How dirty are cruise ships? How much pollution do they really create? It is hard to tell. Several years ago we posted about a claim by the Friends of the Earth which asserted that cruise ships “flushed more than a billion gallons of sewage into oceans” each year. Even a quick glance at the data showed that that wasn’t the case. As we wrote then, the claim was a “wild exaggeration at best. Calling it a boldfaced lie might be a more accurate characterization.”
Recently, the UK’s Independent reported on an undercover investigation which found high levels of ultra-fine particulates on the deck of P&O Cruises’ ship Oceana downwind of the ship’s stacks. The particulates were over twice as high as those recorded in Picadilly Circus, London. Directly adjacent to the stacks the figures were even higher. P&O Cruises is owned by Carnival Corp.
Are the results on the Oceana typical of modern cruise ships? It is also hard to say but it is apparent that cruise lines are aware of the problem. Cruise lines have been installing stack scrubbers since around 2014. The installations were prompted by new IMO regulations in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia establishing Emission Control Areas (ECAs) mandating lower ships emissions of sulfur and particulates in coastal waters.
The scrubbers go by various names. Carnival terms them to be Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS), which are designed to reduce sulfur compounds and particulate matter in the ship’s engine exhaust. As of this year, Carnival has installed scrubbers on 60 of its ships at a cost of roughly $400 million and is aiming at installing scrubbers on 85 ships by 2020.
Norwegian Cruise Lines was one of the first to install scrubbers and now has eight ships with EGCS installed. The scrubbers are capable of reducing the emission of sulfur by up to 99 percent and also reduce particulate emissions by up to 85 percent.
Royal Caribbean is retrofitting 19 ships with scrubbers. (RCLA refers to the scrubbers as advanced emissions purification (AEP) systems.) They claim to have been the first to install scrubbers on their newly constructed ships as early as 2010.