How the cruise industry can tackle pollution

This week has seen the cruise industry painted in a rather less than satisfactory light. An undercover investigation team from Channel 4 was sent aboard P&O Cruises’ Oceana to look into the levels of pollution emitted. They used a P-Trak ultrafine particle counter to measure the number of ultra-fine particles suspended in the air within public areas on board the ship – with the results proving to be staggering, to say the least. The device found 84,000 ultra-fine particles per cubic centimetre on the deck, directly next to the ship’s funnels – more than double the amount found within London’s Piccadilly Circus (38,400).

Up until the last few years, the way in which cruise ships have operated has generally not changed. Heavy fuel, containing 3.5% sulphur, has helped to operate some of the world’s largest ships – which is 3,500 times that amount permitted in road fuel. Some lines have been legally required to switch to cleaner diesel, which is capped 0.1% sulphur – although this still contains 100 times more sulphur than road fuel.

It goes without saying that something needs to be done to resolve these high emissions. Fortunately, many lines have made a pledge to build ships that operate on LNG (liquefied natural gas), which will produce no sulphur and lower nitrous oxide emissions. For it to work as a fuel, cruise ships need to be able to liquefy natural gas and store it on board at a temperature of -162 degrees centigrade. The tanks in which the fuel is stored will need to be vacuum insulated and double-hulled to ensure they are safe and reliable. It is widely considered to be not only the cleanest possible fuel available but also one of the cheapest due to the current cost of gas against diesel.

There are a number of challenges involved with introducing liquefied natural gas on board cruise ships. First and foremost is the supporting infrastructure - while many nations around the world are indicating their demand for liquefied natural gas, it will not initially be as readily available around the world as other fuels. Secondly, on board cruise ships, the tanks required to store liquefied natural gas will take up 80% more space than standard diesel tanks – therefore requiring changes to the internal structure. It is also worth noting that gas will need to be heavily sealed, not only because it can burn upon release, but also because it’s ultra-cold temperature makes the liquid capable of cracking steel in the event of a leakage.

LNG requires vast investment at the moment and a number of cruise lines are beginning to get involved. The two first vessels to be powered by liquefied natural gas will be built for Carnival Corporation and will sail under Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises respectively – with current launch dates pencilled for 2019. These ships will operate as dual-fuel vessels, enabling them to also burn marine gas oil. A total of seven LNG vessels will be built between 2019 and 2022, which will be spread amongst the corporation’s cruise lines. The first LNG vessel to be operated specifically for a British market will be P&O Cruises’ new build, which is scheduled to launch in 2020.

These will be followed by MSC Cruises, who have recently announced bold expansions plans and are looking to reach out to markets in the US. A total of four World-class LNG vessels will be built for the line between 2022 and 2026. Furthermore, Royal Caribbean has also announced plans to introduce innovative LNG vessels to its fleet, with deliveries scheduled for 2022 and 2024 – both of which will sail under the line’s new Icon class. Similarly to Carnival Corporation, the line has requested the construction of two LNG and fuel cell vessels to be built on a prototype basis.

The cruise industry continues to change and adapt not only to meet the needs and desires of passengers but also on a socio-economic basis. Moving to liquefied natural gas fuel cells could help the cruise industry in terms of emission levels and help make cruising more appealing than ever before.

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