While cruise ships account for only a small proportion of the global shipping fleet, they have a disproportionate impact on air quality, habitats and the climate. Cruise ships require more fuel due to the energy demand of the hotels and leisure facilities provided onboard as well as propelling the ships through the water. Cruise ships travel fast and close to the coastline, meaning that huge volumes of fuel are burned in close proximity to coastal populations.
Most cruise ships burn heavy fuel oil (HFO), which is the dirtiest fossil fuel available. Most of these ships also do not have any diesel particulate filters or selective catalytic converters to clean the exhaust – technologies that are standard for road vehicles like trucks. Currently heavy fuel oil contains 35000ppm sulphur, which is 3,500 times more polluting that road diesel. The standard in the sulphur emissions control areas (SECAs) is 1000ppm.
Cruise ships sailing outside the SECA but within the EU exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – up to 200 nautical miles off the coast – are subject to a more stringent 15000ppm sulphur standard. In January 2020, the global sulphur cap – outside SECAs – comes into force and the maximum sulphur content will be reduced to 5000 ppm (0.5%), still 500 times more than sulphur in road diesel. Also, cruise ships spending more than two hours at berth are already subject to the 1000ppm sulphur standard.
In 2017, luxury cruise brands owned by Carnival Corporation & PLC emitted 10 times more disease-causing sulphur oxide in European seas than all of Europe’s 260 million plus passenger vehicles. That’s according to an analysis of data of cruise ships sailing in European waters. Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Norway are the most exposed countries to cruise ship air pollution in Europe.