The cruise industry stands accused of misleading the public by falling short of their environmental promises in the UK. Despite the availability of shore power, which could drastically reduce emissions, cruise ships have been found to frequently operate on diesel while docked, raising serious concerns about ‘greenwashing.’
Nearly all major cruise lines have included using shore power as an important factor to contribute to reaching the 2050 net-zero emissions goals.
However, according to a report by openDemocracy, the fact that green electricity comes as a much higher cost than heavy fuel oil is leading to cruise ships utilizing their engines rather than the shore power connections at ports.
Is Shore Power Too Costly?
Despite promises from the cruise industry to connect to shore power when and where available, it seems that, for now, they would prefer not to in the UK.
An openDemocracy investigation has revealed a stark gap between the cruise industry’s environmental claims and their actions at UK ports. Despite assertions of using “zero emissions” green energy, data indicates that cruise ships operating out of the UK’s largest cruise port, Southampton, seldom utilize the provided shore power.
Out of over 300 potential uses since its installation last year, only about 71 instances of shore power utilization were recorded, a far cry from the industry’s commitments to green practices.
Cruise ships emit significantly more CO2 per passenger kilometer than airplanes. This means that the use of shore power at ports is not just a way in which cruise lines can prove that they are serious about becoming more environmentally sustainable, it’s also vitality important for those people living near major cruise ports.
The reason behind not utilizing shore power becomes clear when the costs involved are considered. Heavy fuel oil, a type of fuel most used by cruise liners, is largely tax-free. This makes burning fuel while at port significantly cheaper than using electricity generated from cost-intensive green resources such as wind power or solar farms.
The UK Chamber of Shipping acknowledges that the current price of electricity is a deterrent for cruise companies.
Peter Aylott, the director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping, told openDemocracy: “The current price of electricity is so high that no cruise company is going to use it unless they had to by a mandatory requirement.”
One other deterrent would be that shore power is largely not generated by green options such as wind or solar, but by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, or oil, which still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This merely changes the location of the pollution.
Industry Promises vs. Reality
Port of Southampton ranks as Europe’s seventh most-polluted port in terms of cruise ship air pollution.
Just 45 cruise ships are responsible for almost ten times more harmful pollutants than all of the city’s 93,000 cars, says the Transport & Environment think tank, a major European institution responsible for a vast array of new environmental rules implemented in Europe in the last 20 years.
Jon Hood, UK Sustainable Shipping Manager at T&E UK, said: “While Southampton might not have the weather of Barcelona, Mallorca, or Marseille it certainly has the pollution. Our port cities in the UK are suffering significant impacts from the harmful air pollutants caused by shipping.
Despite a collective pledge by industry leaders to develop shore power to combat climate change, the development and use have been low. Less than half of the global fleet of cruise ships can currently connect to shore power, a technology that has been available for over two decades.
Carnival Corporation has pledged a mere 60% shore power connection capability by 2030, raising this to 100% by the year 2050, down 12% from the 72% that CLIA has pledged for 2028.
At a cost of up to $2 million per vessel, retrofitting cruise ships with shore power capabilities is not cheap. However, considering building one new large cruise could cost up to $1 billion, it’s hard to explain why cruise lines are not making the step-to-shore power faster.
One factor that could speed up the process is a new law coming into action in Europe soon.
European Union Making Shore Power Mandatory
FuelEU Maritime is a European Union regulation designed to support the decarbonization of the maritime sector. Slated to come into effect from January 1, 2025, it aims to increase the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels in maritime transport within the EU.
The regulation also stipulates that from 2030 cruise ships must connect to shore power if they are berthed for more than two hours at ports that are part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).
Some of the key ports include Antwerp in Belgium, Hamburg and Bremerhaven in Germany, Valencia and Barcelona in Spain, Marseille in France, and Piraeus in Greece, among others. All ports that the cruise industry relies heavily on. By 2035, this requirement will extend to all ports where shore power facilities are available.
Despite concerns over the use of shore power, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The Port of Seattle offers a beacon of progress. As of 2023, all vessels from Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises are equipped for shore power connectivity. This will make Seattle one of the world’s leading ports for shore power use.
The conversation around shore power usage in the cruise industry is intensifying. With mounting public scrutiny, the pressure is on for cruise lines to live up to their green claims.
It’s certainly true that the cruise industry as a whole has made a giant leap forward in the last 10-15 years. However, there is still a long road ahead.