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Why All Cruise Ships Should Be Buried At Sea

Here’s an inconvenient truth: Cruise tourism is the most selfish and unsustainable way to travel.

Before the pandemic hit and cruise ships became coronavirus hotbeds, they were a travel favourite among all ages.

The number of cruise ship passengers has increased every year for the past 10 years, with 32 million people expected to go on a cruise this year, according to Statista.

Cruise ships cater to the lazy traveller who'd rather collect stereotypes and selfies of a place than spend the time and effort getting to know it. But it's easy to see their appeal when you can doze off by the pool and wake up at the next port.

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With a maze of shopping malls, in-built entertainment, luxury spas and all-you-can-eat buffets, not having to think about what you’re doing or where you’re going next is a real selling point for some.

But cruise ships also cripple towns, devastate the environment and in many cases, leave workers exploited.

When you look at their monster-sized fuel usage, it’s easy to see why they’re dubbed “floating cities”. According to marine analysts, a large cruise ship often burns more than 150 tonnes of fuel a day and emits more sulphur than several million cars.

A cruise ship in Sydney Harbour. (Image: Getty)

Large ships release more nitrogen dioxide gas than all the traffic in a medium-sized town, and more "particulate emissions" than thousands of London buses.

Cruises also destroy the beauty they profit from by contributing to global warming and melting ice caps, causing sea levels to rise.

And it doesn’t stop at carbon pollution.

In a clear breach of international law, some liners have been accused of dumping rubbish and plastics into the ocean, threatening marine life.

The Cruise Lines International Association claims its “members agree to process all sewage through a sewage treatment system that is certified in accordance with international regulations, prior to discharge”.

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Yet, the reality is some of the largest cruise companies in the world have been caught violating these measures time and time again.

Carnival Cruises was recently forced to pay $20 million (USD) after a US court case found it had dumped waste overboard -- after it had already been fined a staggering $40 million (USD) for discharging oily waste from its Princess Cruise Lines ships in 2016. In fact, the company's environmental violations date all the way back to 1993.

It’s also admitted to dumping “grey water” in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and discharging plastic with food waste in the Bahamas.

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When the company’s lawyers told the judge the liner was dedicated to solving its pollution problem, she put it frankly: “the proof will be in the pudding, won't it?

“If you all did not have the environment, you would have nothing to sell."

Apart from damaging the sea floor and coral reefs, cruise liners have also been slammed for offering substandard working conditions and poor wages. About two-thirds of cruise ship companies are registered in tax havens in the Caribbean and operate “outside clear jurisdictions", according to Tourism Lecturer Freya Higgins-Desbiolles in The Conversation.

The Royal Caribbean is registered in Liberia, Carnival Corporation in Panama and Norwegian in Bermuda. It is no coincidence that these countries all have minimum wages that are significantly less than Australia’s. This means crew members may work up to 12 hours a day for 10 months of the year and be paid what many would consider a pittance.

Many of these workers are from developing countries, such as the Philippines, and work gruelling hours below deck in laundries, restaurants, kitchens and engine rooms. Some receive as little as $550 (USD) a month.

A cruise ship arrives in Venice. (Image: Getty)

Now think of the impact of thousands of people disembarking a cruise ship into a city as small and antique as Venice. Aside from the ethical problems of overwhelming locals with thousands of tourists at a time, the very nature of cruise tourism undercuts the true meaning of travel.

Cruise tourism is a superficial form of travel that provides only a glimpse of a city or country rather than the full picture. The ‘fly in, fly out’ mentality of travelling to check countries off the bucket list does nothing to support locals either. Research shows that when cruise ship passengers, who often travel on all-expenses paid trips, disembark into cities they do not spend much money, meaning there is little benefit for local communities.

Rather than an equal cultural exchange, “these forms of tourism widen economic and political gaps between haves and have-nots at local destinations,” Assistant Professor of Tourism Management, Carter A. Hunt, said in The Conversation.

With borders closed and travel off-limits, it’s time to rethink how we travel before our next trip. And if we want our travel to be sustainable and benefit locals as well as our oceans, then cancelling cruises is well overdue.

Featured Image: Getty