Today, a Royal Caribbean crew member sent me a photograph of the soot-stained deck of the Wonder of the Seas with the following comments:
“This photo of black soot is taken on open deck of the Wonder of the Seas cruise ship. Working on open deck, I’m exposed to this constantly. At least 2 times a week, even more soot is taking place all over open decks especially on aft areas. Soot is coming on our skin and into some colleagues eyes as it dropping down without any control. It is cleaned by us employees just with water & without any PPE (personal protective equipment). Environmental officers are ignoring health impacts on guests & crew. Especially on crew as we are constantly exposed to this and are concerned with long term effects. Only concern of officers is to have ship appear to be clean; the only problem they see is soot going on guests clothes. I believe this must be solved.”
Faced with this disturbing information, I immediately realized that this crew member had few options to resolve the employee’s predicament of working under such hazardous conditions. If the crew member articulated his concerns to a supervisor, the ship employee faced the likely prospect of being ignored with a distinct chance of being punished or, at a minimum, simply told to do the job or quit and go home.
Of course, I readily agreed to keep the crew member’s identity anonymous, failing which the employee would certainly be fired. I posted the image on our Cruise Law Twitter feed. One environmentally aware Twitter user which I follow, Seattle Cruise Control, retweeted my posting and added the fact that:
“Particulate matter is the #1 cause of environmental-related early death. Passengers, crew, & port communities are all exposed to this & other toxins/carcinogens.”
In May of last year, I posted an article about the Wonder of the Seas arriving in Palma de Mallorca billowing a think cloud of black smoke from its stacks. The reality of this mega cruise ship belching out a huge plume of smoke over the Mediterranean port contrasted sharply with Royal Caribbean’s over-the-top marketing of the largest cruise ship in the world, which it touts as the “World’s Newest Wonder” containing two “advanced emission purification systems” which allegedly “remove 98% of sulfur emissions.”
A number of residents joined in retweeting the photos of the huge polluting cruise ship, with comments such as “The largest cruise ship on the planet arrives. The first thing it does is release a toxic cloud on Palma. They pollute, overcrowd, reduce health and pay tribute to tax havens . . . ”
The local newspaper, Diario de Mallorca, chronicled the protest in an article titled: The Megacruise ‘Wonder of the Seas’ in Palma: They Denounce the “Cloud of Toxic Smoke” Over the City. The newspaper reported that The Wonder of the Seas belongs to the latest generation of cruise ships that is characterized by its “gigantism.” It measures 64 meters wide by 362 meters long, a tonnage of 230,000 tons and can accommodate over 9,000 people (6,988 guests and a crew of 2,3000.
Cruise ships are a major source of air pollution which causes and/or contributes to a wide range of serious health problems such as respiratory ailments, lung disease, cancer and premature deaths. The pollutants from ship engines exhaust gases include sulfur oxides (SOx) as well as non-combustible particulate matter and black carbon.
Heavy fuel oil (HFO), sometimes referred to as bunker fuel, has historically been a low cost favorite of cruise ships. HFO has tar-like consistency which results from the residue of crude oil distillation. HFO is contaminated with several different compounds including sulfur and nitrogen, which makes HFO emissions far more toxic compared to low sulfur fuels.
Bunker fuel 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. It should be considered to be a public nuisance and banned as such. 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.
The smoke billowing from the Wonder of the Seas appears not unlike the pollution we have seen from other large cruise ships, like the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas, which was videotaped in 2019 belching smoke while leaving the port of St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
This is obviously not just a problem with Royal Caribbean giant ships like the Wonder of the Seas. Over the years we have received a fair amount of complaints from cruise passengers on other brands who point out that they have learned not to place towels or clothing on their balconies at the aft of the ship because of stains from soot from the ships’ stacks.
Crew members of course do not have the luxury of closing balcony doors and choosing to stay away from the pollution. Ship employees must be equipped with appropriate personal protective gear (masks/ respirators, googles and gloves) if they are ordered to be involved in cleaning up the continuous toxic emissions covering the decks of these monster, polluting ships.
Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Image credit: Wonder of the Seas – from the Noticaribe Facebook page)