The Tides Are Changing

MSC Cruises

Much like all other travel and transport industries, the cruise ship industry has, until now, cut through the planet’s waves and left the environment reeling in the process.


Transporting upwards of 25 million holidaymakers every year and worth approximately $120 billion, the impact of the industry is huge. And the numbers don’t lie: the carbon footprint of each passenger rises by 200% when onboard a cruise ship.


As outcry for the industry to clean up its act reaches fever pitch, MSC Cruises – the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line – has announced its promise to become the first global carbon neutral cruise line, offsetting all CO2 emissions beginning January 1st 2020. This offsetting is done directly on behalf of each cruise guest, using a range of projects to reverse the effects of all emissions, with particular focus on blue carbon offsets – coastal or marine projects that enhance marine biodiversity, support communities that rely on the sea, and restore ocean habitats.

“As we recognize that today’s most advanced maritime environmental technology alone is insufficient to immediately reach carbon neutrality, the further commitment we make today ensures that our fleet makes no negative contribution to climate change.”
– Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises

However, as climate scientists have made clear, offsetting carbon emissions is not the same thing as eliminating them. In an industry as huge as the cruise industry, liners must work towards completely cutting their emissions, rather than making amends in retrospect – a concept that MSC Cruises have taken to heart as they seek new ways to reduce their newest ships’ direct environmental impact. The MSC Grandiosa is now the line’s most environmentally friendly ship due to innovations that reduce nitrogen oxide output by up to 90% and a water treatment system that filters harmful wastewater to make it safer to dispose.


The ship’s gas cleaning systems reduce sulphur oxide emissions by 97%, and the latest energy efficiency innovations reduce fuel consumption by 28% compared to previous ships. But it’s not just gases that cruise ships emit; to reduce the ship’s impact on marine mammals, a new ‘Underwater Radiated Noise’ system has also been implemented.

At sea, fresh water is a prized, finite resource. As such, it needs to be used efficiently. With water reduction technologies and self-contained production of fresh water on each ship, MSC Cruises have established many ways of saving water. Using on-board production plants, thousands of litres are turned from seawater into fresh tap water; this number rises to 2 million litres on the liner’s larger ships.


Friends of the Earth claim that the average large cruise ship will release up to 210,000 gallons of human sewage and 1 million gallons of greywater (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry and galleys) into the ocean on one single week voyage. To tackle this hazardous mass of pollution, MSC Cruises release no wastewater into the ocean without treating and purifying it, filtering out the larger components and hazardous substances to be digested by bacteria. The remaining purified waste is then disinfected by UV processing rather than chlorine, reducing the risk to marine life and the underwater environment they depend on.


As this issue of Human outlines, Travel for Good can be accomplished in many different ways – not just environmentally. If industry leaders can operate in greener ways whilst also helping the people of the world, they truly can be a force for good. Since 2009, MSC Cruises has raised over €9 million in partnership with UNICEF, providing malnourished children in suffering communities across Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Malawi with ready-to-use therapeutic foods, or RUTF. Also encouraging awareness of UNICEF initiatives through ‘edutainment’ activities onboard their ships, the liner is inspiring their passengers to champion change.


In perhaps their most forward-looking move, the liner has also created a new, private island. Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve sits 65 miles east of Miami, and up until 2015 existed as a mine, processing millions of tons of aragonite sand every year. Now transformed into a flourishing marine reserve, Ocean Cay MSC is a diverse and sustainable environment for marine life and birds.


This didn’t come easily. To transform the island, MSC Cruises cleared 7,500 tons of scrap metal, replacing it with 75,000 plants and 5000 trees – 95% of which are native Caribbean species – and relocating 400 coral colonies. The result is a 64 square-mile marine reserve to be used as a private island for guests to explore.

“Ocean Cay is founded on a deep commitment to ecological principles – beliefs that shape everything from how venues are built, to how the island is run, to the kinds of activities featured on the island. Ocean Cay is not just a holiday island, it is a unique marine reserve where people and nature thrive in harmony”

– Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman MSC Cruises

The oceans of the world serve as the very lifeblood of the cruise ship industry, and as such need to be protected rather than poisoned. In an industry that has the potential to be so destructive, changes must be made with the upmost urgency, whilst also remembering that this is an ongoing effort. A singular, one-off change is no longer enough to reverse the damage that has already been caused. Instead, industry leaders must follow MSC Cruises and act upon their responsibility to preserve our oceans, protecting the marine life and coastal communities that rely on them to survive.

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