Analysis | SHIPPING

Cruising Tourism In The Pacific – What Should The New ‘Normal’ Look Like?

Alison Newell is a Director of Sailing for Sustainability (Fiji) Pte Ltd and the owner of the drua i Vola Sigavou. She is a Fiji-based expert in shipping emissions who has been undertaking research on domestic GHG emissions since 2008 along with the Univ.
22 Apr 2020 15:50
Cruising Tourism In The Pacific – What Should The New ‘Normal’ Look Like?

The cruise lining industry has taken a major blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, with cruise liners having been involved in the spread of the virus across the world, the Ruby Princess being a case many in the Pacific will be familiar with.

Liner companies have ceased sailings, but still have liners spread across the globe, with crew onboard that urgently need repatriation, countries banning them from their waters.

The industry has been decimated with Carnival Corporation alone seeking US$ 6b to keep afloat for 12-13 months with estimated losses of US$ 500m a month (CNN 1 April 2020 Carnival Cruise Debt Coronavirus) and US$ 6b of debt.

The industry is dominated by three American-based corporations (Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line) which have not so far been granted any financial support from the trillions of US$ allocated to support businesses, because these companies and ships are often flagged to “open registries” such as Bahamas, Bermuda, which allows them to avoid paying tax in the US and earn almost US$ 19b annually (The Guardian 14 April 2020 Should passengers return to cruise ships after the pandemic? No).

Interestingly, there have been reports of significant benefits from this global halt, with significant air quality improvements being recorded in places like Venice where the cruise liners have been found to be highly damaging to the local environment and human health.

This halt in the cruise liner sailings will at some point end, and countries will once again open their international borders allowing the industry to reactivate. The question we should be taking the time to examine right now, is what should that future cruise liner industry look like?

Fiji’s economy benefitted by FJ$ 44.2m from international cruise liners in 2018 (Assessment of the Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism in Fiji, 2019); on average FJ$ 305,000 per liner per port call (Suva received 40 per cent, Lautoka 31 per cent).

On the other hand, the international cruising yacht fraternity brought in FJ$ 60.6m in 2018, and that was widely spread across Fiji and directly in the remote communities which the smaller international yachts frequent during the April-October period cruising in Fiji’s waters. This picture is probably similar in other parts of the Pacific such as Vanuatu, Tonga and French Polynesia.

The cruise liner shipping industry is a very different beast to most other forms of shipping, being in competition with hotels and airlines more than with other forms of ships. They are particularly sensitive to ‘bad press’, and the COVID experiences in Japan, NZ and Australia will be hard for them to recover from, especially if found guilty in Australia (The Guardian 10 April 2020 Ruby Princess battle begins to hold someone accountable). There have also been recent pollution incidents with cruise liners being fined millions for illegal discharges, most recently in 2016 when Carnival was charged US$ 40m for illegal dumping of oily water.

Zero emission hydrogen powered cruise liner concept – Havyard, Norway

There are positive changes happening in the industry, lead in particular by Northern Europe where environmental standards for locations such as the Norwegian Fjords (a highly popular cruise liner destination) require zero emissions. There are cruise liners under construction to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, there are hybrid vessels using electricity, biofuels and LNG.

In contrast, data collected recently shows that of all the international ships calling in to Pacific ports, the cruise liners are by far the oldest and largest of vessels. As the Guardian reports, a single large cruise liner emits daily pollution equal to a million cars.

International Ships serving Pacific Ports in 2019-20 – Average Ages and Gross Tonnage by Type

Fiji also has its domestic cruise liner industry, which could become a ‘first mover’ in trials of alternative propulsion that could transition to zero emissions. International visiting yachties have skills in low carbon ships, albeit on a much smaller scale. They also spend much longer time in Fiji with yachts under 24 metres spending on average 137 days compared to between 0 and 7+hours on a cruise liner (Economic Impact of International Yachting in Fiji, 2019 and Assessment of the Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism in Fiji, 2019) spending on average FJ$ 7,808/person (compared to FJ$ 90/person on cruise liners), often visiting communities in outer islands for sometimes extended periods of time, and are often looking for ‘something to do’ and happy to share skills and expertise. They are already required to gain ‘cruising permits’ introducing each boat, with details on the crew onboard, which could be amended to include reference to the technical or professional skills that crews have.

Cruise Liner Passenger Spend and Time Spent Ashore in Fiji in 2018 (Source Assessment of the Economic Impact of Cruise Tourism in Fiji, 2019)

There are already existing international yachting-based charities that deliver health and disaster response e.g. Sea Mercy. There is a large ‘untapped’ fleet of low carbon ships in our domestic waters that we are perhaps not making full advantage of.

So, we let’s use this time to debate what the future cruising tourism industry of the Pacific islands looks like.

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