Cruising towards a sustainable future

Cruising towards a sustainable future

Cruise is far more accessible today to a larger audience but is also facing increased pressure from regulators and customers to become more environmentally sensitive.

Cruise is far more accessible today to a larger audience but is also facing increased pressure from regulators and customers to become more environmentally sensitive. 

Millions of people annually embrace cruising as an affordable, fun way to visit new destinations. With this number of travellers, however, comes increased concern about the environmental impact of this industry. 

Passengers are showing more concern about the effect of cruising on the marine environment in general and the ports and destinations in particular.

“For the cruise industry to stay in this business, being environmentally friendly and addressing concerns of the consumer market is a necessity to stay in operation,” says Maikel Arts, General Manager for Cruise & Ferry at Wärtsilä Marine Business. “There is clearly a willingness to invest.” 

Cruise ships are unique to the maritime industry because of their contact with millions of tourists. Often, they are the focal point of media coverage or public scrutiny over environmental concerns, both of which play a role in shifts toward increased awareness for sustainability in the cruise industry. 

Maritime environmental regulations are also becoming increasingly more stringent, with ambitious targets set by the IMO on carbon emission reduction scheduled to come into effect in 2030 and 2050. The topic of sustainability is clearly taking a dominant role in defining the future of the cruise industry.

Flexibility is key 

Governmental regulations and international agreements on pollution and carbon emissions have pushed ship owners to investigate the best way to adapt and build vessels that are able to comply with the 2030 and 2050 targets. One of the biggest hurdles cruise ship owners have to overcome is strategically selecting the sustainability solutions to invest in to meet climate goals.  

Cruise ships have a lifespan of approximately 35 to 40 years, and ship owners have to calculate the total lifecycle investment and return. Vessels being built today will have to be able to operate under the environmental goals of the future, which are predicted to become both stricter and broader.

Even though the long-term goals on greenhouse gas emission reduction are set, the roadmap to reach these goals is not yet defined. New technology for engines and alternative power sources are still under development, as are various fuel sources. Additionally, developing the necessary infrastructure for bunkering takes many years and substantial investment. 

Cruise operators in need of new capacity have to select solutions that will carry them into the future from technology available today. 

Wärtsilä’s strategic recommendation is for cruise companies to invest in fuel flexibility, with dual-fuel engines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks onboard, according to Arts. 

“Fuel flexibility is the option with the least amount of risk, particularly when, in the future, there will probably be multiple fuel types instead of a single winner,” says Arts. “Over the next five to 10 years, there will be major developments in fuel and technology. Having a dual-fuel strategy enables vessels to use both gas and liquid fuels to reduce emissions now and be prepared for a future with multiple fuel sources.”  

The fuel bunker infrastructure is slow-moving, and there is a gap between what technologies are available today and the current global infrastructure to provide various fuel types. While in the future there will be a huge increase in the availability of LNG, this process is taking time and does not yet include every port visited by cruise ships. 

Determining the best solution

Cruise companies have options beyond fuel choices to improve sustainability as well. With a variety of technologies to select from, it can be difficult for cruise ship owners to determine which option will work best, especially when trying to account for future shifts in the market. So far, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to making the cruise industry more sustainable. 

Stefano Cantarut, Segment Manager, Cruise and Ferry at Wärtsilä Marine Business, works to create solutions that are tailored to a vessel’s operating profile, including size and geographical operation, in order to recommend options based on fuel availability and the cost of fuel in various regions around the world. 

“We study the needs that the customer has and go backward to find which system matches those needs,” says Cantarut. “It is a completely different approach from what the customers and the yards are used to.” 

Wärtsilä has had engines, that use methanol as fuel, in operation since 2015, and the company is also testing engines using ammonia fuels and hybrid hydrogen fuels mixed with LNG. 

The mechanical side of a vessel is not Wärtsilä’s only focus. “Looking at the whole vessel is critical to developing the right solution and delivering the harmonious operation that is needed.  A large part of this is the automation and navigation solutions available to optimise operations and performance,” says Arts. “Big savings and efficiencies can be gained here.”  

Addressing this digital side of the vessel delivers fuel saving and efficiency, contributing to a more sustainable vessel. Digital solutions can help with selecting the optimal route based on weather, sea conditions, vessel characteristics, and schedule to reduce the fuel required. 

“[Digital technologies] are an investment, but the payback of this type of solution is that ships require less fuel to operate and are more reliable,” says Arts. “Less fuel equals less emissions and lower cost for cruise operators.”

Adapting to future regulations  

Cruise companies have demonstrated a willingness to adapt to environmental regulations, which have primarily targeted air pollution and decarbonisation. Cruise customers, however, are also concerned with other types of environmental disruption, such as noise pollution that might disturb sea life; plastic contamination of food waste disposed into the ocean; and light emissions, according to Cantarut. Both Cantarut and Arts say that regulations will tighten in the future around waste treatment of food waste and treating discharged water.

On this issue, Arts recommends the cruise industry invest in circular economy methodology. The actions advocated by the methodology include re-use of materials and products; minimising waste stream maintenance needs and downtime; and lengthening the lifetime of equipment and infrastructure. They are considered effective measures to reduce environmental impact while still delivering on consumer needs.

“A circular economy system helps ship owners answer the question: should we scrap the 30-year-old ship, or should we give it a thorough update?” says Arts. “It can bring the ship up to the standards of today in terms of customer experiences, safety, efficiency, and environmental standards and make it good to go for another 25 years.”

In the cruise industry, the circular economy particularly targets increasing the productivity of resources and minimising the creation of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.

Looking for a competitive advantage

The cruise industry is dominated by a limited number of large companies, according to Arts, and they are in constant competition for customers. Environmental friendliness is a new platform on which to compete. Cruise passengers aren’t the only ones advocating for better environmental performance. It’s also an important issue for employees and residents of popular destinations. Making choices that respond to this demand will be critical to business success in the cruise market. 

To build a sustainable future – for both the industry and the environment - cruise ship owners and operators will need to focus on optimising systems across the vessel and make the best choices for the long term. This is especially true as cruise companies expand routes into highly protected places such as Arctic areas or Norwegian fjords and are required to meet strenuous emissions regulations. 

“New destinations are going to be developed [to meet the demand for cruises] and therefore you will need ships that can go to more places,” says Arts. “Flexibility in vessel deployment with dual-fuel ships including LNG and a top-notch environmental score are the key to that success.”  

Written by
Hunter B. Martin