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FOE's Report Card, EU's Emission Law Knocking Wind Out of Cruise Industry's Sails

Members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), including Royal Caribbean International, Carnival and Disney Cruise Line, have announced they will no longer participate in the Cruise Ship Report Card, Friends of the Earth’s (FOE) annual environmental survey of the cruise industry.

In a July 3 letter, CLIA president and CEO Christine Duffy apparently told FOE that while the “cruise industry fully supports the preservation of the oceans,” FOE’s annual Cruise Ship Report Card “does not advance the public’s understanding in a meaningful or objective manner,” according to Environmental Leader.

FOE's report card grades cruise lines on three criteria: sewage treatment technology; whether ships can plug into shore-based power, and if they use cleaner fuel than required by US and international law; and compliance with Alaska's water-quality regulations to protect the state's coast.

While CLIA members have participated in the FOE survey for years and provided information about their environmental stewardship practices and technologies, Duffy says the cruise lines have also voiced concerns every year about the “highly flawed methodology used to interpret data and the overall presentation of information in the final report.”

Interestingly, last year's report card ranked CLIA member Disney Cruise Line as the most environmentally responsible line and given it the only ‘A’ in the report card's history. According to the report, while a handful of the 16 cruise lines graded are becoming less polluting (with five including Disney, Norwegian and Holland improving over last year), more than 40 percent of the 162 ships assessed still rely on a 30-year-old waste-treatment technology, leaving treated sewage with levels of fecal matter, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants harmful to aquatic life and people. Cruise ships are also responsible for significant amounts of air pollution as they often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew.

CLIA members on the other hand assert that using shore power as a metric is highly misleading because shore power facilities with the capacity to supply cruise vessels are unavailable at the vast majority of ports, and that it is inaccurate and misleading to conclude that vessels without advanced waste-water treatment systems are discharging harmful substances.

Meanwhile in Europe, Carnival UK's chief executive David Dingle warned this week that new regulations on sulfur emissions may mean fewer cruises in Northern Europe. Dingle told Travel Weekly that company brands P&O Cruises and Cunard Line have already planned a 28 percent cut in Baltic and Norwegian cruises and further reductions could be possible if the new rules have to be met.

EU rules demand that beginning January 1, 2015, the sulfur content of fuel must fall to 0.1 percent in the North Sea and English Channel to cut pollution. Dingle said that there was only a “50-50” chance of getting a wide enough berth to allow ships to be fitted with the scrubber technology required to clean existing fuel types.

The UK Chamber of Shipping is urging Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby Brussels and buy time to allow shipping companies to install the technology. Dingle cautioned that if cruise lines were forced to alter itineraries away from regions such as the Baltics and Norway, it would have detrimental social and economic impact.

“Reducing sulfur is a job we agree needs doing, but it needs to be done in a pragmatic way that protects jobs as well as the environment. All we’re asking for is the EU to understand the practical realities we face and give us the time we need to comply,” Guy Platten, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, told Travel Weekly.

Regardless of whether the FOE’s criteria or the EU’s laws amount to fair assessments of the cruise industry’s capacity to reform its polluting ways, it’s continued endangerment of marine ecosystems must be addressed. Many cruise lines are beginning to adopt more sustainable practices and report on their efforts but the industry on the whole continues to lag behind.

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