Sustainable ships.. What are the most environmentally friendly cruises in the world?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — For some environmentally conscious cruise travelers, the concept of “green” sailing seems like a no-brainer.

Indeed, sustainability challenges abound in an industry known for its carbon-sipping ships, excess waste generation, port overtourism, and environmental violations that have led to public sanctions.

With stricter regulations and global environmental standards in place, and consumers increasingly demanding cleaner, greener vacations, cruise companies are making a lot of effort to make cruise experiences significantly more sustainable.

Every cruise route invests in green initiatives, from monitoring its carbon footprint to refining emissions. Colin McDaniel, editor-in-chief of cruise review site Cruise Critic, explains that this has become a top priority for every cruise itinerary.

Today, some lines are aggressively pursuing decarbonization goals through technological breakthroughs, especially in terms of cleaner alternative fuels and greener port infrastructure.

The cruise industry carried nearly 30 million passengers and contributed more than $154 billion to the global economy in the run-up to the coronavirus pandemic, in 2019. Despite the downturn caused by the pandemic, it is on track to surpass these numbers by the end of the year.

But the industry’s reliance on polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) for its ships puts it at odds with the United Nations’ global net-zero emissions goals for 2050. Currently, cruise ships and other marine vessels are responsible for nearly 3% of global greenhouse emissions annually. A report by Pacific Standard revealed that the average person’s carbon footprint triples in size during a cruise compared to an airline flight.

Member ocean cruise lines of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s largest trade association, have committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 2008 levels). .

Although these goals are set, industry observers say greenwashing is becoming commonplace. “Many of the sustainability claims are just greenwashing, or the same kinds of ‘sustainability’ measures that have been in place for years in land tourism,” said Marcy Keever, director of environmental group Friends of the Earth, which puts out an annual report card for the cruise line.

However, environmentalists and scientists warn that LNG is a finite, polluting fossil fuel that could cause more environmental damage than heavy fuel oil in the long run.

“LNG is simply a dirty fuel,” said Dr. Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University and author of Miracles No Need: How Today’s Technology Can Save Our Climate and Clean Our Air. He added that although LNG’s “direct air pollution emissions are lower than HFO, it is still significant, and its impact is greater than HFO,” due to factors such as unsustainable extraction practices (hydraulic fracturing) and methane by-products.

Experts such as Jacobson said the industry’s focus should be on emerging zero-emission energy technologies. He pointed out that “the cleanest solutions for ships are battery electricity and green hydrogen fuel cell electricity,” noting that “in both cases, all ship emissions are eliminated, except for water vapor in the case of hydrogen fuel cells.”

And CLIA reports that more than 15% of cruise ships that will debut in the next five years will be equipped to integrate hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries.

Another promising sustainability development is the industry’s move toward zero-emissions coalescence. The vast majority of new ships today are designed with capabilities to shut down the fuel-burning engines and connect to the local grid while in port, reducing air pollution and related health problems in the process.


Credit: Ole Martin Wold

This 130-year-old Norwegian adventure travel company has the ethos of sustainability at its core. This company pioneered green energy, by reducing the use of heavy fuel oil for its small fleet more than a decade ago, in favor of greener alternative fuels such as marine gas oil and fuel bio.

And in 2019, the company launched the world’s first battery-hybrid, electric-powered cruise ship (and they’re in the process of converting the rest of their exploration fleet to battery-hybrid power), with plans to launch the world’s first zero-emission cruise ship by 2030.

The company has also enabled fleet-wide shore power connectivity to eliminate emissions while in port, and was the first cruise company to phase out single-use plastics on ships.


Credit: Gilles Trillard

French luxury company Ponant has launched a hybrid, low-emissions expedition vessel (running on LNG and battery electric power), the 245-passenger Le Commandant Charcot, in 2021, and has plans for a “zero” vessel by 2025.

All Bonan ships are equipped with shore-to-ship power connections in port. The line has stopped using single-use plastics, and environmental impact studies are being carried out before designing any track.

Star clippers

Credit: Star Clippers

Sometimes, when it comes to sustainability, the old gets young again.

Monaco-based sailing company Star Clippers operates three sailing vessels ranging in capacity from 166 to 227 passengers, running exclusively on wind power 80% of the time (otherwise using low sulfur gasoil).

The ship’s smaller size means a lower overall environmental impact, as well as access to less frequented ports, in Costa Rica, for example, “Star Clippers” was the first cruise line to be certified as a “Pura Vida Pledge” approved by the Costa Rican Tourism Board in recognition with their environmental credentials.

Havila Travels

The Havila Voyage Hybrid ships may operate on battery power for periods of up to four hours.Credit: Havila Voyages

Debuting in 2022, this Norwegian cruise line has launched two of four planned hybrid ships, operating itineraries along Norway’s coast.

Havila Voyages has the largest passenger ship batteries at sea, allowing its ships to go for periods of up to four hours into the country’s UNESCO-protected fjords, silently and in an emissions-free manner.

In addition, the batteries at the port can be recharged using clean hydropower from the local grid, and are powerful enough to power ships while they are docked. While the ships currently use LNG power, Havila aims eventually to run zero emissions, with the ships designed to transition to hydrogen power as soon as the technology becomes available.

Explora trips

Credit: Explora Journeys

The new luxury cruise brand from Swiss-based MSC Shipping Group launches this summer, but will make waves in 2027, when it debuts the world’s first LNG-powered vessel, featuring hydrogen fuel cells, along with Methane slip reduction technology.

In partnership with Italian shipbuilders Fincantieri, Explora Journeys’ flagship ships will significantly reduce greenhouse emissions while at sea, emitting little more than water vapor and heat when berthed in port.

Other brand benefits include a one-time plastic ban and underwater noise reduction certification (so as not to disturb marine wildlife).

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