Hamish Saxton, the new head of Hawke’s Bay Tourism (who brings with him 30 years’ experience of working with tourism in Wanaka and Dunedin) is impressed with the slick running of what he terms cruise “events” here in Hawke’s Bay, of which there are some 80 a year. 

Cruise growth

Cruise ships arrive early and leave by afternoon, or arrive in the afternoon and are gone by evening – it’s a brief 5-6 hour window of time that Hawke’s Bay “gets to entertain them”. And entertain them, we do, so successfully in fact, that Napier (one of the least-known ports to passengers beforehand) “delightfully surprises”, earning top-NZ-destination status online.

While Napier is unlikely to ever become a Dubrovnic or Barcelona, with mass cruise ship calls numbering 600-900 a year, or even like Akaroa, whose population of 600 has to deal with the influx of 4,000 cruise visitors during peak season, cruise numbers to Napier are forecast to increase.

“The ratio is changing,” says Saxton, “whereby we’re not seeing, so much, more cruise ships coming to our shores, as an increase in larger cruise ships. A big day used to be 1,000 visitors, but we’re now seeing cruise ships

Don’t forget the crew

Karla, from boutique clothing store Two Lippy Ladies, says it’s difficult to pin-point in advance how a cruise day will go from a retail perspective, some days are great, other days pretty quiet. “But we do need them. And it’s nice to have the city full of people. Usually on an ordinary Saturday we wouldn’t see customers til lunchtime.”

She gets vintage enthusiasts who come through, who tend to buy little things like pins or trinkets that don’t take up much luggage space. But there are a couple of families that do the same cruise every year who always come to the shop and buy clothing – they love her shop and so it’s on their itinerary. 

Karla herself worked as a pursier for 15 years on board cruise ships all around the world, and understands both sides of the equation. She says crew spend more than the passengers – they’ve got disposable income and they’re not after tourist experiences (and with a ratio, on average, of almost one crew member for every two passengers, are a sizable market in their own right). 

Usually crew are not seeing port destinations for the first time, and have developed their own rituals for each place, such as a friend of hers who, whenever she’s in Napier, will call in to see Karla, stock up on snacks and personal items from the supermarket and then head down for a kebab from Kilim. Every time.

When a cruise is in, town is busy, and that’s a positive thing, says Karla. “You have to see the positives.” She believes Napier has plenty of capacity. “We’re just not used to it, but go to Paris, or any European city and you’ll see tourists everywhere.”

Cruise strategy

Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Napier Port and Napier City Council are working on a cruise strategy that enables a more proactive, managed response and more streamlined collaboration between the different cruise interfaces. There’s an emphasis on communication – not only between each other and with independent operators, but with the public. And a desire to capture more data and detailed information on different cruise demographics (including the needs of crew), which will help local businesses to better cater for, and extract the best value from, cruise calls.

The strength, however, is in creating a solid tourism experience in its own right and building capacity into that for cruise, Saxton says. Such as Mohaka Rafting or Gannet Safari tours have done. They’re not just exclusively there for cruise but rather have created that capacity within their business to take cruise visitors.

“The thing that I’ve always felt about cruise, is that we are very, very lucky indeed to have it. Cruise is the cream on top. You do not build a business specifically around cruise – like that old saying, you don’t build a church for Easter Sunday.”

While cruise is growing exponentially, Saxton has one eye cocked to global influences and vulnerabilities, such as economic downturn, or even terrorism, and the impacts of climate agitation. “If you benefit from cruise, count every visit as a blessing,” he advises.

Travel shaming

In the search for new frontiers of entertainment, and a perverse kind of disaster tourism, there’s been an explosive growth in cruise ‘expeditions’ to the Arctic, offering passengers a chance to see rare (endangered) wildlife and to watch the ice caps melting (glass in hand) while contributing directly, if unthinkingly, to their demise. 

Cruise may be a booming industry, but in this context it feels like the last hurrah. 

During the Venice Film Festival in September there were noisy protests on the red carpet against cruise tourism, highlighting not just the overweening size of these “behemoths of consumption”, dwarfing the port and spilling ever-more people into an already jaded, tourist-crowded city, but their environmental impact. In Germany, 50 climate activists swarmed a cruise ship docked in Kiel, preventing it leaving the harbour for more than six hours, to raise awareness about shipping pollution and the expansion of an industry they claim is unsustainable. 

