Cruise Industry

Industry Focus: Clean Cruising

Cruise Arabia would like to acknowledge those cruise lines making a real effort to reduce their impact on the environment, but the journey to acknowledging the importance of eco-responsibility has been a long and painful one.


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The cruise industry has undergone massive changes over the last several decades. The ships being built in 2011 are some of the largest ever to sail the seas, larger even than the massive ocean liners of yesteryear, and capable of carrying many more passengers. The facilities are radically different and the experience itself has evolved remarkably.

But, what of the industries impact on the environment and the local eco-systems that the ships visit and sail through? The cruise industry, like most of the world’s major industries, has been slow in acknowledging the importance of eco-responsibility, but it’s a trend that is, thankfully, starting to catch on.


Untreated discharge from septic tanks and bilge tanks can contain oil and diesel, as well as bacteria that can devastate sensitive eco-systems

Eco-tourism at sea was founded by Lars-Eric Lindblad, who started Lindblad Expeditions, a cruise line widely regarded to be the most green cruise line in the world. It would be decades before major cruise lines fell in step with Lindblad Expeditions and the voyage has been fraught with massive environmental damage, ignorance and conflict between cruise lines, local communities and eco-activists.

According to data released by Royal Caribbean, a large cruise liner capable of carrying more than 5,000 passengers, such as the Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas, produces a staggering amount of waste.


Black and Gray water treatment plants are essential for protecting marine eco-systems if such water is discharged at sea

In a single day, 30,000 gallons (114,000 litres) of sewage, 450,000 gallons (1.7 million litres) of gray water, 19 tons (17,237 kilograms) of garbage and solid waste, 15 gallons (57 litres) of hazardous waste and diesel emissions equivalent to more than 12,000 cars are produced.


Solid waste discharged overboard is not only unsightly, it presents a fatal hazard to marine life

In addition, 7,000 gallons (26,000 litres) of oily bilge water and 1000 tons of ballast water are introduced into the ocean per release. See our table to the right to find out why this is harmful to the world’s oceans.

So, having outlined the problem and the need for change, let’s have a look at the cruise lines making an exceptional or significant effort to make that change.

Exceptional effort

Lindblad Expeditions


Lindblad Expeditions was founded in the late 1950’s by Lars-Eric Lindblad. He was driven by a passion to discover new places that others could share in, but even as far back as the 20th century when environmentalism was widely regarded as something for tree-huggers and students, Lindblad realised that the privilege of experiencing the natural and cultural wonders of the world came with great responsibility to protect them.

For this reason, Lindblad is widely considered to be an eco-tourism pioneer and to this day his extremely diverse fleet of 12 ships continue to lead others in terms of their clean cruising credentials. Lindblad, who died in 1994, would no doubt have been horrified and dismayed when in 2007 his first cruise ship, the MS Lindblad Explorer (at the time the MS Explorer) became the first cruise ship to sink in Antacrtica in 2007. By then, the ship was no longer owned by Lindblad Expeditions.

Lindblad Expeditions’ fleet is made up of smaller ships that produce less waste and fewer emissions and adhere to strict environmental standards. Even the food consumed onboard conforms to these standards, as Lindblad Expeditions source much of the food locally and only serve sustainably fished sea food.

The organisations that the cruise line is in partnership with, such as National Geographic and Clean Air-Cool Planet, are testament to the eco-responsible nature of the line. Clean Air-Cool Planet is the world’s leading non-profit organization dedicated solely to finding and promoting solutions to global warming and has helped Lindblad Expeditions limit its environmental footprint to greater extent than any other line.

Holland America Line


Holland America Line is to continental Europe what Cunard is to the United Kingdom. This historical cruise line was born in the age of the ocean liner and continues to take tens of thousands of passengers to destinations all over the world. The major difference between Holland America and Cunard, however, is that HAL is arguably the greenest of all the big ship cruise lines.

Every ship in the Holland America line is ISO 14001 certified, which ensures that they meet very specific environmental standards through a fleet-wide environmental management plan that ensures every single minute detail of a ship’s operation is performed in a way intended to reduce the impact on the environment.

