While the coastal oceans and coral reefs are becoming extinct, Cruise industries are continuously growing. These industries rely on clean oceans and pretty coastlines for its livelihood, but it doesn’t hesitate to destroy the same oceans for their private gains.
This article attempts to understand the cost that the environment pays to fulfil the luxurious of humanity. It begins by tracing the history of pollution caused by these cruise industries and unpacking its treatment measures to protect nature. The next section would analyse the various strategies and loopholes they’ve adopted to circumvent the Law. Further, the strengths and weaknesses of both National legislations and UN International guiding principles, with be undertaken to provide a closer view of the status quo. The final chapter recommends a range of regulatory mechanisms and policies that should be formulated to make these companies answerable and environmentally conscious.
The cost of the cruises doesn’t account for the ecosystems that their operations destroy. Congressional Research Service prepared a report, that suggested that in a just week, a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and its crew can generate 210,000 gallons of sewage; 1 million gallons of greywater (from sinks, showers and washing machines), more than 130 gallons of hazardous materials and up to 8 tons of solid waste and 25,000 gallons of water with oil residues. Adding to this, the fact that these discharges are not treated and disposed of properly, the accumulative impact of it threatens human health and damages aquatic life even more drastically.
Despite the kind of risk it poses, cruise ships can still ‘legally’ dump human waste directly in water, if it’s within three miles from the shore if it’s treated by Marine Sanitation Device, as prescribed by the EPA MSD regulations. However, the problem with these regulations is that that has neither been revised since 1976 nor do they provide any mechanism of prior testing and monitoring of the discharged sewage. So, even if untreated raw sewage is removed by the ship, there is no way of knowing if a violation has occurred or not.
Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card ranks 16 major cruise lines based on four environmental criteria- sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. While in the past, the cruise companies have been responsive in answering questions and giving information, but now a mark difference can be noted in their behavior, as they either openly refuse to respond to the items or tend to hide most of the information asked for.
Escaping International Laws:
The principle of Flag of Convenience and the complicated legal structure surrounding it provides these cruises with a passage to escape strict compliances and international standards. So, to bypass the regular submissions of more stringent jurisdictions, they started to register themselves in countries with little or no regulations, like Panama and Miami, where they could hire foreign mariners at meagre wages without having to pay U.S. taxes. Another example would be the regular U.S. Coast Guard Inspections that all U.S. registered ships are required to undergo. Still, because these cruise ships intentionally write themselves outside of the US, they go entirely unchecked.
The Clean Cruise Ship Act has expanded the no-dumping zone provision from three to twelve nautical miles of U.S. shores and established a monitoring and waste treatment program. However, amongst the many loopholes of the Act, the major ones include a failure to classify sewage from cruise ships as a pollutant for permitting purposes itself and it fails to apply water quality standards to ships traversing U.S. coastal waters beyond three nautical miles. So while the Act does make the Law stricter, it fails to have enforcement mechanisms to check the compliance.
Another International Protocol is the International Maritime Organization’s Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) that requires all cruise ships who’s flag states are signatories to the protocol to abide by its requirements, irrespective of where they sail. While its policies are stringent, because they are International non-binding conventions, the cruise industries choose to comply with the local jurisdiction’s less strict regulations conveniently. Also, due to the lack of MARPOL having its enforcement regime, any inconsistency in enforcement across different jurisdictions, goes unchecked.
Sink or Swim- Policy Recommendations
Measures to Be Taken by Cruise Companies:
Cruise lines have taken the lead and initiated Eco-tourism, making their operations more environmentally friendly. Through technology, they have developed better tracking systems to check the accumulation of hazardous waste on board and improve its disposal.
Lindblad Expeditions is a cruise line that went fully carbon-neutral this year. Their partnership with the South Pole, a leading developer of international emission reduction projects, made their initiative even more transparent by conducting independent third-party verification and monitoring of projects, the results of which are then shared with the public in their annual reporting. Global leaders that are engaging in responsible tourism also include Hurtigruten. This cruise line launched the first-ever hybrid-powered cruise ship that sails with electric propulsion, completely eradicating the use of fossil fuels that directly harm the environment.
Costa Cruises set the standard of Eco-tourism even higher by creating an environmentally-friendly cruise ship that entirely runs on CNG, the cleanest fossil fuel in the world. This will reduce their carbon footprint drastically and encourage other competitors to follow through and improve their public image, especially when the travellers are also becoming aware and conscious of the environment.
The Norwegian cruise line, the world’s third-largest cruise company, has launched a sustainable drinking water campaign by banning plastic bottles on board. It aims to carry “Just Water”, with a carton made mostly of paper and a cap made of sugar cane, thus eliminating the six-million-plastic bottles they use every year.
