Cruise companies have been encouraged to improve their environmental policies and introduce more clean technology. Photograph: Enrique Calvo/Reuters
Environmental standards for shipping are so low, cruise companies have a huge opportunity to improve their policies
Not many of the 25 million people enjoying the sea breeze on a cruise ship this year are likely to think about the air pollutants being emitted from the vessel.
Mostly running on heavy fuel oil, a medium-sized cruise ship produces around the same volume of air pollutants – including greenhouse gases, sulphur, nitric oxides and particulate matter – as 5m cars going the same distance, estimates the German environmental NGO Nabu.
“The standards for the shipping industry are really low compared to what we can see in road transport,” says Dietmar Oeliger, head of environmental policy at Nabu. “For a long time, politics served it well. People didn’t care about emissions on open water.”
Most countries devolve responsibility for regulating the industry to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), says Tristan Smith, shipping and climate change expert at University College London. He adds that many smaller countries do not have the resources to regulate it themselves and some choose not to restrict it – after all, the industry is a boon to local economies, bringing in tourists and providing jobs.