Cruise: The ‘message’ cruise ship passengers need to be aware of before they travel

Cruises are huge vessels that can hold thousands of people while sailing all around the world. Some cruise ships are home to restaurants, cinemas, shops and even swimming pools. But when a cruise ship comes to the end of its life, it isn’t always disposed of in the correct way.

Iain Butterworth, a member of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers’ (FOIL) Environmental SFT and Solicitor at Thomas Miller Law spoke exclusively to about some of the poor practices than can take place when ships are disposed of and what cruisers should know.

Butterworth explained that he began his career as a Marine Engineer on vessels and is now a Marine Lawyer and Consultant.

“I’ve seen ships being cut up in front of my eyes in various jurisdictions,” he explained.

He continued: “I’m aware of all of the issues in how this should and shouldn’t be done.”

Butterworth explained that cruise ship disposal, and recycling of vessels in general in some parts of the world – namely Asia – can cause considerable damage to the environment.

Alang in India, known as being one of the biggest ship recycling yards in the world, is one of the least regulated, according to Butterworth.

The marine consultant explained that there is also a “health and safety aspect” when it comes to the people who dismantle the vessels.

“There is no environmental protection, it’s not just the oils in the vessel but it’s the paint from the hulls of the vessel that are chipped off, as the vessels are cut-up the steel filings find their way into the sand and vessels contain all sorts of sludges, asbestos – there’s just no protection for the environment or workers,” he explained.

When asked about what cruisers can do, he said it should be coming from the cruise companies to let consumers know how ships are being disposed of.

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He explained: “I think first and foremost it’s got to come from the cruise ship companies.

“It’s got to come from the owners of the vessels.”

Butterworth likened it to buying a piece of furniture and knowing that it comes from an environmentally sustainable source or that it’s recycled.

He continued: “I think that message has got to somehow to get out to the consumer ‘that we as a company we care about the environment and we will ensure our vessels are disposed of in an environmentally-sound way.’”

He added: “But the average individual who goes onto a cruise ship isn’t really thinking about what happens to the vessel at the end of its life.

“Because for a lot of people, the marine environment and shipping is not known to them.

“They’re there to enjoy their cruise and not really think that far ahead in terms of what might happen to the vessel.

“The owners of the vessels have got to have a genuine desire to conform with these rules and regulations.

“And when the vessel comes to the end of its life, they have got to do the decent thing which is not always easy.”

But, he explained, it’s not as easy as that.

“Some vessels are sold on for reuse,” he said.

“And if they’re sold on for reuse to an organisation that is not highly regulated, there’s nothing to stopping them, in years to come when the vessel needs to be scrapped, sending it to one of these unregulated facilities.”

A spokesperson from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told “Recycling ships in a manner that is both safe and environmentally sound is of tremendous importance to the cruise industry, which is at the forefront in the development of responsible environmental practices and technologies that lead the way in sustainable tourism.

“Ship recycling is an issue facing the entire maritime community and the shipping industry has encouraged IMO member states to ratify the Hong Kong Convention.”

The Hong Kong Convention requires ratification by at least 15 IMO member states, and representing 40 percent of global tonnage to come into effect.

Currently, the member states which have ratified the Convention, represent just under 30 percent of global tonnage.

While facilities to dispose of ships in the European Union are growing continuously, there are not enough facilities to accommodate all of the ships, across all sectors of shipping that are bound for recycling.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the world’s fleet of ships is about 90,000 vessels—with the average number of large ships being scrapped each year at about 500-700.

It is important to note that cruise ships comprise far less than one percent of the global maritime community.

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