Different Standards for the "Dinosaurs": Interview with Dietmar Oeliger, NABU

Cruise ships pollute the air, especially in ports, with enormous amounts of exhaust fumes. In our interview, Dietmar Oeliger of the German "Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union" (NABU) talks about the dangers of bunker emissions from cruise ships. The vessels use poisonous heavy fuel oil which (in addition to CO2) produces emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. The latter is linked to heart and chest problems, cancer, and dementia.

Furthermore, particulate matter is one of the main drivers of climate change, as it accelerates the melting of ice and snow in the Arctic. While catalytic converters are common in cars, this is not the case with cruise ships. According to Mr. Oeliger, such technologies as well as cleaner fuel are urgently needed for cruise ships.

From 2015, stricter emissions limits for sulphur dioxide will be applied in the Baltic and North Seas. However, they will continue to be more than a hundred times weaker than those for lorries. To increase their profits, cruise lines continue to use cheaper heavy fuel oil on their routes from the US to the Caribbean or from Europe to Africa. Poisonous heavy fuel oil is used wherever it is not prohibited by international regulations. For cruise companies, the environment and people's health don't matter much – and in developing countries even less than here.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has decided stricter limits of certain emissions by 2020, but the new regulations will still be significantly weaker than those for cars or factories. Progress is slow because at the IMO there are countries involved that have large fleets under their flags, but do not care much about environmental standards. During the past few years, Liberia, Panama, and Greece have time and again sabotaged good efforts to reduce pollution at sea. Nevertheless, the process needs to continue under the IMO, says Mr. Oeliger. In addition, Europe needs to make headway by also declaring the Mediterranean a marine environmental protection zone, and ports may charge higher fees from dirtier vessels while providing incentives for cleaner ones.


(September 2014, TW 76)