Certain officer onboard every ship are trained in environmental management and the ship’s feature a number of systems that either reduce the impact of waste on the environment, or make the ship’s more efficient to reduce emissions and use of finite fuels.

In terms of waste management, all ships feature black water (sewerage) treatment systems, low flow showerheads and faucets are installed in all en-suites and bilge water (oily engine run off) is treated by two systems to kill toxins and remove dangerous chemicals before discharge.

In terms of energy efficiency, tide schedules are used to maximise fuel efficiency, so that the ship doesn’t fight against the current, silicone paint on the underwater hull reduces drag and all windows are tinted to regulate heat and cut down on air conditioning.

Costa Cruises


Costa Cruises’ entire fleet was awarded the RINA Green Star Design in 2005, a significant achievement for a major cruise line operating some of the biggest ships in the world. While many superyachts have been awarded the notion, few large ships can demonstrate the strict management environmental efforts needed.

The RINA Green Star Design is awarded to ships that are intended for clean cruising from the moment they’re first designed, the award means that the vessels in Costa’s fleet are designed, constructed and operated in such a way as to ensure maximum respect of the environment.

The Costa fleet features technologically advanced equipment for the treatment and processing of waste and is subject to regular environmental audits to improve its environmental performance, while Costa’s corporate policy requires detailed operating standards.

The line also tries to educate its passengers about environmental awareness, without being didactic about it, and subjects its crews to rigorous training in environmental management. The World Wildlife Fund works with Costa in this regard, creating management plans for the use, sorting and proper disposal of all waste.

Significant effort

Silversea Cruises


Silversea Cruises, one of the leading lines in luxury cruising with a fleet of six small to mid-sized ships, have started installing engines that couple diesel power with electrical power. The ships, when berthed, simply plug into a shore side power supply and recharge their batteries.

Celebrity Cruise Line


Celebrity Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of Carnival’s arch-rival Royal Caribbean, has installed black water and waste water filtration systems on many of the ten ships in its fleet, including the new Solstice-class vessels, which began with the 2008-built Celebrity Solstice, which also sports 216 solar panels that supply power to its elevators and 7,000 LED lights.

Carnival Cruise Lines


Carnival Cruise Lines, the grand daddy of the world’s cruise fleet with 23 massive ships, practices refuse management across the entire fleet. All ships recycle, incinerate or offload waste on land for disposal, while Carnival Spirit has a black water and gray water purification system. The line is hardly the darling of the clean cruising movement, but it’s making an effort.

Crystal Cruises


Crystal Cruises, the Japanese luxury cruise line, only serves seafood aboard its two ships that os sourced from suppliers who practice fishing methods that minimise their impact on local wildlife and ecosystems. Which is notable, given the controversial stance of the Japanese toward whale hunting.


Cruise Ship Waste Table:

A large cruise ship is like a small town with a massive over-crowding problem and limited waste disposal systems, and inevitably it is the world’s oceans and eco-systems that pay the price.

Waste production in a single day:

30,000 gallons (114,000 litres) of sewage

Human feces can contain bacteria devastating to some eco-systems

450,000 gallons (1.7 million litres) of gray water

The water from sinks, showers, laundry etc contains chemicals from soaps, detergent, grease and bacteria that is harmful to marine organisms

19 tons (17,237 kilograms) of garbage and solid waste

Food waste, cans, bottles, plastic, cardboard etc – destroys marine environments and can be extremely hazardous to large mammals if swallowed

15 gallons (57 litres) of hazardous waste

The by-products of dry-cleaning, photofinishing, paint etc contain dangerous and destructive chemicals

Diesel emissions equivalent to more than 12,000 cars

The impact of carbon emissions on the atmosphere is well-documented, with the ozone hole over Australia and the North Pole testament to this

7,000 gallons (26,000 litres) of oily bilge water

Similar to gray water and hazardous waste, the release of this chemical-containing bilge water is harmful to marine life

1000 tons of ballast water

Ballast water is generally pumped onboard in one region and discharged in another, introducing non-native species to areas of discharge; these bio-invaders can be devastating to some eco-systems.

Categories: Cruise Industry

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