While these initiatives may seem a lot, but when compared to the number of cruise lines and the billions of profits they are making, such initiatives seem too small an effort, that’s not equitable.
Polluter Pay Principle
A Polluter-Pay mechanism should also be developed, which can provide for a two-fold benefit. It can act as a preventive check on the companies, deterring them from polluting the oceans from avoiding paying fines. Secondly, the amount collected as penalties can then be used to establish a comprehensive regulatory scheme like employing Coast Guards or investing in research and development to create newer technologies that are environmentally effective.
Tax Impositions and Exemptions
Certain tax impositions could also be levied to make them abide by the rules of conservation. A $2-per-passenger tax could be imposed, where half of it could be used for the liability fund for the enforcement of Coast Guards and other developmental projects. The other half could remain with the cruise company itself. They are to mandatorily spend on making the ship more environmentally friendly, like shifting to cleaner fuels like CNG or creating better sewage treatment plants.
Then tax documents of such spending could be furnished to the Tax and Tourism department for compliance and checking. An added incentive could be to publish an annual environmental ranking of cruise lines, where the top ones could be given tax incentives and intercostal permits. This kind of recognition can also benefit the company’s public image and make it more transparent to the travellers.
Another form of a tax scheme that the Singaporean Government introduced is called ‘Carbon Tax’, which is imposed on power producers and large carbon emitters in the port city, encouraging them to adopt sustainable business practices.
Lifeboats in the Indian Context:
While India’s cruise sector hasn’t been fully developed, it has tremendous potential in India, with various exotic locations and a vast passenger market awaiting luxurious travel. Therefore, it becomes essential for India to establish strict environment norms for both National and Foreign cruise industries before giving them permits to operate here. It could formulate its policies by referring to the various laws and regulations in other countries, as mentioned above.
The existing provisions include the Coast Guard Act, 1978, which requires an Indian Coast Guard to preserve and protect the marine environment and act as the central coordinating authority to take action against oil-spill and marine pollution.
India being a potentially new port, it could make use of this position and set higher standards of compliance in line with the rules set by the Maritime Administration, like having independent onboard Coast Officers and sewage treatment plants, before issuing licenses to industries. It should also ensure that their Port Reception Facilities are viable to deal with waste disposal and timely inspection for better enforcement.
Measures to Be Taken States and International Organizations:
Sustainable Recognition: Turtle Logo’s
As part of their initiative for climate neutrality, the World Travel and Tourism Council announced their new program called 0. S.C.A.R.S. to encourage travel operators to adopt sustainability programs and practices. It aims to establish a turtle logo that indicates to the travellers that the ship has met specific primary sustainable goals, similar to the star system concept as used by hotels to prove quality. A recognition like this can encourage the companies to fulfil its sustainability goals to get that quality check logo and make the travellers aware of which cruises to sail on.
Restricted Use of Flag of Convenience
The principle of Flag of Convenience needs to be restricted or amended to allow for stricter checks and enforcement mechanisms so that cruise companies do not misuse them to avoid meeting higher compliance thresholds. Either every country should be registered where the owner is incorporated and be subject to the laws and regulations of the home country, or the role played by flag countries needs to be made more stringent where they should either conduct inspections of ships registered with them or impose penalties on those who don’t meet the International standard.
Final Destination: Conclusion
While the cruise industry is booming with profits, it’s essential that the environment profits along with it. Tracing the recent chain of events, there have been initiatives taken by individual cruise lines to become more environmentally friendly, like shifting to cleaner fuels like CNG and reducing their carbon and plastic consumption. But there exists an absence of efforts from the cruise industry in totality to conserve the same environment it makes its livelihood out of.
There is also a fundamental need to revise the National legislations and implement new ones, with stricter compliances, which could be through higher taxes or Polluter Pay principles. On the International front, United Nations and Maritime Organizations need to step in to fill in the cavity that exists with current conventions, like MARPOL and Flags of convenience, so that companies do not misuse them.
To conclude the policy recommendation, a two-fold mechanism should be adopted- one that is voluntary. The companies engaging in greener technologies and useful waste disposal plants should be given public recognition and appreciation through the use of turtle logos and tax exemptions. The other approach would be the critical legal approach that States and International Organizations have to incorporate within their legislations and create stricter enforcement checks.
So while a ticket to the magical cruise with package services like spa, excursions and deck parties might be a nominal cost of $2500, this price doesn’t include the cost of environmental harm that’s caused to the oceans, aquatic life and the marine world.