“Getting cruise companies from over 160 countries to agree and implement plans isn’t an overnight process.”

Stories of smoke emissions and waste dumping during the 1990s left the cruise industry portrayed as a ‘villain’ in the environmental stakes. But large fines and stronger regulations on international, national and local levels have meant the industry has had to buck up its ideas, and as Richard Pruitt, director of Environmental & Public Health Programs at Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited (RCCL), testifies, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“While there is a good threshold of laws to protect the environment, the cruise industry goes above and beyond what’s required,” he says. “As a member of CLIA, we also follow voluntary guidelines. For the most part they are stricter then many laws. We understand how important it is, and I believe that the cruise industry is leading the way when it comes to innovative projects.”

The cruise industry is undergoing a growth period, and it’s vital it does its bit for the environment. So, what are ports and cruise companies doing to reduce air emissions in port – and is it enough?


The Ports of Stockholm has undergone a host of regulations to reduce air emissions, including a mandatory 1.5% cap on sulphur dioxide (SO2). Gun Rudeberg, general counsel and head of environmental affairs at the Ports of Stockholm, explains how the implementation of these regulations has affected the quality of air.

“It makes a huge difference in the global perspective, because less SO2 is omitted into the air,” she says. “We feel strongly that everyone should use low-sulphur fuel, not only at port, but for the whole journey.” Burning low-sulphur fuel out of port is not necessary, according to Pruitt, but where there may be divided issues between ports and cruise companies, both Rudeberg and Pruitt believe that collaboration is vital. With this in mind, the Ports of Stockholm has an incentives programme for visiting ships.

“The Swedish Shipowners’ Association, Swedish Ports Association and The Swedish Maritime Authority started a cooperation package in the 1990s,” says Christel Wiman, VD, CEO, Ports of Stockholm. “Environmental measures implemented by the ships are rewarded with reduced fairway dues and port dues. The port is situated in the city centre, and we have one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos with the Baltic Sea classified as a particularly sensitive sea area. All these reasons make us work for reduced environmental impact. Everyone is welcome here, but with the greatest care.”


Between 1995 and 2006 nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions were monitored by the Ports of Stockholm, and the results indicated a 60% reduction of SOx and 40% NOx from regular traffic. Although the cruise liners were not part of the regular traffic, it demonstrated what can be achieved – and cruiseships need to do their bit.

“Out of the few cruiseships that come in during the summer, only one or two had low SOx and low NOx emissions and these were offered reduced fees,” says Rudeberg.

“Between 1995 and 2006 NOx and SOx emissions were monitored and the results indicated a 60% reduction of SOx and 40% NOx.”

Despite what may appear to be a poor performance by cruiseships Rudeberg remains optimistic. “We are witnessing developments, though we wish more ships would use better bunker,” she says.

Practically, however, this is not so easy for the cruise lines. “Getting cruise companies from over 160 countries to agree and implement plans isn’t an overnight process – and filling up with low-sulphur fuel isn’t always feasible, not only in terms of cost, but also in availability,” says Pruitt.

“It depends where you are in the world. Because we’re relatively home-ported it allows us to establish relationships with fuel suppliers, which gives us an advantage. For some of the cargo ships it’s more difficult to get lower sulphur fuel at an economic price because they go where the trade is.

“They may bunker in Asia and then head over to the Pacific. Low-sulphur fuel comes at a premium; if you go down to distillate you’re talking two-and-a-half times as much money, so it’s a big economic issue.”

There are further complications because increased production of distillate fuel releases more carbon dioxide (CO2). “To get the amount of distillate fuel that would be required, if every ship were to use distillate fuel you would have to take residual fuel and refine it again,” adds Pruitt. “In that refining process a lot of CO2 is released.

“We don’t want to do something that would have an unintended consequence, so we need to look carefully at the use of distillate fuels versus residual fuels in ships. Ships have very efficient engines, and I think that gets forgotten. Everyone needs to do their bit, but there isn’t just one way of doing it.”

At the moment RCCL vessels are burning low-sulphur fuel in the Baltic, North Sea and the English Channel as well as in port, depending on berthing agreements, for example, Canadian guidelines for cruiseships include a voluntary seeker of 1.5% sulphur. It raises the question of whether the global cap of 4.5% should be reduced to 1.5%.

“The global average is 2.7% so lowering this level is something that most people would agree with,” says Pruitt.


RCCL also burns low-sulphur fuel at the Port of Seattle, but the port provides an alternative – cold ironing. As the result of a voluntary agreement, cruise companies either use low-sulphur fuel or plug into shore power. The agreement was set in place in time for the 2007 Alaska and Pacific Northwest cruise season.

John Creighton, commission president at the Port of Seattle explains: “The Port has been working closely with the maritime community on voluntary collaborative approaches to reducing emissions. In an effort to strengthen these efforts, the Port initiated and is leading the Puget Sound Maritime Air Forum, a voluntary public/ private partnership working for healthy air and maritime trade. We can improve air quality while supporting the maritime trade that fuels our region’s economy.”

The venture required substantial financial support. “The total cost of the project was $7.5m, which included a financial commitment of $2.7m by Princess Cruises and $4.8m by Holland America Line, which uses shore power,” says Creighton. “The investment covered both shore-side facilities and retrofits onboard their vessels. Both cruise lines buy and use electricity provided by Seattle City Light. The total cost was also supported by $75,000 in grant funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.”

“Data from Seattle indicates that cold ironing can reduce emissions from vessels at berth.”

Data from Seattle indicates that cold ironing can reduce emissions from vessels at berth, including oxides of NOx, particulate matter, hydrocarbon and CO2. Pruitt believes that shore power is an option that needs investigating. “It’s a good idea, but shore power should only be introduced in places where the power they use is cleaner then the ship generating it,” he says.

“If the ship has an efficient engine, a seawater scrubber or something where their emissions are comparable with shore power, I don’t see the benefit of spending a lot of money on the shore side to install those sub-stations.”

Seattle is at an advantage as the primary source of power in the Pacific Northwest is hydropower. “The damage has already been done by damming up the rivers, so at that point cruiseships should take advantage of the relatively low-emission product of hydro,” adds Pruitt. “But most places we visit in the Caribbean don’t have hydropower − they’re burning coal or fuel oil. That’s the question: what’s the quality of air emissions where it’s generated, versus the ship emissions?”

Other US ports investing in shore power projects include the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and there is an argument that in these cases, where smog is an issue, benefits to the local area outweigh any other concerns.


The industry’s message is that it is making efforts into reducing emissions, but as Pruitt points out: “It’s not about prescribing a silver bullet and saying ‘you must do this’. It’s about coming up with a performance standard that says “your ship should not emit more then this”. Leave it up to the engineers, scientists and companies to promote the advantages of using ultra-low sulphur fuel, shore power, a hull scrubber or a selective catalytic reactor.”

The Ports of Stockholm is keen to continue its work with the cruise lines to reduce harmful effects on the environment. “We regularly have meetings with the cruise industry,” says Rudeberg.

“We try to encourage the cruise lines, and many are using better fuel. More can always be done, but, overall ships are a good mode of transport – and not that bad for the environment.”