The world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Corporation, in cruising Europe’s coastlines in 2017 produced 10 times more sulphur emissions than all Europe’s 260 million cars, reports Brussels-based NGO Travel & Environment, and is being pursued through the courts for flouting environmental regulations in Alaska’s pristine waters. 

Closer to home, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions expert, Dr Gerda Kuschel calculated emissions from a single cruise visit in Wellington equates to the emissions of 200,000 extra cars (roughly the sum-total of daily traffic in the capital). 

In the prestigious Science journal, climatologists have crunched the numbers showing a direct correlation between carbon emissions and the melting of Arctic sea ice. By their calculations, taking a flight from Auckland to Melbourne, for instance, will make me individually accountable for 10m2 of ice melt. But me taking a cruise ship to Australia instead would equate to 30-40m2 – even the most efficient cruise ships emit 3-4 times more carbon dioxide, per passenger, than a jet, reported the New York Times in June this year.

Hamish Saxton say that’s an unfair comparison, as cruise ships are not just transport but essentially “floating hotels”, providing high-end accommodation and resort-level service as well, which is not factored in when transport is judged in isolation. And in the context of global travel, cruise (though rapidly growing) represents just 2%, while commercial flights take up a whopping 60% slice of the pie, contributing overall far more to GGE. 

Is a packaged cruise holiday any more environmentally questionable than an ‘eco-conscious’ wellness retreat in Bali (organised by a yoga studio here), for instance? As a remote island nation dependent on tourism and export, travel miles are an uncomfortable topic. But what’s clear is that in today’s climate-woke world, demand for mitigating the environmental impacts of every facet of our lifestyles is growing at a faster rate than can be met by our infrastructure.

Greening cruise

The international cruise line association, CLIA, says it’s working constructively and proactively on sustainability investment and innovation, and is “leading the way in recycling, new technology and alternative fuels.” Cruise ships recycle 60% more waste per person than the average person on land, it claims, while condensation from air-conditioning units is often reclaimed and reused to wash decks. More than one third of new-build cruise ships in the pipeline (there are at least 125 reported to be under construction) will operate on liquified natural gas (LNG) as their primary fuel. (Although LNG is far cleaner than traditional ‘bunker fuels’ – with virtually no soot, nitrogen or sulphur, and 20% less CO2 emissions, it’s mainly obtained by fracking, which is also problematic.)

Comparing the US Friends of the Earth 2016 and 2019 score cards on cruise ships (which grade cruise ships/lines on their air pollution, waste-water, emissions, transparency and criminal record), there’s been a clear step-up in the greening of cruise (although many, including ships that call into Napier – Seven Seas Voyager, Crystal Serenity, MSC Magnifica – still rate ‘F’). 

But the reality is, cruise ships are too big and energy hungry to be powered by renewables. ‘Cold-ironing’ – essentially plugging into the on-shore grid with a massive extension cord when in port (which is 40% of the time) rather than running on fuel – is an option (currently offered in Norway), but it’s costly and requires a resource capacity that’s near-impossible for smaller destinations like Napier to provide.

Hamish Saxton is confident that we will find solutions, through innovation and necessity. He muses, whether, as a great sailing nation, we might one day see a return to larger sail boats that rely on trade winds, as people search for more sustainable, socially acceptable ways to fulfil their travel desires. That’s something Katie Nimon, general manager of Nimon’s Transport, arrives at too, as we try and philosophically untangle the conundrum.

She believes we should be focusing on attracting smaller, premium “intrepid traveller” cruise ships that have perhaps more environmental integrity. But the reality there is that we’re not in a position to decide who comes.

The Port’s CEO Todd Dawson is perplexed by the focus on cruise, pointing out that we need to look at the bigger picture of shipping. While cruise is visually ostentatious, there’s no significant difference, he says, between a cruise ship’s footprint and any of the port’s other large vessels – and cruise, after all, represents less than 10% of ships coming in (in 2018 there were 627 ship calls to Napier, excluding cruise). 

Why pick on cruise?

