How to make passenger shipping more popular

Cruise companies must work together to reduce concerns about the environmental impact of cruising 

How to make passenger shipping more popular

By Guest |

This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

In these days of activism where everyone is armed with access to social media, it does not take much effort to summon up a lot of collective outrage. A growing amount of this angst is swirling around the shipping and port industry where ships meet the shore.

There is an historic irony here; so many great seaside cities began their lives precisely because they were a good place for ships to anchor, or eventually, to berth. The wharves were the reason the cities flourished, but try telling that to local activists who complain about the noise, dust, dirt, traffic and the emissions that tend to be associated with all kinds of maritime trade. Even the vessels themselves are seen as offensive, particularly if a vast cruise ship or ferry blocks the view from expensive condominiums sold precisely because of their aspect.

Sometimes the offence isn’t personal, with people citing alarmist studies about the ‘diesel death zone’ and the tens of thousands of premature deaths allegedly caused in heavily trafficked port areas. There is a great deal of vested interests in commercial property development where companies are very happy to ally themselves with the angry residents and agitate to banish the port and the ships so they can add enormous value to freed-up waterfront land.

This growing problem can be found all over the world, from sensitive environments like the pristine Norwegian fjordland and its small cities, or UNESCO World Heritage sites like Venice, Italy, where the procession of multi-decked monsters looming over the architectural treasury ashore have the population in revolt. In the port of Auckland, something of a citizens’ revolt has empowered the incoming New Zealand government to put the port’s expansion plans on hold.

Across the Tasman Sea, there has been an ongoing furore over the Station Pier cruise and ferry terminal, where the port of Melbourne, Australia first began 200 years ago, with the local inhabitants of what is now a very desirable neighbourhood in a state of continuous rage over the cruise ship calls and the year-round exhalations from the Tasmanian ferry. There was even more of an uproar when the ferry blew off the berth in a storm and caused an emergency. Unless people actually earn their crust in the ferry terminals, the trucks and traffic surging through their town are a source of annoyance, not pride.

From Australia to Spain and the beautiful havens of the Adriatic – it seems that nobody anywhere wants ferries and cruise ships to call, except the not inconsiderable number of people whose businesses benefit from their visits. But, if all are able to agree that trade and tourism are necessary adjuncts to prosperity, might the shipping and port industry be able to do anything to smooth these increasingly ruffled waters? Could technology have some of the answers? A small symposium in London recently provided evidence that there is reasonable awareness of the public concerns about ships and sensitive environments and a willingness to confront the problems.

None of this is going to be easy, or cheap. As cruise ships and ferries tend to be built to last 30 years and upwards, there is a lot of old technology forming a legacy that will have to be dealt with before new and more advanced tonnage takes over. There has been some spectacular progress. There is a great deal of exciting Scandinavian activity in the shape of hybrid or LNG-fuelled ferries, as well as smaller all-electric ferries and tourist boats operating in sensitive areas. The next-generation expedition ships of Norway-based operator Hurtigruten will be substantial hybrid battery-powered ships, saving a lot of fuel and reducing emissions.

Even at the top end of the size scale in the cruise world, Carnival Corporation’s choice of LNG fuel for its most recent orders will go a long way in dealing with local pollution from these particular vessels, while the scrubbers already fitted to 64 of its ships will substantially reduce its environmental footprint. LNG as marine fuel has been a slow starter, but with the news that a major order for very large container ships will favour this option, passenger ship owners like Carnival can see the questions about the lack of an infrastructure for this cleaner fuel being answered.

Enthusiastic noises are being made about the use of shorepower to enable a ship’s onboard power plant to be shut down at berth. It’s not a cheap option, although it is perhaps easier in ferry terminals or cruise berths that have regular callers. However, it’s use is harder to justify if the shoreside supplier is generating power from coal or other unsustainable fuels.

It may be premature to demonise diesels because they are continually getting cleaner and more efficient, and a great deal of research is going into improving their performance. Whatever enthusiasts for stored energy solutions might suggest, we will need diesels to drive the biggest trading ships for the foreseeable future. But more could, and should, be done to ensure that machinery is tuned and well-maintained for peak performance, that hulls are clean and smooth, and that propellers regularly cleaned. More work needs to be done on improving the self-containment from ships, so that waste is minimised and anything put into the seas is clean and harmless.

Can ports themselves also do more to damp down the local objections that threaten to kill their businesses? They could perhaps start to build a better relationship with their surrounding populations by more robustly demonstrating their benefits to society. Once a year, the Brussels-based European Sea Ports Organisation holds a competition (now in its 10th year) that is designed to help ports strengthen their societal integration. The competition prompts some excellent ideas, with sensible, practical ideas ranging from the promotion of cultural or artistic events, to the active enhancement of the port environment and assisting with local educational initiatives, all designed to bridge that gap between society and maritime trade.

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