This question presents itself as a paradox that will turn the nose up at entrepreneurs in the sector as well as environmentalists. The tourism sector, as is well known, is among those who are suffering the most severe economic and managerial consequences of the epidemic and who will suffer most even at the end of the current health emergency. On the other hand, as is well known, cruise ships are often accused of being the leading cause of air pollution, as well as of various environmental disasters at sea.

The air quality indexes these days, as well as the rediscovered clarity of certain waters, show how, in fact, the environment is benefiting from the sector's halt. Between the two terms of the initial question, there seems to be the paradigm "Mors tua, vita mea"; therefore it is difficult to think that the resumption of navigation can coexist with some benefit for the environment.

These are the terms of the issue that is animating the political and economic debate in the United States.

These days the news of the extension of the No-Sail Order, implemented on 14 March by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (i.e. CDC), for at least another hundred days and until the coronavirus no longer constitutes a public health emergency. The extension of the measure, which requires all cruise ships to stop sailing, involving about 100 boats and 80,000 crew members remaining on board, will result in economic damage of $92 million for each day of suspension. These are the estimates published in a document by Clia (i.e. the International Association of Cruise Companies) which also analyses the impact on the world of work and the widespread induced activities of the entire sector. Even at the end of the health emergency, cruise lines will feel the psychological conditioning of passengers, suspicious and reluctant, also in light of what happened on the Diamond Princess. It is no coincidence that Carnival Corporation, owner of the Princess Cruises brand, has seen its shares fall by 80% since the January peak. The financial rescue of the cruise industry was, therefore, a topic of discussion for the US Government. The hypothesis of a package of measures to stimulate the economy of the cruise industry has provoked mixed reactions from many quarters. On the one hand, the Democrats pointed out that the giants of the sector, whose headquarters are in Miami, do not pay taxes in the United States, having registered ships outside the borders. On the other hand, environmental associations have recalled the ecological disasters caused by some cruise companies, forced to pay multi-million dollar fines for this.

The environmental associations proposed that economic aid to the cruise companies should depend on certain conditions, including tax obligations and environmental protection actions, to be implemented by the beneficiary companies. These requests, listed in a letter sent to the US Senate, signed by, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, are:

  • Ban the use of fuel oil and ensure that ships switch to low-sulphur distillate fuels, such as marine diesel. These, combined with particulate filters that retain soot, could reduce black ship smoke by up to 90% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Prohibit the use of exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS or scrubbers) which generate vast volumes of acid spilt into the water and also contain carcinogenic substances.
  • Obligation to connect to the shore power supply during mooring. This prevents the combustion and emission of exhaust gases to adjacent communities.
  • Reduce greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide by 2030 and achieve full decarbonisation by 2050.
  • Establish mandatory monitoring, verification and public reporting of annual fuel and greenhouse gas consumption and emissions of CO2, methane and black carbon, as well as other pollutants harmful to health.
  • Meet all water quality standards at the point of discharge by installing advanced wastewater treatment systems for greywater on ships.
  • Provide for inspections on board with personnel responsible for verifying the standards.
  • Establish an insurance fund for local communities, public health and the environment that have suffered damage due to the activities of the cruise industry.

As the coronavirus epidemic ends, cruises will resume. However, companies will have to work hard to convince the most sceptical travellers that ships are safe for the health of passengers and the environment. For them to succeed and reap long-term benefits, optimistic advertising campaigns and attractive market offers will not be enough. In this sense, the conditions set by environmentalists are an essential opportunity.

Here is the question then - Can the Coronavirus be an advantageous opportunity for both the cruise industry and the environment? - finds its answer.


Photo credits: LUM3N; Fachdozent; cocoparisienne