Cruises: From sustainability, safety, health & Co

Cruises are booming. What was once an unaffordable dream for many, today longer ship trips have long arrived in mass tourism. The trend is upward: in 2016 alone, there was an 11.3% increase in passenger numbers compared to the previous year (*1). New ships are already ordered by many shipping companies. The main target group is no longer just wealthy pensioners, but families with children, young couples, city travelers, school groups, high school graduates or special target groups.

There are cruises especially for bloggers, singles, dance enthusiasts or lovers of certain music genres ranging from classical to heavy metal and Austropop. I consider the cruises with stars from Helene Fischer to David Hasselhoff, WANDA or even the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to be a PR technical stroke of genius.

The vacation on the dream ship has become feasible. Varied, entertaining, continuous fun, city tourism – there is something for everyone's taste. But why have cruises suddenly become affordable?

According to the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), those who have cruised once often do so again: a whopping 62% of cruise vacationers go on cruise trips again (*1). So lure offers and further investments are paying off for the cruise industry. And the worldwide competition does not sleep. In my opinion, the best time to attract new customers is& Finding and retaining customers now.

But at whose expense? On the future of the seas? Poorly paid workers? Or even the safety of the guests themselves? Why are cruise ships more often referred to as “environmental stinkers,” “floating monsters,” or even “labor camps on the high seas”?

What is there to the accusations? Are there any improvement tendencies? Can a cruise trip be sustainable too? Or are cruises really as bad as their previously hurried reputation?? Overseas cruise or sailing on a container ship? – Does it make a difference? How does it compare to flying? What about the safety or health on board? What to know?

In May 2017, I became a cruiser on the Mediterranean Sea. Since then I can better understand why people take cruises. I have written my cruise story and summary in the post My Cruise Experience, Pre& Disadvantages incl. Info and tips described. What made my stomach hurt before, I have now researched and summarized in more detail. Have fun reading.


Outside deck of the Costa Favolosa on my Mediterranean cruise itinerary

Most concerns about a cruise revolve around the issue of sustainability. It's about the environment, the working conditions on the ship, but also the impact on the country visited. In foreign words, sustainability in tourism is about ecological, socio-cultural and economic aspects.

Eco-cruise – is there such a thing?

Honestly? No. There are improvement trends such as e.g. the construction of ships that will sail with “cleaner” liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the future, or integrated shore power supply systems (cold ironing), which, however, have no connection possibility in many ports, or supposedly voluntarily installed particle filters, which, however, do not exist at all or do not correspond to the advertised values when independently checked by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union of Germany (NABU) (*2). The situation is tricky and solid information is hard to find in a jumble of PR messages and articles with sometimes contradictory information. Improvements that are praised to the skies often affect only one ship in an entire fleet. In between, there are reports of record fines for shipping companies for deliberately using the sea as a dumping ground (*3).

What are the main ecological criticisms of a cruise??

  • the use of cheap heavy fuel oil instead of the more environmentally friendly but more expensive marine diesel with a sulfur content of less than 0.1% (LS-MGO – Low Sulphur Marine Gas Oil) on the open sea (in EU ports or some sea areas the use of marine diesel is now mandatory)
  • the high pollutant emissions due to the fuels used (excessively high concentrations of particulate matter, ultra-fine particulate matter resp. soot particles as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide)
  • The lack of particulate filters and limits on pollutant emissions because they are not required by law

On the positive side: cruise ships are actually small cities on the high seas. They have everything on board from waste incinerators to sewage treatment plants. The huge amounts of fresh water needed daily are obtained by salt water treatment plants, which are filtered and cleaned after use and returned to the sea. At least this is the theory described.

Cruise trip, overseas cruise or travel on a container ship?

From the ecological point of view it makes no difference in the status quo in my opinion. All ships so far run on heavy fuel oil without any filtration of the exhaust gases. Controlling proper waste disposal is even more difficult for overseas cruises or container ships/cargo vessels than for cruise ships that regularly dock in ports.

Flying or overseas cruise?

There probably divide the spirits. According to the calculation possibilities of the climate protection organization Atmosfair for CO2 emissions to be compensated, the following results in comparison on the route from Lisbon to New York City:

Screenshots: Atmosfair - suggestions for CO2 compensation payments for a flight Lisbon to New York (left) and an overseas cruise on the same route

According to this, the flight would clearly come off better. Changes in the possible cruise input options (more passengers, fewer sea days, etc.) are also possible.) lead to hardly any changes. To be exact, the journey to the port of departure would have to be added, which would correspond to an extra 625kg of Co2 emissions from Vienna. The direct flight from Vienna to New York would cause 1750kg CO2 emissions.

