UK cruise line threatens boycott due to Canadian clean-air rules


New emission controls planned for Canada’s coasts may threaten the country’s multi-million-dollar cruise ship industry.

The level of sulphur permitted in fuel used within 200 nautical miles of land is going to be lowered, which would raise the costs of operating in Canadian waters.

The U.S. is making similar changes after a joint agreement reached with Canada in March.

One British cruise ship operator has already said it will likely drop Canada and New England from its schedule when the controls start in two years.

About 130 cruise ships are expected to dock in Halifax this summer, along with hundreds more in other Canadian ports including Sydney, N.S., Charlottetown, P.E.I., Saint John, N.B., and Victoria, B.C.

The new regulations could create a problem for the businesses built around the visiting ships and their passengers.

Cruise ships operating in Canadian waters are currently allowed to use fuel with 1.5 to 2.5 per cent sulphur. That is set to drop drastically over the next five years.

Major cuts in sulphur content
Betty MacMillan, speaking for the Saint John Port Authority, said the numbers are set in stone.

“It is a large decrease. By 2012, it’s to be down to 1 per cent, and then 0.1 per cent by 2015,” she said.

Industry members are hoping the government will consider alternatives to make the industry more environmentally friendly.

“Things like shore power, where the cruise ships actually plug into power at each port of call or at some of the port of calls, can be used as a credit,” MacMillan said.

U.K.-based Fred Olsen Cruises said switching to a cleaner fuel would cost the company an extra $17,000 per day, making visits to ports like Halifax economically less attractive.

While the company does not currently have any Canadian cruises listed on its website, it does show Halifax as a destination it visits.

Industry members said the biggest problem is the lack of guarantee that cleaner fuel will be affordable or readily available by 2012.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the changes would save 14,000 lives a year because of the improved quality of the air.