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Green Cruising

cruise ship santoriniThe term "green cruising" might seem like an oxymoron for an industry that has long been condemned for paying little mind to the natural resources that fuel its success. Indeed, billowing smokestacks and highly publicized incidents of offshore dumping are enough to convince some travelers that waste and pollution -- in the sky and sea -- are major issues.

When polled, 39 percent of cruisers at IndependentTraveler.com's sister site, Cruise Critic, said that lines "do only what's required" -- though interestingly enough, almost the same number, 38 percent, felt that cruise lines "are very environmentally conscious."

No matter what side of the fence you're on, it's no secret that oil spills in recent years have brought the cruise industry's responsibility to the environment front and center. In November 2007, Gap Adventures' expedition ship, Explorer, sank in Antarctica and left behind a diesel fuel slick 590 by 66 feet in size. Earlier that same year, Louis Cruise Lines' Sea Diamond sank off the coast of Santorini, oozing as much as 100 tons of fuel into the Aegean Sea; Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry has since fined parent company Louis Group, operator Louis Cruise Lines and Greek captain Yiannis Marinos a total of 1.17 million euros ($1.57 million) for pollution.

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Also, a survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund revealed that most cruise and ferry companies operating in the Baltic Sea have failed to "voluntarily ban" the polluting practice of waste water dumping. In a recent campaign, 50+ companies were contacted -- and 11, including Peter Deilmann and Hurtigruten, pledged to stop discharging untreated wastewater. Among those that didn't agree are Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Hapag-Lloyd and AIDA.

However, despite the bad rap, it's important to know that all cruise lines do follow their own set of environmental policies; major components of these include recycling, as well as incinerating and processing waste onboard.

Even newer and more innovative initiatives go beyond these efforts. Celebrity Cruises has begun installing solar panels on its newest ships for powering onboard components such as LED lights. Celebrity Solstice launched with 80 panels; Celebrity Equinox was built with 216. Several ships in Holland America's and Princess' fleets "plug in" to shore power in Northwest ports to reduce emissions and reduce consumption of shipboard fuel. Holland America is also conducting an ongoing and in-depth feasibility study on its Zaandam, testing emission reduction technology via a cutting-edge sea water scrubbing system (more on that later).

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Norwegian Cruise Line donates used cooking grease to an organic farmer in Miami, and has been doing the same in Hawaii. Carnival U.K. is also testing cooking oil conversion on ships docking in Southampton -- used cooking oil is turned into environmentally friendly biodiesel. Because the process does not involve virgin plants, it does not impact the global food shortage. It also releases less carbon dioxide than standard diesel over its lifecycle. How effective is this? In one three-month period during 2008, 45 tons of cooking oil were recycled this way. That's enough biodiesel to run an average family car for 475,000 miles, the equivalent of driving around the equator more than 19 times.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean is making a lot of small changes that add up to big impact, such as tweaking the arrival and departure times at some ports of call so ships can save fuel while sailing to the next port, altering the speed of ships while at sea to gain the greatest fuel efficiency, and using special window tinting to keep ships cooler and reduce the load placed upon the air-conditioning systems. They've even installed more energy-efficient appliances -- including new icemakers that use 65 percent less water than previous models.

And the ports are chipping in too: San Diego recently instituted a voluntary vessel speed reduction program; cruises (and cargo vessels) coming into port are asked to obey a speed limit of 15 (12 for cargo) knots when traveling in the bay in order to reduce air pollution (and save fuel in the process). Venice and La Spezia are set to become "green ports" too, developing a system to supply shore-side electrical power to vessels in their berths as is done elsewhere in the world.

What's your cruise line doing to protect the regions in which it sails? We've rounded up the responses of several companies below. But first, here are some "Did you know?" tidbits -- compiled by the North West CruiseShip Association, Cruise Lines International Association and yours truly -- for those who want to get into the nitty-gritty of cruise ship pollution and conservation:

There are three types of waste water: bilge water, black water (or sewage) and grey water. Bilge water is oily engine run-off and condensation that collects in the bilge, a compartment at the bottom of a vessel's hull where water collects and is later pumped out. Grey water comes from showers and sinks. Black water, perhaps the most damaging to the environment, comes from the toilets and from the drains and sinks of the infirmary.

When water is treated to reduce its oil content below 15 parts of oil per million parts of water, the law allows it to be discharged virtually anywhere.

Although accidents have happened, cruise ships' environmental standards meet or surpass all U.S. and international laws; the cruise industry represents only 0.2 percent of all ocean-going vessels worldwide.

cruise ship tahiti deck Ships are required to reduce the solid waste they generate by purchasing in bulk, encouraging suppliers to use more efficient packaging, reusing packaging when possible and packaging more environmentally friendly materials. In addition, ships must actively recycle glass, metals, wood, cardboard and paper.

In the last 10 years, cruise ships have cut their waste and garbage almost in half, while sustaining a growth in cruise capacity averaging 7.6 percent annually.

To jump straight to the cruise line that interests you, click the link below:

Carnival Cruise Lines
Onboard Policies: Although international law allows disposal of some items at sea, Carnival chooses to recycle, incinerate or offload all waste materials (plastic, glass, rags, metal, fluorescent lamps, batteries and medical waste) from its ships for disposal on land. Ships process and incinerate solid waste onboard whenever possible or send it to an approved shoreside facility for treatment, recycling or disposal. Cooking oil and grease are reused onboard as alternative fuel. Mattresses, televisions, blankets and computers are not disposed of but instead donated to local charities in homeports and ports of call.

Conscious Crew: All Carnival Cruise Lines employees attend a familiarization course, which provides instruction on shipboard waste management. The line also provides specialized training to all shipboard and relevant shoreside employees, with advanced training required for key positions.

Special Projects/Awards: Through an alliance with the International SeaKeepers Society, Carnival has installed devices on the Carnival Triumph and Carnival Spirit that monitor ocean water quality. The monitor, mounted in the ship's bow, tracks water temperature and salinity, pH, oxygen and redox (reduction/oxidation reaction) levels, as well as air temperature, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, barometric pressure, and relative humidity. Data is transmitted via satellite to environmental groups, governmental agencies and universities to aid in assessing ocean pollution and researching global climate changes and weather patterns.

The line also supports community programs and local initiatives such as the Coral Reef Task Force and beach clean-ups ashore. Carnival's Spirit-class ships (Spirit, Pride, Legend and Miracle) have all received Green Star notation by RINA, Italy's Shipping Classification and Certification Agency. The notation is based on the highest environmental standards for pollution prevention and marine preservation, and is stricter than the provisions of the international MARPOL (short for "marine pollution") convention, which most cruise lines follow.

Green Guests: Specially marked containers are scattered throughout each ship in the fleet to encourage cruisers to recycle. Designated bins, located in public areas and on open decks, collect food, glass, aluminum and plastic products; recycling bins are also located in steward stations, galley and crew areas, room service pantries, and bar pantries.

Carnival parent Carnival Corporation -- which also owns Holland America, Princess, P&O, Cunard and more -- has set up a dedicated e-mail address for employees and cruise passengers worldwide who have questions or need to draw attention to a concern regarding environmental management systems. That address is environmental@carnival.com.

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