Debunking some myths

1. Cruise ships take up car parks and congest our roads.

2. Cruise ships take our precious water. 

3. Cruise ships dump crap in the estuary/choke our landfill.

When cruise ships berth in Napier, passengers can’t just disperse on foot – it’s a working port – but have to be bussed to and from the wharf. Thus, there’s a concentration of people arriving at various ‘hot spots’, namely the iSite on Marine Parade, where the coaches disembark. But no one’s driving cars, unless they hired them, and in the scheme of things it’s a small stretch of parking space along the city foreshore that’s reserved for buses. Often passengers are chauffeured or whisked away on tours all over the region, barely even touching ground in Napier. 

The height of cruise season, though, coincides with school holidays during the summer period, concerts, events and festive shopping, when there’s a natural congestion in Napier, with out-of-town visitors and family hosting family – it’s a busy time on the roads.

Cruise ships coming to Napier produce their own water using desalination technology. They don’t take any water from the municipal supply. They’re also self-sufficient in that most of them treat their own sewerage to (theoretically) potable standards before discharging into the sea (or alternatively emptying at a larger ports where there are facilities to process it); nonetheless it’s illegal to dump waste water, however treated, within the 50-mile port zone.

Cruise ships plan their provodoring well in advance. Napier isn’t suited to rubbish and recycling unloading, for instance (the stern of the ship is difficult to access); that’s usually done in Tauranga, which has specialised facilities. Likewise with other waste disposal requirements and securing supplies, the ship will have key shipping hubs lined up.

Dirty fuels

Ships use heavy fuel oils – the cheap and dirty residual by-product of crude oil processing (the consistency of marmite) – which along with emitting significant amounts of CO2 are high in toxic substances, such as sulphur oxide (about 2,000 times more than ordinary diesel) and carcinogenic nitrogen oxide, fine dust and heavy metals. Shipping emissions have documented health-impacts, contributing to global rates of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and childhood asthma. 

The United Nations’ International Marine Organisation has capped sulphur emissions in the open sea at 0.5%, down from 3.5%, which comes into effect in January 2020, along with the international MARPOL Annex VI treaty, to reduce air pollution in ports and harbours. In North America and Europe, SOX in fuels was capped at 0.1% some years ago. The treaty has been ratified by all 91 OECD signatory nations except Mexico and New Zealand. 

The government consulted with the public this time last year on whether to accede, but has yet to make a decision, although the overwhelming majority of submissions were in favour, including Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, the NZ Shippers Council, Generation Zero and many key cruise ports and associated regional councils, such as Wellington and Marlborough. 

Dawson says NZ’s ports as a collective have signalled their support for the treaty, recognising the need to address climate change and pollution in ports and the benefit to New Zealand’s international reputation. It’s the government now that’s dragging the chain. 

Whether we sign or not, from January all shipping will be impacted by MARPOL across the globe with a flow-on effect for NZ. Our ships will have to comply with the standards in foreign ports where they berth (although not in domestic waters). Effectively, all shipping lines coming to NZ, says Dawson, whether it’s cruise or container or log vessels, “will be from countries signed up to MARPOL so will be transitioning from high-sulphur to low-sulphur fuels anyway or have retrofitted scrubbers and other mechanisms to meet the standards on the international scene.” 

If NZ doesn’t sign, obviously it can’t enforce the regulations or inspect ships to ensure they’re complying. And while ships may be fitted with scrubbers, they won’t be obliged to use them in our waters.

The issue with scrubbers

The majority of ships (of which there are some 50,000 globally) are switching to lighter, cleaner (more expensive) marine fuels. In contrast, most of the world’s 300+ operating cruise ships (which represent less than 1% of the global commercial fleet) are committing instead to exhaust cleaning systems, otherwise known as ‘scrubbers’ (or euphemistically “advanced emission purification”), which strips out the SOx when burning heavy bunker fuels. 

Globally over US$12 billion has been invested in open-loop scrubbers, with almost 4,000 ships fitted out with the systems, according to DNV-GL (the world’s largest ship classification company). 

Scrubbers use sea water to ‘wash’ dirty fuels, resulting in a sulphuric acid by-product that, diluted, is then pumped back out to sea (or alternatively, in a more expensive closed-loop system, contained and disposed of on land at regulated sites – so far only 23 ships in the world have installed these systems). Many in the shipping sector see scrubbers as an emissions dodge, which simply displaces pollution from the air to the ocean itself. 

