Extinction Rebellion: Campaigners target ‘dirty truth’ of cruise ship industry with protest in Weymouth

Activists warn emissions from one vessel can ‘equal one million car exhausts’ and accuse operators of greenwashing

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 01 October 2020 08:11 BST
Activists including Team GB sailor Laura Baldwin are calling for greater regulation of ships at sea
Activists including Team GB sailor Laura Baldwin are calling for greater regulation of ships at sea

Extinction Rebellion’s sister organisation Ocean Rebellion launched a night-time protest in Weymouth against what it described as the “dirty truth of the cruise shipping industry”.

Activists aboard a yacht flying flags bearing the XR logo unfurled banners and projected slogans on Tuesday night onto cruise liners which read “one ship equals one million car exhausts” and “10 swimming pools per week of sewage dumped at sea”.

Weymouth Bay has become a temporary home to many enormous cruise ships since the coronavirus pandemic hit the industry.

These “ghost ships” anchored in the English channel are devoid of the passengers which would normally have been cruising the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, and are left with skeleton crews which maintain the vessels and ensure they don’t drift from their anchorages.

The protesters, who included former British Olympic sailor Laura Baldwin, took the opportunity to shine a light - quite literally - on an industry which they say “is just one of many big ocean polluters". 

“Ocean Rebellion believes the public deserves to know that,” they added.

As well as the claims about raw sewage exhaust fumes, protesters said the heavy oil used as fuel in shipping - a waste product from the oil industry - causes over 400,000 premature human deaths per year. Cruise ship air quality exposes onboard holiday makers to more pollutants than would be found on a bad day in Delhi, they said,

Baldwin, who represented Team GB in the 2004 Olympics, said: “Weymouth Bay has seen between 5 to 10 cruise ships parked here since the start of lockdown. On a still day, you can clearly see the sludgy yellow layer of pollution wrapping the lowest level of air.

“We are in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, people are already dying and being displaced. The next seven years are the most critical ever in the history of humanity. We must rapidly decarbonise. We all need to take responsibility for reducing our individual carbon footprints and make the morally right decisions.”

Ocean Rebellion said it was calling for new laws to address pollution at sea.

It added: “With cruise shipping planning to get back to business as usual Ocean Rebellion calls on governments for more stringent laws to govern ships at sea.

“We can’t trust the industry to govern itself. The cruise ship industry must admit the truth about its polluting activities or face prosecution for deliberately misleading the public with greenwashing.

The organisation highlighted how the cruise company, Carnival, was fined $20m (£15.5m) for violating a US probation agreement for misreporting.

The activists targeted seven boats: three operated by Marella Cruises, owned by travel company TUI;  two are owned by P&O; and two are owned by Cunard.

A spokesperson for Cunard and P&O Cruises told The Independent: “Whilst anchored off the south coast the ships remain on their own power generation operating at significantly reduced load compared to normal cruising or anchored operation. All non-essential services are shut down, and the ship is generating power for services required for the small number of crew remaining on board. This is at most 35 per cent of the typical load.

“Additionally, all our ships are fitted with Advanced Air Quality Systems (exhaust gas cleaning systems) which remove almost all the sulphur from the air emissions, along with removing a high percentage of particulate matter. These systems will be running whilst the ship is anchored. These systems exceed the regulatory emissions standards for both air and water quality and ensure that all our cruise ships remain in compliance with all relevant environmental regulations, including the IMO 2020 requirements.”

A Marella spokesperson told The Independent: “We can confirm that we’ve had no reports of our ships being targeted by this protest. However, as a CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) member, Marella Cruises leads the maritime sector in environmental compliance by developing and implementing best practices which exceed international environmental legislation. Along with CLIA, we collaborate with environmental organisations and government agencies to create policies that protect our oceans and continually strive for improvement.

“As a cruise line, we work very hard to minimise our emissions and make our ships and itineraries as fuel efficient as possible. Our ships are equipped with advanced wastewater purification systems which result in cleaner wastewater than most coastal UK cities release into the sea, we have a zero untreated sewage discharge policy. Whilst at anchor in UK waters, our ships use the highest quality marine distillate fuel available (Marine Gas Oil) with a certified sulphur content of less than 0.1 per cent, this fuel is not a waste product. In addition to all the measures in place, we have specially trained environmental officers working onboard who are responsible for ensuring 24 hour compliance.”

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