Despite significant progress in the cruise industry to become more environmentally friendly, not everyone is convinced that cruise ships have shed their polluting past.
A luxury cruise ship arriving in the French town of Douarnenez was met with aggressive protestors condemning the wealthy passengers for exploiting the environment.
While protests against cruise ships are virtually unheard of in the United States, the Caribbean, South America, and Asia, the situation is different in Europe.
Over the last twelve months, protests have been happening in Norway, Italy, and France, with cruise ships not always receiving the warm welcome they would receive elsewhere.
Cruise Ship Protests and Debate Over Environmental Impact
On May 6, the Silversea cruise ship Silver Wind docked in Douarnenez, Brittany, with 274 passengers on board, only to be met by protestors from Sémaphore Douarnenez. Rather than receiving a warm welcome from the locals, only a few guests could debark the ship, while the aggressive behavior of the protestors stopped others.
One young woman stated, “I don’t want the rich to continue polluting the planet. If they have money, they can do positive things for the environment rather than coming to the bay and pollute.”
Axel Lebrun of the BLB travel agency regretted the treatment of the passengers, many of whom are elderly. He argued that the protestors were targeting the wrong ships.
According to Lebrun, Silver Wind is not as environmentally damaging as the larger cruise ships that sail the Mediterranean, while the protestors’ image of polluting cruise ships is one of the past.
Axel Lebrun of the BLB travel, told France 3: “We pay for the liners that sail in the Mediterranean and the excesses of yesterday. Here, we are not on the same ship profile. They do not have heavy fuel oil. The boats that come to Douarnenez respect the environment. The Silverwind goes to the Far North, so it must respect very strict instructions. The demonstrators have the wrong target.”
The protestors, however, remain skeptical about the environmental claims. They argue that even smaller ships like the Silver Wind still contribute to pollution, as they emit greenhouse gases, produce waste, and can damage fragile ecosystems in the areas they visit.
Not everyone was happy with the protestors. One local shopkeeper in Douarnenez, who relies on income from the regular arrival of tourists, symbolically put his kiosk ‘on sale’ in protest against the actions.
The cruise industry has been working to implement more sustainable practices, such as using cleaner fuels, improving waste management, and investing in new technologies that reduce emissions. Despite these efforts, the debate over cruise ships’ environmental and social impact continues to divide opinions.
European Protests: Norway and Venice
Protests against the cruise industry have recently occurred in Norway and Venice. CruiseNOTWelcome, a campaign group, has protested the arrival of cruise ships in five different Norwegian ports, citing the environmental and social damage caused by the vessels.
The group posted thousands of posters in ports along the popular Norwegian Fjords route, including Flåm, Trondheim, Stavanger, Bergen, and Oslo.
In Venice, protestors from the No Grandi Navi movement successfully campaigned to have large cruise ships banned from the city. The protestors, armed with signs, flags, and banners reading ‘Big ships out of the Lagoon’ and ‘No Big Ships,’ argued that the current measures were insufficient.
One of the few protests outside of Europe happened earlier this year, when activists protested the construction of the fourth cruise pier in Cozumel, Mexico.
As the few Silver Wind guests who did make it outside returned to their ship under police escort, the protestors remained steadfast in their mission. The debate over the environmental impact of cruise ships continues, with another four cruise ships expected in Douarnenez this year.
In the meantime, the cruise industry must continue working towards reducing its environmental impact. However, whether that will be enough for protestors remains to be seen.