Cruise ships return to New Zealand waters Should we really…
(MENAFN – The Conversation)
This month’s return of the first cruise liner to Auckland’s Waitematā Harbor was accompanied by the kind of fanfare normally reserved for visiting foreign dignitaries: a tugboat adorned with streamers, a helicopter circling, even the mayor on place to accommodate the ship.
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and border closures, this was undoubtedly a momentous occasion. But it’s also a chance to look at the environmental and economic impacts of these huge ships and ask how welcome they really are.
Criticism of the cruise industry is not new, and calls have been made for global oversight and effective legislation due to its impact on the environment and human health. Climate change has only amplified this.
Individual cruise liners emit more CO2 than any other type of ship. Per passenger-mile, they produce at least twice the CO2 emissions of a long-haul flight.
A single ship can use up to 150 tonnes of low-grade heavy fuel oil (HFO) each day of its voyage. Burned in a ship’s huge engines, this produces particulate matter (PM) – microscopic particles that can be inhaled and lodge in lung tissue or be carried in the bloodstream.
PM is linked to various environmental damage and health problems, including reduced lung function and worsening asthma and heart disease. A single cruise ship can produce the same daily PM emissions as a million cars, with the global cruise fleet producing the emissions equivalent of 323 million cars (but with a passenger capacity of approximately 581,200 cars at one passenger).
And it’s not just the oceans that ships cross or the ports where ships dock that are affected. A recent study found that standing on the deck of a cruise ship exposed passengers to air quality equivalent to that of a city like Beijing.
Cruise ship fuel also contains sulfur. When burned, it creates sulfur oxide, a direct contributor to ground-level smog, atmospheric-level acid rain, and a host of health impacts on those who breathe the pollutant.
Read more: Without stricter conditions, New Zealand should be in no rush to reopen its border to cruise ships
Pressure from environmentalists and modern technology eventually led to the installation of “scrubbers” on the funnels of cruise liners that remove most of the sulfur from the ship’s exhaust.
However, some or all of the sulfur collected is often released later into the ocean, which can harm reefs and marine life and contribute to ocean acidification.
Cruise ships are also allowed to dump untreated sewage and heavily contaminated gray water. Billions of liters of this wastewater are dumped into the oceans every year.
A protester holds a smoke bomb to simulate pollution from cruise ships during a demonstration in Marseille this year. Getty Images The industry under surveillance
There will always be the argument that fuel can be made cleaner, engines more efficient, or old ships replaced with batteries and solar-powered ships. However, even moderate attempts to reduce ship emissions have reportedly been opposed by industry lobbyists.
Meanwhile, the ability to reflag a ship to countries with lower environmental standards, access to an abundance of cheap fuel, and the cost of replacing a single ship (over $2.6 billion New Zealand dollars), all this means that the current fleet is probably here for sometimes.
Read more: Can the cruise industry really recover from coronavirus?
Environmental impact isn’t the only reason the cruise industry has come under scrutiny in the past. It has been cited for its poor labor practices, including low wages and poor conditions, and its contribution to overtourism.
But despite being responsible for higher rates of disease transmission early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry appears to be bouncing back after reducing vaccination requirements for passengers.
Read more: Cruise lines promise big payouts, but tourists’ money stays at sea
The common argument, especially in the case of a port city like Auckland, is that cruise ships are bringing precious tourist dollars to a struggling CBD. But previous studies of tourist spending behavior show that cruise lines contribute little to local economies.
Cruise ships typically spend five to nine hours in port, leaving little time for tourists to shop or dine. On the contrary, they are often taken by bus to the main tourist destinations. They don’t rent hotel rooms and don’t eat in restaurants.
According to the NZ Cruise Association, 321,590 tourists spent around $368 million nationwide (about $1,144 each) during the last pre-pandemic season from 2018 to 2019. Overall, cruise passengers contributed about 2% of the total $17.5 billion spent this season by international tourists. .
From October, the cruise season will kick into high gear, with ships arriving in Auckland every few days. Given the significant questions about their environmental and health impacts, and their relatively small contribution to the economy, are lavish receptions like what we saw earlier this month really justified?
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