The cruise industry served 30 million people and contributed over $144 billion to the world economy in 2019. Today, it is on track to surpass these numbers. Cruising supports local economies and generates employment through tourism. However, it also leads to global warming.
Cruise Ships and other vessels are responsible for 3% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. A report by the Pacific Standard revealed that an individual’s average carbon footprint triples when on a cruise. Hence, in terms of carbon emissions per person, cruising is worse than flying.
In a world where being sustainable has become the need of the hour, the cruise industry is undergoing transformation to become more environmentally friendly, though cases of greenwashing also abound.
However, as strict environmental regulations and environmental awareness among consumers are on the rise, many cruise lines strive to make the cruising experience more green and sustainable.
In an industry that is known for its carbon-spewing ships, excessive waste production, environmental violations and port over-tourism, practices like using paper straws and reusing linens onboard cruise ships are not enough.
The true change lies in achieving technology breakthroughs around using clean and alternative fuels and having a green port infrastructure. Not to forget, cruise ships should manage onboard waste in a responsible manner.
Some significant initiatives in this regard include the commitment of CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, the biggest cruise industry trade association, to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and decrease carbon rates by 40% by 2030.
Per a CLIA report, over 15% of cruise ships making their debut in the next 5-10 years will have hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries. Yet another important move will be zero-emissions docking, where ships switch off their engines and connect to the grid at port, reducing air pollution.
Now that we have discussed the impact of the cruise industry on the environment in brief and the need for sustainable cruising let’s look at the 10 top eco-friendly cruise ships.
1. MSC Euribia, MSC Cruises
This new energy-efficient cruise ship named after the ancient goddess Eurybia has to be the first on the eco-friendly cruise ship list. This ship’s construction began in 2021 during the pandemic and cost roughly €850m. The futuristic cruise vessel first set sail in June 2023, and her maiden voyage was unlike any other ship since she was powered by 400 tonnes of bio-liquified gas during the trip.
The ship has many measures in place to make it the most eco-friendly cruise ship. The 331 m Euribia has 4 dual-fuel engines that take LNG and marine gas oil. It also meets the IMO Tier III standards.
Like many other ships of the MSC Fleet, MSC Euribia is fuelled by LNG and cuts up to 20% of carbon emissions and 85% of the nitrogen oxide it produces.
The ship is energy efficient with smart cooling systems, LED lighting, ventilation and heating systems. It also uses oxide fuel cells to decrease emissions and renewable waste biofuels.
The ship has a wastewater treatment system that purifies saltwater and makes it drinkable. Its propellors generate less noise, and its hull is designed to lower drag and consume less fuel, lowering the ship’s environmental impact.
Per MSC Cruises, Euribia emits 19% less greenhouse gas per passenger per day than her sisterships running on traditional fuels. It also emits 44% less greenhouse gas daily than vessels constructed a decade ago.
2. Ambience, Ambassador Cruise Line
Second on our top eco-friendly cruise ships list is the majestic Ambience, a part of the Ambassador Cruise Line’s fleet. Ambience sailed for the first time in 2022. It employs several state-of-the-art eco-friendly technologies onboard, allowing it to sail to some of the world’s most pristine locations, like the Norwegian World Heritage Fjords.
The cruise line worked with a ship management company to upgrade this vessel in line with Environmental Social Governance to meet IMO’s highest emission standards in Tier 3.
Ambassador Cruise Line reported that from Ambience’s 1st voyage in April 2022, her emissions have decreased by 95% due to the use of systems that transform harmful gases into inert nitrogen and water vapour, thereby reducing nitrogen oxide emissions.
After the upgrades, she also saw a 7% reduction in fuel consumption, 80% less sulphur oxide emissions and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 5.358 tonnes annually.
In accordance with the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index regulations, the ship is equipped with a shaft power limitation, which restricts power by 25%. Hence, her speed of 18.5 knots is reduced to 16.25 knots.
It also has a sewage system and bio-digesters to convert food waste into heat and water, bottle washers, and a bottling plant.
3. Explora I, Explora Journeys
The luxury cruise ship Explora I of Explora Journeys is fueled by LNG and has shore-to-ship power capabilities. This vessel left on her 14-day maiden voyage, covering 7 destinations on 1st August 2023, from Copenhagen, Denmark.
According to the cruise line, the ship has provisions for battery storage, enabling future hybrid power generation. Due to the latest selective catalytic reduction technology, it reduces NOx emissions by 90%.
It uses LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances and smart heating and cooling systems. It also has a Baltic Standard wastewater treatment system and a recycling and solid waste management system.
The ship’s exterior is covered with anti-fouling paint, while its hull has been designed to optimise hydrodynamics.
Single-use plastics are not used on the cruise ship, nor will they be provided during land-based experiences.
4. MS Kong Harald, Hurtigruten
Named after the King of Norway, MS Kong Harald has a capacity for 590 passengers. Built in 1993, this ship was refurbished into a greener hybrid vessel in 2023.
It has been equipped with large battery packs and new engines that reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 25%. The 121.8 m long and 19.2 m wide ship also has an advanced wastewater treatment system and SRC technology that decreases nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.
MS Kong Harald has a gross tonnage of 11,204 and can sail at a speed of 17 knots. Before this, she was also upgraded in 2016, which mainly involved changing its interior. The ship now features a modern, arctic-inspired interior design with 3 restaurants.
There are two hot tubs on the deck and a bar at the ship’s front to enjoy a nice drink with a beautiful view.
The ship also has a unique compass area with a reception, a coastal experience team, a shop and a meeting room.
5. Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Flora, specially constructed for the Galapagos Islands, is a 100-passenger megayacht powered by solar energy. Guests onboard the ship can participate in community programs like contributing towards local organic farms.