Note: Compensation payments to Atmosfair can be deducted from taxes. Buying free for the bad conscience is not a solution, but a possibility.

Fair pay for the crew? – It depends on your perspective.

Inside the ship Costa Favolosa - view on deck 3 from an upper floor

Intensive 12 hour services on 7 out of 7 wonderful days only for 8 short months. All inclusive a luxury room in the ship inside under sea level to the sharing with further crew members without window with free food and lodging. Hourly wage around 2$/hour exclusive tips (*6). Get the desire to work on the cruise ship?

About one third of the crew of a cruise ship is from the Philippines. They are considered a seafaring nation and are popular employees on cruise ships. Hardworking, cheerful and cheap. They are people who were hired through placement agencies, paid for their own training to work on the cruise ship with no guarantee of pay, and often even had to pay for their own work clothes. This is what various reports say (*6/7/8/9).

Despite the frightening work requirements, many work on a ship for more than 10 years. The reason: the basic salary is higher than the standard national wage levels.

The closer they work to the guests, the better they are paid (e.g. cleaner 626$, cabin steward 595$, buffet staff 700$; *6). The service fee (about 10-20€ per day and person), which is illegal for Germany and Austria, improves the basic salary.

How is this possible?

Decisive is the freely selectable flag under which a ship is on the way. If a ship were sailing under the German flag, German labor law would apply in essence. Thus, flagging out is done in a grandiose manner, especially in countries that do not bring strict labor or social regulations, tax advantages included. Italy, Malta or the Bahamas are the most popular flagging out countries. Only the minimum standards of the International Maritime Labor Convention apply there (*7). This procedure is perfectly legal.

While the whole crew is affected by the strenuous working conditions, the low privacy, the pay depends on the country of origin and the position. Nautical personnel resp. EU citizens are paid significantly better.

The cruise principle – or Trojan horses in the harbor?

A white cruise ship in port

The title is not chosen by chance, but in reference to the movie “The Venice Principle”. The film highlights the problems of the city of Venice, which has mutated into an “open-air museum” and is visited daily by around 60.000 visitors from all over the world are visiting. While the number of tourists is increasing every year, the number of inhabitants is decreasing (with a record low in 2016: about 55.000) year after year from. The cruise industry is not uninvolved in this case. A large part of said visitors are cruisers.

Venice is an extreme example of a worst-case scenario. The example is not specific to cruises, but a problem of mass tourism. Many people arrive in one place within a very short time and are just as suddenly gone again after a few hours. Because of all-inclusive vacations, little is consumed. What remains is garbage.

Exactly this problem is described in the case of Venice, where the cost of waste disposal is disproportionate to the revenue generated. In addition, the fragile architecture is crumbling. Blame is placed on the water displacement caused by the large ships, the increased swell and the vibrating engines of all passing watercraft. In addition, second homes as prestige properties have caused the cost of living to skyrocket to unaffordable levels. The Venetians are migrating. About the air pollution caused by the numerous ships without particulate filters, the running engines, etc. I am not writing at all..

Future dreams for other popular cruise destinations? Perhaps.


Side view of a cruise ship with yellow lifeboats

Alongside the tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the Costa Concordia accident off the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012 is probably the most famous shipping accident of modern times. On the Titanic, about 1500 people drowned in the Arctic Ocean of the North Atlantic. 32 people lost their lives in the Costa Concordia shipwreck.

One thing was tragically proven: the unsinkability of ships does not exist. And the consequence of this: the safety standards have been adjusted. In 1914, the first version of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty was adopted. Since the Concordia disaster, the sea rescue drill, which must be attended within the first 24 hours on board, has been self-imposed by most shipping companies and takes place before the ship sails or immediately after it leaves the port. Because the Concordia had its accident before the 24-hour rule expired – most of the passengers on board had not yet completed the sea rescue drill. An attendance check ensures 100% participation rate of those newly on board.

The sea rescue exercise is initiated by an alarm signal. Passengers must then go to their cabins, get their life jackets and go to the meeting point marked on their cabin door. The donning of life jackets and finding the escape route is practiced. The eventual evacuation would start here.

