Why Cruise Liners Are Trading In Ships For Scrap Metal

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Pre-COVID-19, the cruise industry was thriving and growing, but it has fast become one of the pandemic’s  hardest hit victims.

In 2019, cruise liners across the globe carried 30 million passengers, supported 1.2 million jobs, and contributed US$150 billion to the economy. In Australia alone, cruise tourism generates $5.2 billion a year for the economy and supports 18,000 jobs.

But this year has proven to be disastrous for the industry, as cruise ships quickly became hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks. In April, the Guardian reported that 6000 cruise ship passengers were stuck at sea, with 128 people on one vessel alone testing positive for coronavirus.

The Australian government was quick to implement a ban on international cruise ships, which is expected to remain in place until at least December. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has warned that a continued suspension could have devastating impacts – costing thousands of jobs and billions to the economy.

Several cruise companies have already decided to cut their losses and force their ships into an early retirement.

Why are cruise liners retiring their ships?

In the current climate, cruise liners are worth more for their parts than they are as passenger ships, and so some cruise companies have resorted to selling off their ships for scrap metal.

Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise company, announced in September that it would be selling 18 of its cruise ships, which amounts to 17% of the company’s entire fleet. This includes the Sun Princess, the Sea Princess, and the Carnival Fantasy.  Despite raising $12 billion since March, the company experienced a net loss of $2.9 billion in the third quarter of 2020

How are cruise ships recycled?

Earlier this month, a drone captured a series of aerial photos taken at the Aliaga ship recycling port in Izmir Turkey. The images showed five decommissioned ocean liners waiting to be dismantled.

The shipping dock in Aliaga, which typically dismantles old cargo and container ships for scrap metal, is unaccustomed to handling cruise ships, which take approximately six months to dismantle. Kamil Onal, chairman of a ship recycling industrialists’ association said “after the pandemic, cruise ships changed course towards Aliaga in a very significant way. There was growth in the sector due to the crisis. When the ships couldn’t find work, they turned to dismantling.”

Business at Aliaga has increased by 30% since last year, a trend that is expected to continue in the coming months.

Sustainability concerns

Concerns have been raised regarding the environmental impact of ship dismantling. Retired vessels are frequently sent to Bangladesh, where ships are dismantled on beaches by hand and the overheads are low. Burning gear and sledgehammers are used to break up the ships with no environmental or worker protections in place. As a result, oils, paint, and steel fillings contaminate the sand, and workers risk exposure to asbestos.

“Recycling ships in a manner that is both safe and environmentally sound is of tremendous importance to the cruise industry, which is at the forefront in the development of responsible environmental practices and technologies that lead the way in sustainable tourism,” said a spokesperson from the CLIA.

In September, the first cruise ship since the outbreak of coronavirus set sail – albeit at 70% capacity to allow for proper social distancing measures Passengers were subjected to new safety regulations, including antigen and temperature tests while the ship itself was cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant and UV-C light technology.

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