The cruise shipping industry is making significant strides toward a new age of transporting passengers, one of them being orders for the industry’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered ships. However, many challenges remain ahead with respect to the regulatory and environmental domain, including regulation of ballast water, exhaust gas cleaning systems and various types of waste management in addition to coping with increasing number of passengers on ever more complex ships plying our oceans.
World Maritime News spoke with Mr Bud Darr, Senior Vice-President of Technical and Regulatory Affairs of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to learn more about the latest developments in the industry along with the steps forward.
WMN: The cruise shipping industry has been faced with criticism from environmental organizations, such as German NABU, for not doing enough to cut emissions from ships citing Carnival Corporation’s order of LNG-fuelled cruise ships as the only bright example of commitment to environmentally-friendly technologies. Is enough being done in this respect and do you see switching to LNG as marine fuel as a viable long-term strategy that is here to stay?
Darr: These decisions about the power generation systems on newbuildings are left to individual cruise lines to make, but alternative fuel options have been considered by most cruise lines that are looking into cruise ship construction, for several years now. It is exciting that Carnival Corporation has made a commitment to build four gas-fuelled ships, but there are still a great deal of technical, operational and logistics challenges that have to be addressed for the industry to make a wider scale commitment to gas as a feasible fuel option.
We are switching to more environmentally-friendly technologies. We are doing it in many substantial ways with hundreds of millions of euros of capital investments to do so, in addition to the order for four gas-fuelled cruise ships to be delivered.
WMN: What is CLIA’s role in this respect?
Darr: What CLIA can do is what we have already done, namely work very closely with governments and the IMO to finalize the regulatory regime to allow for the possibility for this type of ship to actually be built and put into service with some sort of certainty.
CLIA, in its role of representing the cruise industry at the IMO, was very helpful in keeping the regulatory framework such that these ships could actually be seriously considered. An example of our other work in the environmental technology area is that of the exhaust gas cleaning systems which are extremely valuable in the overall picture of reducing air emissions, but it is critically important in this context that governments continue to encourage the use of these systems and reward the early adopters of environmentally-friendly technologies. Therefore, CLIA has a substantial role to play in keeping that a viable option.
WMN: Seeing that in the recent period there have been various reports on security issues in the cruise industry including breaking free of a lifeboat on a Costa Cruise ship and several incidents involving people going overboard, how would you assess the safety and security situation on board cruise ships?
Darr: The safety and security of guests and crewmembers are the industry’s highest priorities. Cruise ships are safe and secure. When incidents do occur, it is important that we learn from those and continually challenge ourselves to make improvements without additional regulation.
I do want to say emphatically that I am not aware of an incident when someone just fell off a cruise ship. Any incident I am aware of, where the cause is known, was the result of an individual’s reckless behavior or an intentional act on their part. Therefore, it is not a matter of people just falling overboard, because that has not been our experience so far in those cases in which we know with certainty what happened.
WMN: Would you say that there is a lack of awareness of people taking cruises with regard to dangers on board cruise ships?
Darr: I really don’t think that is the issue because we carried 22 million guests in 2014 and there were around 18 incidents by the most liberal count of individuals going overboard a cruise ship.
That is 1 in 1.2 million and in every one of those incidents where we know what happened, we know it was either an intentional act or truly reckless behavior by the individual involved. There is not too much education that would make a big difference in that.
We have a lot of safety features, an example being enhanced rail heights, to ensure that our guests can’t simply slip and fall overboard. That is not the situation as we understand it. When it comes to general safety we have continually challenged ourselves to enhance the way that we discuss that with our guests. Our experience has been over the last few years that guests have taken this much more seriously and are much more attentive and we are constantly looking for ways in which we can better deliver those messages to our guests and crew members in the time that we have to do that.
WMN: Are automatic overboard systems a way to go to resolve the problem of missing passengers and is there a way of making these compulsory across the board?
Darr: There is at present no single technical solution available. There are several systems under development with the assistance and encouragement from cruise lines that are our members. However, they are not ready for wide-scale deployment yet and, even when they are, it is not going to be a single solution. It is important with any new technology that you can rely upon it to not only avoid false negatives but also to minimize the number of false positives, because false positive alarms are highly detrimental to the safety culture and the proper way to operate in any industrial operation.
