I’m going to eat my words.  Ready?

The worlds largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem

This cropped up on my radar (who am I kidding, my facebook newsreel) this morning.  Southampton, the place where I was born, incidentally, is suffering from air pollution caused by the mega cruise ships which dock there.

An uneasy thought occurred to me, is cruising from Asia to Australia actually any greener than flying?  It seemed like the best solution for getting across that pesky bit of water between Indonesia and the Northern Territory, irritatingly devoid of passenger ferries.  (Perhaps Australian immigration policy is to blame for this?)  Or in fact the even smaller bit of water between Papua New Guinea and Queensland; it’s only 5 km from PNG to the closest inhabited Australian island.  Perhaps we could swim.*

Initially we’d planned to get a cargo ship from Indonesia to Australia.  Travelling this way is certainly low carbon, and arguably zero carbon: the boat is going anyway.  When I enquired though, it seemed the only possible route was Singapore to Sydney, for £1300. Each.

Plan B was trying to hop on a yacht from Bali to somewhere in northern Australia.  Again very low carbon, but also possibly free.  Ideal, but uncertainty about finding a boat was worrying us.  We’ve been on the road for seven and a half months now, and the idea of being stuck in Bali, unsure if we’d make it to NZ by Christmas, was not appealing.  Of course I’m aware that this ‘problem’ isn’t one really, how many people would love to be ‘stuck’ on Bali?  Nonetheless, a certain arrival date in Australia, where we have family and friends, had allure.

That’s when plan C materialised: a repositioning cruise.  Much cheaper than a cargo ship, but still with a guaranteed date.  Lots of you helped us spread the word that we were looking for some cruise travel mates, and we’re very grateful.  We’d also like to apologise, because as I expect you’ve twigged by now, we’re not going take the cruise.

We got overexcited about this option, and frankly about the ease and comfort of it after months of rougher travel, and we didn’t look into whether cruising was any greener than flying.  Knowing cargo ship travel is very low carbon, we sort of vaguely assumed cruising would be worse, but comparable.  It’s not comparable, it’s much much worse.  It’s even much much worse than flying, by some estimates.

So, a lesson for us: remember why a rule is useful, don’t follow it blindly.  Taking a cruise would have kept to the letter of our ‘no flying’ rule, but would have totally broken the guiding principal: less carbon.

Back to plan B then: a yacht!

Any suggestions for finding one?  Tips for life aboard?  Is aboard even a word?

So much to learn…

*In all seriousness, the most upsetting part of our travel dilemma is the fact that we live in a world where that 5 km isn’t just a case of hopping in a local boat.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the misery going on as a result of Australia holding refugees in offshore camps, including on PNG.  In the last few weeks there have been two self immolations. Not that Britain is doing much better.  On good days I hope travel can do something to make the world less of a dark place, ruled by fear and suspicion.  On bad days I just want a Marks and Spencer Wensleydale sandwich.


5 thoughts on “An apology: why we’re giving up cruising before we start

  1. This has been discussed on reddit at length. A reply I found interesting. I’m not disagreeing with you, just thought it was relevant.
    “Naval architect here, for large ships, there generally isn’t a cleaner option, in big ships, efficiency is everything, 1 or 2 percent better saves millions, these monster engines are designed to run as cheap as possible, which means burn as little fuel. They also are using diesel electric powering from generators, which is the marine equivalent of a hybrid car.
    The engines they use ( Wartsila 46F ) are actually one of the most efficient and clean engines of its size, and are fully compliant with the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships (Marpol) and as a result are fitted with scrubbers for their exhaust.
    This ship is even fitted with solar panels to reduce its energy load. Really at the end of the day, you can’t expect not to burn a lot when you are moving 100,000 mt, with 130,000 hp.”
    There is a website called “findacrew.net” that may help you get aboard a yacht or sailboat. Good luck guys!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting, yeah I guess what it comes down to with cruise ships is that a tonne (many tonnes) of unnecessary stuff (swimming pools, casinos, salmon) is being moved along with the people. Much more so than with planes. We are in the process of making a profile on findacrew, looks like it’s the wrong time of year to be doing this route, but fingers crossed. Otherwise we are back to the cargo ship plan, but apparently no ships out of Singapore currently accept passengers, so we will have to backtrack to Hong Kong to do this. Hopefully we can get on a yacht from oz to nz if not before. Where have you got to at the moment?


      1. I’ve been in South Korea for about a week or so. Spent a few days in Seoul and have rented a car with a girl I met back in March and were touring around for a couple of weeks before heading to Japan. I have Arthur on my Facebook. I’ll send him a photo I took in Thailand of an ad for a company like findacrew. Hope you guys are well 🙂


    2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/sep/09/carbon-emissions-planes-shipping
      Just found this article suggesting that emissions from shipping are actually cooling the planet in the short term, which is potentially worth the longer term warming as the next 10 years are critical in planet warming terms. So many variables, it’s hard to find a straight answer as to the lowest carbon option for a journey. I wonder if this applies to all shipping including cruise ships for example, given the high emissions per passenger on a cruise. I suppose this is why ‘quitting’ flying was an attractive choice for us – it simplifies things considerably, and broadly speaking seems to do good.

      Liked by 1 person

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