Friends of the Earth

The world’s largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem, The Guardian

Massive cruise liners ‘each spew out as much sulphurous emissions gas per day as 376 MILLION cars’ it is revealed as experts call for action on the pollution they cause in port cities, Daily Mail

Charleston port tries to prevent shoreside power for cruise ships, despite pollution reductions, Southern Environmental Law Center

The Earth Thanks You: More Cruise Ports Are Going Green, Cruise Critic

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