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Cruise ships represent a small, but highly visible, portion of the international shipping industry. As such, travel operators are taking steps to minimize the negative environmental, ecological and human health-related aspects of cruises.

For example, they recognize that – like all other forms of transportation that burn hydrocarbon fuels for energy – ships create air pollution that degrades air quality, adversely affects human health and contributes to the wide reaching effects of climate change. They also understand that, with large cruise ships carrying several thousand passengers, the amount of waste generated can be significant and can contribute to marine pollution and the degradation of vital marine ecosystems.

On a global scale, the marine shipping industry is responsible for contributing around 2.2% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2), 15% of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 13% of sulfur oxides (SOx) as well as particulate matter. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) continually reviews and updates its requirements with regards to marine pollution. Under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the latest EU regulation, effective January 1, 2020, ships occupying EU waters are required to limit SOx emissions by using low sulfur fuels or by installing scrubbers (exhaust gas cleaning systems) to remove particulate matter and harmful components from exhaust gases. This new regulation supplements the IMO’s global sulfur cap and introduces a level global playing field for ship operators on their monitoring and reporting of air pollutants.

Travel operators want to ensure that, in addition to being in compliance with regulations, passengers on their cruise ships enjoy good air quality throughout their voyages, with passenger cabins and public spaces free from hazardous vapors and other pollutants generated from multiple sources onboard the ship. This requires accurate monitoring of air pollution emissions. At SGS’s Marine Services, we understand that measuring air quality on the open seas is significantly different from measuring it in static environments. Meteorological information is necessary to model the air quality. Parameters such as wind speed, outside temperature and humidity all affect how polluting components disperse and react in the atmosphere.

We combine state-of-the art monitoring equipment with specialist analysis of big data to provide real-time monitoring and diagnostics of air quality onboard ships. In a recent study involving five cruise ships, we installed monitoring devices throughout the vessels – on the sun decks, inside the restaurants, in the corridors and inside cabins – to create a bench of data on dynamic pollutants. The outputs from this data monitoring enabled our client to meet its reporting obligations, identify opportunities to communicate with passengers on its air quality levels and identify areas for further improvement.

Alongside needing to optimize air quality onboard cruise ships, travel operators are concerned about the significant volume of waste generated, including sewage, graywater (from washing processes) and solid waste. With large cruise ships carrying several thousand passengers per voyage, solid waste is a key concern that needs to be managed through a combination of source reduction, waste minimization and recycling. With most cruise ships, solid waste is treated onboard – through incineration, pulping and grinding – for discharge overboard. Any waste that cannot be treated onboard, such as glass or aluminum, is offloaded at ports.

Despite the presence of regulations that require graywater discharges to capture solid waste – including plastic particles – through mesh filters so that it can be ground down or pulped, no regulations exist to prevent the release of microplastics into the oceans. SGS’s Marine Services provides sampling of liquid and solid waste to detect the presence of plastic particulates that pose a threat to marine ecosystems. By sharing this information with the relevant authorities, we contribute to knowledge on the presence of harmful microplastics that will ultimately inform the development of regulations to prevent the discharge of microplastics into our oceans.