Friday, October 25, 2019


As a personal blog Shipfax reserves to right to embark on a rant now and again. Long time users are accustomed to this and know they can skip right over them without penalty. So every once in a while when it is a slow news day in the port, Shipfax gives over to an opinion piece to acknowledge one of the proverbial elephants in the room.

During the Second World War rationing was put in place for certain kinds of food, and not all luxury food either, but some essentials too. Automobile manufacturing was stopped and gasoline and tires were rationed for personal use. Even then people were encouraged to reduce the use of many commodities and services voluntarily through the use of advertising posters.

One of the best known posters was "Is your trip necessary?" It applied to all forms of travel - by ship, train, bus, car. The use of commodities such as fuel, wear and tear on steel, rubber and other strategic materials was fairly easy to understand in wartime. Public travel resources were also needed to move troops, so space was made by limiting civilian use. There were abuses of course, but generally people understood that resources needed to be reserved for the war effort.

Many would argue that the planet is facing an even more existential threat today with global warming and that all out war must be declared soon if we hope to reduce carbon emissions. I expect the cruise industry will soon be faced with having to answer the question "Is your trip necessary?"

Some facts about the cruise industry are self-reported in the following:

Here are few of the most telling:

  • In 2017 there were 25.8 million cruise passengers (up from 4.5% from 2016 and 20.5% in five years). 11.5 million of these were from the United States.
  • Demand for cruises continues to outpace supply and utilization exceeds 100%. (In other words all cruises are apparently sold out with standing room only).
  • 22,000 new lower berths were added in  2017.
  • 50 new cruise ships with 220,000 lower berths were expected to be delivered between 2018 and 2025.
The cruise industry has a $126 billion economic impact providing $41 billion in wages and salaries. There may be as many as 4.5 million people employed as crew. The most popular destinations are in the Caribbean where the passengers spends an average 4.38 hours ashore and average expenditure across all destinations was $103.83.

Due to overcrowding and stress on the infrastructure, some places such as Alaska, Barcelona and Venice are already putting the brakes on cruises, but that likely means the ships will just go somewhere else. Such initiatives as cold ironing (using shore power instead of generators when tied up) will have minuscule effect on the "carbon footprint" of the cruise industry. Conversion to LNG is gaining little traction. Such feel good programs for tourists like recycling and cruise volunteerism are of no net benefit either.

The total energy required to build a cruise ship is enormous. The amount of material going into making the steel, aluminum and countless other materials is intense. Can you imagine the food waste generated by three or four thousand cruisers over a ten day period? Would they waste that much at home?

When the answer to the question "Is this trip necessary" is "No" then how is the world to balance the need to reduce carbon output with totally optional travel. 

Will the cruise industry have to be banned outright? (Please don't suggest carbon offsets, or tax/penalties in lieu of compliance with targets). That question may not have to be answered in what remains of my lifetime - but maybe it will some day.

Is the party over? After a harbour tour, the "Party Boat" Harbour Queen 1 has just disembarked a full load of nearly 200 passengers (capacity is 194, about four crew), who then returned to their bigger boat Riviera (capacity 1250 passengers, 800 crew) at pier 20. None of these trips was really necessary and yet easily 1,000 people had a job thanks in part to this one ship.


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