WMN: Various security threats in the form of violent attacks and bombings of tourist destinations in Tunisia, Egypt and most recently Turkey have resulted in withdrawing of port calls at these countries. Have there been any estimates on how these events influenced the demand for cruises?
Darr: Our members are constantly reviewing and updating their assessments of the security situation in the destinations we visit. As they make their own itinerary choices that is one of the factors that they consider.
Our industry has proven that when the security environment changes, whether that is in Latin America such as the recent situation in Mexico, or the countries in the Mediterranean region you mentioned, those changes are made where appropriate. We live in a world where there are significant security risks throughout our society and when our guests go on cruises they could be exposed to those threats, so security professionals in the industry work very hard to try to keep developing accurate assessments of those risks so good decisions can be made.
WMN: Cruise lines, predominantly from the US, have been criticized for continuing to call at the Faroe Islands despite media and public outcry against the country’s whaling practices. What is CLIA’s stance on this issue?
Darr: There is no industry-level policy or position on that as decisions on itinerary destinations are made by individual cruise lines. Countries that engage in various activities, whether they involve marine mammals or otherwise that some might find offensive, does not mean that tourists and the industry would not go there. Ultimately, we are very sensitive to the needs and desires of our guests.
However, you have seen some announcements from the cruise lines on avoiding the Faroe Islands as a destination since their guests desired this. Therefore, we are an industry that is very responsive to our guests’ needs and you will continue to see us take action as deemed appropriate.
WMN: Asia, and in particular China, have been singled out as the key developing markets in the cruise industry, what are the overall expectations based on the market trends?
Darr: With regard to the overall picture, I think that the announcements about definite deployments, soon to be deployments and prospective deployments to China are very exciting. It is an extraordinary potential market and you are seeing very large commitments from the major players in our industry towards that region. Therefore, I am very optimistic about that. There is also an increase in capacity in the region to meet what we anticipate to be a substantial growth in demand.
WMN: Is the growth trend kept in 2015 and what are the expectations going forward? Has the recent downturn in China’s economy started to affect the number of cruise passengers?
Darr: We can’t speculate on what the exact impact would be, but the potential estimate on the size of the market for the middle class in China that could potentially take a cruise is in the hundreds of millions. The estimates show up to 300 million potential guests. Therefore, even in a decline, the cruise industry can remain extremely competitive as it did in other markets such as the Mediterranean, despite an extended downturn in the European economy. One of the real advantages of the cruise industry is that it continues to look very favorable when compared to other overall costs of holiday options, despite an economic downturn.
WMN: Any other budding markets we should keep an eye on aside to China?
Darr: The announcements on itineraries are made from 12 to 24 months in advance, and the planning sometimes extends to 36 months ahead. Aside from China, Australia and New Zealand are certainly exciting markets where we continue to see very high demand. Germany also continues to grow very quickly.
WMN: With regard toward the overall industry outlook, what are the things we should look out for?
Darr: In terms of future developments, on the technical side what we are going to continue to see is more innovative new ships. This means that every new generation of ships coming out will be substantially more energy-efficient than its predecessors, having greater and more exciting options for guests’ entertainment and increased presence of multi-use spaces in the public areas, so that you get maximum utilization of those spaces and use the additional on board volume to provide more and better accommodation, also making room for things such as expanded tank capacity for alternative fuels such as LNG.
WMN: Does that mean that guests are becoming more demanding when it comes to cruise ship offers?
Darr: Guests are continually pushing us to provide them with more interesting features to avail themselves of and it is a constant challenge to keep up with their desire for innovation. But we are up for that challenge.
WMN: Will these advancements mean bigger cruise ships?
Darr: At the moment it appears that the maximum size has stabilized. The average cruise ship size though has grown because the newer ships all tend to be a little bigger than the ships they are replacing. Even though the largest ships are not getting larger there is logic in building the average-size ships larger than they were ten or five years ago. However, we are seeing a stabilization in that respect as well.
What that may result in is that we may be able to bring more guests on the same number of ships and a potential positive economic impact to particular destinations, if they are able to have their infrastructure match the demands of the guests we are bringing there.
World Maritime News Staff; Images: CLIA