Continuing with Cruise Law News’ Top 10 Reasons Not To Cruise, we reach reason number 9 not to cruise:

Bunker Fuel – Nasty Tar Sludge!

This reason is personal to me.

My Dad is an oil man.  In the 1960’s we lived in Texas and Oklahoma as kids when my Dad worked for seismic companies.  In 1965, we moved to Libya when Dad took a job with the largest oil company in North Africa.  He became the head of the geophysical department responsible for searching for oil.  My Dad made the final decision where to drill and sink thousands of feet of drill Bunker Fuel - Cruise Ship - Air Pollution pipe and casing into the Sahara Desert.  This was big business.  I remember when he came home with a vial containing a sample of the 5,000,000,000 barrel of crude oil he discovered beneath the Libyan sands.

Dad taught us everything about the oil and gas industry. Geological formations.  Exploration strategies.  Dilling techniques.  And he explained the process of refining oil and producing gas products of different octanes.  He also talked about the by-products of oil refineries including a bottom-of-the-barrel product called "bunker fuel."

Bunker fuel is a waste product.  It literally is the dredge remaining in the pits of the refineries after all of the refining process has ended and the high octane fuels have been produced and the diesel products have been extracted from the crude oil.   It is toxic muck.  It has the consistency of tar.  It cannot be used without incombustible particles flying all over the place – not unlike burning a tire – with the residue burrowing deep into the mucous membranes of your lungs. 

I remember my Dad telling me, this is some nasty shit son.  I can’t believe anyone would use this sludge. It’s a health hazard if you breath it.  It should be pumped back into the wells and capped. 

No one reading this article would burn bunker fuel in their house, or subject their neighbors to this toxic pollutant.  Bunker fuel is the nastiest and most toxic fuel you can use.

But this fuel is the cornerstone of the cruise industry.

In prior articles, we have written about the high sulfur content of bunker fuel – which has 4,000 to 5,000 more sulfur than gasoline used in automobiles.  This cheap, filthy, high-sulfur fuel has a disastrous effect on the environment and a deadly effect on those who breath the lethal smoke.

Any time you see a photo of a cruise ship on the cruise line’s or travel agent’s web site, it has always been photo-shopped to hide the smoke billowing out of the smoke stacks. But take a look Bunker Fuel - Cruise Ship - Pollution at the photograph below of Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas – smoking up a port in Alaska with bunker fuel.  Nasty.  Nasty.  Nasty.   

In March, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that it was creating a buffer zone around the U.S. and Canada which will prohibit the use of bunker fuel.  Holland America Line’s CEO, Stein Kruse, complained that the new air law "essentially means all the current fuel that we burn cannot be burned."  

It is therefore not surprising that the Friends of the Earth’s (FOE) Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card gave a "F" to Carnival, Celebrity Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Silversea cruise lines for air pollution reduction.  FOE released a press statement yesterday:

"For the second year in a row, we’ve found that cruise lines are doing less than they can to limit the environmental impacts of their ships. . . From ending the use of dirty fuel that pollutes the air to stopping the disgusting practice of dumping sewage and other waste into the sea, it’s time for the cruise industry to clean up its act. The unfortunate reality is that, at present, many cruises harm marine ecosystems and the health of people who live near ports of call.”

The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), responded to the bad grades with this press release:

“It is unfortunate that instead of contributing to a meaningful scientific dialogue about protecting our oceans, FOE continues to use innuendo and misstate the facts to advance its agenda. This ‘report card’ is not based on science, law, or the facts, and like its last one, is rooted in FOE’s own arbitrary and flawed criteria.”

Unfortunately, arrogant and dismissive statements like this are the typical response from the recalcitrant cruise industry. But the truth of the matter remains that without governmental oversight, cruise lines will always use the cheapest and most hazardous fuels available to operate their cruise ships.

So if you are thinking of cruising this summer, give the environment a break – take your family for a hike and camping trip in a national park instead. 


Click on the video and watch bunker fuel burning (gas mask recommended):



Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship    AlaskanLibrarian’s Flickr photostream

  • preeti pathak

    this is realy true reason for air pollution. it is great work which u r doing.

  • Susan

    This is a site that deserves to go viral – I’m certainly going to do my bit to see that it does.
    My story to date, Jim.
    My family live on the coast of Tauranga, New Zealand – our beautiful beaches and waters are now subject to an oil spill caused by the Rena (an MSC chartered container ship) ramming itself onto a reef 12 miles outside our harbour. Bunker fuel has been spilling onto our beaches ever since. My greatest fear is that, for those of us who breathed the toxic fumes it is already too late.

  • Barbara Huggins

    I was on a Cruise and debarquement was September 3. On the morning of the 3rd, sometime after midnight I was awakened with my chest feeling as though my lungs were on fire and and my cabin had a strong sulfur smell. I finally fell back asleep and when I woke up in the morning I knew something had happened to my lungs and I wanted to get to my hotel or the hospital as soon as possible. About 1/3 of the way down the gangway I felt as though I couldn’t make it any further and asked an employee with an empty wheel chair for assistance. She turned me down and said I would have to walk back up the gangway and get some man to give permission to take me the rest of the way and then continued on her way up the gangway. There was no way I was going to go uphill so I continued down the gangway until I got to an elevator. It was after I got off the elevator then another passenger noticed I was in distress and yelled to some employees that I needed assistance. They wheeled me right through customs and put me in a cab as I had told them I was spending the night at a hotel before flying home to Atlanta the next day. Before they put me in the cab I asked the name of a nearby hospital as I thought I might need to go to the emergency room and they told me the names of two. When I got checked into my hotel I immediately went to bed and slept until I woke up drenched in sweat. I called room service and asked for a sandwich and when it was brought to me I took a few bites and went back to bed. I slept fitfully all night and got up at 7 a.m. to get transportation to the airport all the while feeling like I was going to die because my lungs were on fire. I got on my plane and my husband picked me up at the airport and I told him what happened and he asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I told him I just wanted to go home and lie down. I woke up a few hours later feeling as if I were going to die and asked him to take me to the emergency room. They did several blood tests and put a mask on me and gave me a breathing treatment. They thought at first I could have a blood clot in my lung because of the test results and I had a special x ray to determine if that were true and luckily it was not. I was finally given medication and sent hone with instructions to see a pulmonary specialist asap I was given several medications and three different inhalers and was told to come back in a couple of weeks. I have lain in bed at home every day since then trying to get well and wait for my follow up appointment this friday. I am still sick and taking medications. I cannot wait to see the doctor on Friday as I feel there may be long term damage to my pulmonary system.