According to the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), for every tonne of fuel burned, 45 tonnes of warm, acidic, contaminated washwater is released into the ocean.

A number of countries, including Germany, China and Singapore, have banned washwater from scrubbers being discharged in their waters. While global NGOs, concerned about the impacts on the marine environment, wildlife and an already acidifying ocean, are calling for a ban altogether on scrubbers.

“Scrubbers are effectively cheat devices,” says environmental campaigner Lucy Gilliam (quoted in The Independent, UK), “in that they satisfy environmental legislation, while allowing ships to continue to pollute.”

Port sustainability

Napier Port is very conscious of its social licence to operate, say Dawson, and is taking steps to ensure that it is upholding both this and its environmental stewardship. There’s a ban on all maritime waste water (including ballast water) and scrubber discharge within the port’s 50-mile zone. 

“At a national level, unfortunately, each port has its own views in thinking which direction they take in this area … There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each port has a different environment that it’s working within and different concerns from their community … Regionally, we’re hoping to see some alignment of thinking in the frameworks we look to.” 

Napier Port is drawing on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (a shared blueprint and “an urgent call for action” that were adopted by all UN member states in 2015) in putting together a “robust and comprehensive” sustainability strategy (with input from HBRC, Napier City Council, and major regional stakeholders) predicated on the four pillars of “people, planet, prosperity and partnership”, that will inform, and align, all its activities. A framework document outlining where the port will focus its energies should be available by year’s end.

Next year the Port begins construction of a new wharf (expected to be operational by 2022) to expand its growing log and general cargo trade, and to accommodate larger cruise vessels that are currently too big to enter the port. Building infrastructure will also be updated to enable more refrigerated containers to be powered by electricity rather than diesel generators. 

The government’s latest marine report confirms NZ’s marine environment is being adversely impacted across the board by shipping traffic and climate change, as well as coastal development, with dramatic declines in marine ecosystems, biogenic habitat and native species, and increases in non-native marine species (by 43% between 2010-2017).

At the very least, we need the government to ratify MARPOL, but further to look at how that will be regulated, and to explore what other protections or measures (eg, banning scrubbers) to implement. 

In the case of cruise, if we want to continue welcoming cruise into the future then it’s not enough to just receive cruise as an economic gift; we need to be clear-eyed about what we are, ecologically speaking, willing to accept. 

Cruise facts

• Globally, cruise passenger numbers have more than doubled in the last decade with forecasts of a threefold increase within the next 10 years to an annual six million cruise passengers.

• Cruise ship passengers and expenditure to NZ increased by more than a quarter from 2018 to 2019.

• Napier is the second most-preferred cruise destination in the whole of Australasia. 

• 87 cruise ships will be coming to Napier this season (October 2019 – May 2020), up from 72 last season, and 56 the season before. 93 are already booked in for the 2020/21 season.

• There will be 13 two-ship days (in each case one big cruise ship and one smaller).

• Estimated number of cruise visitors to Hawke’s Bay this season: 150,000

• Average crew to passenger ratio: for every 100 passengers, 41 crew members.

• Cruise represents 3-5% of the Port’s revenue.

• Australians make up 49% of cruise passengers to NZ (with 20% from the US, 11% domestic, 6% UK, 4% Canada, 11% other).

• Three-quarters of all passengers to NZ are over 50 years old, with the median age being 64.

Our cruise visitors 

Barbara and Dave (Sydney) have done a cruise to NZ before – “We love New Zealand.” They say cruise is “a good, easy holiday; everything provided, everything catered for by amazing, attentive staff.”
Gail and Pamela (Orange, California), have arrived back from a ride through Ahuriri in a vintage car. Gail says the cruise ship is just a means of transport to him – a way to see the country, meet new people, enjoy the town. Pamela says everyone here is so friendly, welcoming.
Michael and Marjorie (Adelaide, originally Manchester, UK) are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Marjorie has just bought herself a jigsaw puzzle. They say there is lots to do on board the cruise ship.
Yus (Jakarta), and Kaetut (Bali), have been working on the cruise ships as waiters for several years. They’re keen to “observe” Napier, they say, and get a sense of the place.

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