Featuring an innovative outward-facing concept, this ship is inspired by the islands and constructed with natural material, merging seamlessly with its surroundings. Onboard the ship, one can find naturalists from the Galapagos National Park.
The ship combines eco-tourism with luxury without compromising on sustainability. It is equipped with several environmentally friendly technologies like a dynamic position system that enables it to remain in place without dropping anchors and hence protecting the marine environment. It has solar panels to meet the electricity requirements. It was awarded the Best Cruise Ship in 2021.
The ship also prevents plastic pollution. Guests can find metal water bottles in their rooms instead of plastic ones. These water bottles can be refilled from the many filtration systems onboard the vessel.
Also, the ship makes little to no noise while moving, reducing noise pollution. It has a system for converting seawater into freshwater.
Its advanced propulsion system, special diesel engines and hull make it an energy-efficient ship that consumes 15% less energy and reduces harmful emissions. Not to forget that it has a strict waste management system where everything is either recycled, reused or donated.
6. Scarlet Lady, Virgin Cruises
Scarlet Lady has many innovative technologies that make it a sustainable cruise ship. It is covered with low-friction paint to reduce drag, which decreases fuel consumption by up to 5%, and its diesel engines can switch to cleaner fuels when they become commercially viable.
The ship has tinted windows that capture and recycle heat and LED lighting that lasts 25 times longer and utilises 80% less energy.
Scarlet Lady transforms heat from the vessel’s engines into clean energy, and its advanced onboard systems purify wastewater so it is clean enough to drink. The ship offers up-cycled ocean plastic sunglasses and reef-safe sunscreen to its guests.
Single-use plastics like straws, water bottles, takeaway cups, and shopping bags are banned on the ship. There are no buffets; rather, guests enjoy fresh seafood and direct trade coffee onboard the Scarlet Lady.
Its selective catalytic reduction system decreases nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 75%. The exhaust gas cleaning systems decrease sulphur oxide levels by 98% and total particulate matter by 50%
The ship is equipped with low-flow water fixtures, enabling low water consumption while dishwashing. It also has eco-friendly dry cleaning facilities and vacuum flush toilets.
7. Seabourn Cruises, Venture
Venture is a luxury cruise ship launched in 2021 that is a perfect combination of sustainability and opulence. It is a rather small ship with a capacity for around 300 guests in her ocean-view suites designed by Adam D. Tihany. Seabourn Venture has several green initiatives onboard to improve its sustainability profile.
The ship has technologies to make desalinated water through reverse osmosis, using up to 30% less energy. It has a dynamic positioning system to reduce the ocean disturbance caused by traditional anchors.
Single-use plastic bottles for liquid soaps and other uses are banned. There are filling stations across the vessel, and reusable mugs are provided to guests.
Paper usage is limited by the Seabour app and in-room televisions that keep the guest updated.
8. Havila Polaris, Havila Voyages
Havila operates 4 coastal cruise ships on the Norwegian coastal line from Bergen to Kirkenes, namely Havila Capella, Havila Castor, Havila Polaris and Havila Pollux.
All the ships have large battery packs, allowing them to sail for 4 hours with zero emissions. Supplied by Corvus, these weigh around 86 tonnes with a capacity of 6.1 megawatt hours.
These batteries are powered with hydrogen when the ship is onshore. It also uses LNG, which cuts carbon dioxide and NOx emissions by 35% and 90%, respectively.
Havila Polaris and other ships of the cruise line have energy-efficient hulls designed to withstand the harsh weather conditions of the Norwegian coastline.
Excess heat from cooling down water and the energy system used by the vessel is recovered using the Ulmatec Pyro Waste Energy Management System that uses this heat to power other appliances like ship heating and heating hot water for the shower.
Disposable products and materials are not found on the ships. Passengers are encouraged to refill their water bottles with clean water from one of the water dispensers found on the ship.
The chefs use carefully selected ingredients procured from local producers and aim to minimise average food wastage per passenger to 75 grams per day.
9. Greg Mortimer, Aurora Expeditions
The Greg Mortimer is specially built for expeditions to the most remote and pristine places on the planet. It is the first passenger ship to have the Ulstein X-BOW, allowing the ship to traverse the oceans gently, giving guests a comfortable experience while minimising noise and impact on marine creatures.
The ship is designed with communal areas and observation decks to bring you close to nature. It is the ideal ship for adventure lovers and nature enthusiasts. The ship has a green profile and accommodates around 132 people in 76 cosy and comfortable cabins.
Aurora Expeditions Greg Mortimer consumes less fuel, is energy-efficient and has a streamlined design to decrease remissions.
The vessel is equipped with virtual anchoring technology that allows it to remain in place using a combination of steerings, propellors, thrusters and GPS, preserving the seafloor and reducing the negative impact of traditional anchors.
10. Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant
Ponant, a luxury French line, brought out its emission-reducing hybrid expedition ship that can run on LNG and electric batteries, called Le Commandant Charcot in 2021. This 245-passenger vessel is laden with many features, making it truly sustainable.
Ponant is the first cruise line to get the Green Marine Certification and offsets 100% of its emissions. The cruise line is planning to roll out a zero-impact ship by 2025.
All the ships of the line have shore-to-ship power connections in the port. Single-use plastics and disposables are banned, and the cruise line conducts environmental impact studies before they design an itinerary.
Le Commandant Charcot is the newest addition to the fleet, excelling in low-impact polar navigation, which makes it one of the most advanced polar ships. It is also the first passenger ship in the world fitted with a Polar Class 2 hull, allowing it to sail between the drifting ice and reach isolated areas while protecting the polar ecosystems.
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Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.