Off into the lifeboats!? – Perhaps. Not every person on board every ship has a place in the lifeboat. While this is required by international regulations, flag states can make exceptions to this rule and reduce the number (common seems to be a reduction to 75%). Missing places in lifeboats have to be replaced by other rescue methods. Life rafts, which can be reached via slides but can only be towed and do not have their own propulsion system, are very popular. Depending on the model, these offer space for up to 150 people.

Why is this being done, you ask? – Lifeboats need space. space that could be much better used for more balcony cabins.

Here still another calculation as it in the film “dream vacation cruise | sun deck with shade sides” of Anja Utfeld& Stefan Hanf (*6) is made: The Costa Favolosa, on which I took a 5-day trial cruise, is for example for 3.800 passengers and 1.110 crew members, which in total 4.900 people on board result. She has 26 lifeboats, which can accommodate about 3.720 people (about 143 people/boat) offer. The other 1.100 people would have to be evacuated to life rafts.

Sinking ships are not the only danger on the world's oceans. In 2016, the “Anthems of the Sea” was caught in an unforeseen hurricane off the USA. The shipping company declared the cruise over at an early stage. 4 people suffered minor injuries.

The hijacking of the “Achille Lauro” off Egypt (1985) or the attack of the “MSC Melody” by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean (2009) also caused a sensation.

Besides the rather low risk of falling victim to piracy, however, the greatest danger on a ship is considered to be a fire. Due to non-smoker protection and fire hazards, smoking is therefore only allowed in designated areas. Cigarettes and other tobacco products must be completely extinguished and may not be thrown overboard under any circumstances.

For security on board, there is also a personal check and baggage check at embarkation and after each shore leave. The carrying of dangerous objects is prohibited. However, the control is not (yet) as strict as on airplanes.


Entrance area, bar, service desk, sales area - the interior of the Costa Favolosa

Why you better wash your hands often – ship sickness epidemics

Nausea and vomiting despite calm seas? Even if it does not happen regularly, one or the other cruise ship has already been quarantined. The reason: illness epidemics on the ship. Noro virus on a river cruise, suspected swine flu in the Caribbean, suspected Ebola on board off Mexico, or food poisoning off the coast of South Africa with vomiting diarrhea – all have happened, none of it fictitious.

In addition to possible individual quarantine that can be imposed on you at the ship if you are suspected of being ill, it can also happen that a cruise ship is completely quarantined. In this case, either the ship is prohibited from anchoring in the ports or is prohibited from leaving the ship to all persons on board.

Therefore, there are two important things to consider:

  1. Do not go sick on a cruise ship!
  2. wash hands regularly with soap and disinfect! On the Costa, disinfection dispensers were available immediately after the security check when entering the ship and in front of every restaurant entrance.

In order to protect themselves from lawsuits, in the meantime one inquires with the embarkation. The wording here is something like this: “To protect the health and safety of passengers and crew members, please answer these questions

  • Have you had diarrhea (liquid bowel movements) or suffered from vomiting in the past 24 hours?
  • Have a fever AND any of the following symptoms: Cough, runny nose/sniffles or sore throat?”

What happens if one of the questions is answered with a yes, I do not know. Various cruise forums tell us that a consultation with the ship's doctor will be mandatory, who will decide what to do next.

As already explained in my travelogue: do not forget to have an international health insurance with repatriation option when booking a cruise. The criterion for health insurance coverage is always the country under which a ship is sailing or. the country entered. Any emergency transportation costs would have to be paid by the passengers themselves without insurance.

Pollution on cruise ships

Again and again, there is talk of ultra-fine, carcinogenic soot particles in measurements taken on cruise ships. Lack of exhaust technology (such as soot particle filters or nitrogen oxide catalysts) and the use of heavy fuel oil are considered to be the main causes. Regardless of whether measurements were taken in front of or behind the smokestacks, the values recorded ranged from 26.000 particulate matter per cubic centimeter to peak values of 500.000 (*4). For comparison: from the Verkehrsclub Österreich (Austrian traffic club) a value of 4 is given at places far from traffic.000 fine dust particles quoted.

Asthmathiker inside and COPD patient inside is recommended itself with a cruise if possible only at places to stay which are well protected against the exhaust gases of the ship engines (*5). As a final tip: Pay attention to wind direction!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *