The agreement requires ocean vessels within 200 miles of the shoreline to switch to a cleaner yet costlier blend of fuel that emits less sulfur and other harmful pollutants linked to asthma and cancer. Environmental Protection Agency scientists believe the new rules will save 8,300 lives per year, mostly in communities near ports.
Some in the shipping industry supported the tougher measures, but one key industry component continues to vigorously oppose them: the cruise line industry.
Cruise industry sticks out
A previous report at DCBureau.org, shows how the cruise line industry has protected its right to dump minimally treated sewage and other harmful pollutants into near-shore oceans. Now, a recent look at the industry’s record of lobbying against air pollution controls and its limited use of shore-side power hookups underscores an equally disturbing disregard for the environment.
No industry has been as opposed to the new sulfur standards than cruise lines. Cruise ships comprise just 12 percent of the world’s 46,000 commercial shipping vessels, yet they accounted for some of the most vocal opposition to the new regulations announced earlier this year. The Cruise Line International Association did not return multiple requests for comment.
At an industry trade conference in Miami, shortly after the IMO agreement, cruise company executives denounced the new rules. Stein Kruse, chief executive of Holland America Line, called the 200-mile boundary arbitrary. “The reality is that the problem exists in a few very, very large cities,” Kruse was quoted as saying in a Reuters article.
Carnival Cruise Line Chief Executive Gerald Cahill in the same article lamented continued regulatory pressure. “Some days you get up and you feel that new regulatory efforts are coming from almost every direction, from every government from every part of the world,” Cahill said, “and that does propose a lot of issues for the industry.”
You don’t have to look far to find a different perspective in the maritime world. The globe’s leading organization representing worldwide shipping companies, the World Shipping Council, supported the new fuel requirements, said Bryan Wood-Thomas, its lobbyist in Washington DC.
“There’s no question these cleaner fuels impose a significant expense on our operations, but we have argued strongly that we want uniform standards (across the globe),” said Wood-Thomas, who speculated the new rules will impact cruise lines more because they spend greater time closer to shore.
At the IMO’s next meeting later this year, it’s expected to begin taking up greenhouse gas emissions. And once again, the World Shipping Council is out in front with their own proposal.
The cruise line industry for its part points to millions of dollars in environmental upgrades and regulation compliance as signs that it acts as good environmental stewards. Executives say the industry is building more energy efficient ships. They’re designing itineraries to reduce idle times. And they’re experimenting with gas scrubbers on exhaust pipes similar to electric utilities as a way to reduce carbon emissions.
An IMO study last year said that all ships could get 75 percent reductions in carbon emissions through operational and technical measures, such as motoring slower and shifting itineraries. “The first 25 percent comes at no cost,” said Jackie Savitz, Oceana campaign manager who attends IMO meetings in London. “That’s almost unheard of for any pollution control.”
Antarctic fuel ban scales back cruising
The vast majority of cruises Down Under are taken on smaller vessels that won’t be affected by the ban. But for the larger cruise-only crowd on ships with more than 500-passengers (led for now by Holland America, Princess Cruises and Celebrity) traveler numbers will likely drop from 15,000 in the season that just ended to 6,500 cruise passengers in the 2011-2012 season when the ban takes effect.
“A number of them have said they will comply but some have said it’s not worth their while to do so,” Wellmeier said. “The difficulty for them is it’s logistically quite difficult to use up all the fuels until you get down to the Antarctic area.”
At the IMO meeting earlier this year, cruise line industry lobbyists wanted a delay. “Despite the item having been debated for years, CLIA wanted the ban to go into effect in July 2013 instead of 2011,” said John Kaltenstein, marine program manager for Friends of Earth, who serves on the international seat at the IMO in London.
He said the way the cruise line industry lobbies at this international body is to influence member nations they have close relations with such as the Bahamas. “These smaller countries have a vested interest in the cruise industry,” Kaltenstein said. “It’s a larger share of their economy. In some cases quite significant. The health of the cruise industry and where they choose to take their ships is very influential.”
Supporting delay were Malta, Bahamas, Marshall Islands and Liberia. Against delay were New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Germany, UK, France, Ireland, Argentina and Chile.
Along with the fight for tougher sulfur emission standards, Friends of the Earth is also pushing for greater use of shore-side power stations while ships are at port to reduce air emissions. Based on a report card on cruise ships posted on the group’s website, less than half of ships with available power hookups possess the ability to use them. Rather, ships continue running onboard diesel engines, in most cases fueled by heavy diesel “bunker” fuel. (See DCBureau’s Three Part Series on bunker fuel)
The cruise line industry defended its environmental record in a written response soon after the report card came out last September. “While some ships in the CLIA fleet are fitted to plug in to shore power,” the statement read. “This technology is only available at five berths in North America. Therefore to fail a ship for not using port-side technology that is not even available is emblematic of FOE’s tactics and further discredits this so-called report card.”
The authors of the report card say they did consider whether shore power was available and the grades reflect a percentage based on whether it was available. Princes Cruises, mostly in Alaskan waters with more stringent regulation, received an ‘A’ for its ability to utilize shore-side power while Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines each got an ‘F.’
International Maritime Organization Slow to Act
To be sure, the IMO’s new air standards were a milestone. But for activists working to control greenhouse gas emissions from ships, which contribute as much carbon to the atmosphere as the sixth largest country, the IMO represents a place where best intentions languish.
“It’s a very slow, torturous process,” said Oceana campaign manager Savitz. “What’s ironic is that a lot of countries talk about regulating greenhouse gasses from ships. We’ve petitioned the EPA who said they wouldn’t do it because they think the IMO is going to handle it. Well, anyone who goes to an IMO meeting knows that’s not happening anytime soon.”
The IMO has around 300 international staff that governs everything on the high seas within international waters from piracy to pollution. There are 169 member states and three associate members that meet every nine months, so it’s no wonder pollution controls that even the shipping industry agrees to can’t be implemented sooner. Yet for members of Congress, the IMO remains the regulators of last resort on shipping pollution. The latest climate bill spearheaded by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) does not address the matter. And in a lot of ways, this suits the industry just fine.