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Clean-fuel rules may prompt cruise line to bypass Canada

The cruise ship Carnival spirit leaves the port of Vancouver May 5, 2010.

John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

A British cruise line has said it will likely drop its Canada-New England itinerary as a result of requirements to use cleaner fuel within 200 nautical miles of North American shores, according to industry reports.

Tim Moore, tour manager for Fred. Olsen Cruises, said a recently approved emissions control area would increase fuel costs by $16,000 a day, at which point the line "would not be here," according to a report on the website of Cruise Industry News.

Travel Industry Today reported that Mr. Moore said the cruise line "will almost certainly" drop the Canada-New England region after 2012, when the cleaner fuel requirements take effect.

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A Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines representative was not immediately available to comment.

The Canadian cruise sector has been asking Transport Canada to consider the economic fallout as it draws up rules to implement the clean air buffer zone.

The International Maritime Organization approved the emissions control area in March after a joint application from Canada and the United States, paving the way for both countries to draw up regulations to enforce it and for the new requirements to go into effect by 2012.

In the ECA, the allowable level of sulphur in fuels will drop to 1 per cent in 2012 and to 0.1 per cent in 2015. The current global limit is 4.5 per cent. Cruise ships in Canadian waters typically burn bunker fuel that has a sulphur content ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 per cent. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the changes will save as many as 14,000 lives a year by improving air quality.

Container and cargo ships would also be subject to the requirements, but only when they are within the 200-mile limit. Cruise ships on the East and West Coasts would be within the buffer zone for the duration of their journeys.

While saying they support the health and environmental goals behind the creation of the ECA, cruise industry associations have questioned the research on which the regime is based and warned that it could hurt the Canadian cruise sector.

Based on current fuel prices, the cost to meet the 2015 standard equates to "$100-million in additional costs for the Alaska cruises and $30-million for New England/Canada cruises annually," the Northwest Cruiseship Association said in a May briefing note to Transport Canada.

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Among suggestions in the briefing paper, the association wants Transport Canada to consider alternative means, such as scrubbers, that ships could use to meet emissions goals, and to take a piecemeal, rather than blanket, approach.

"The ECA area should be tuned to prioritize those areas where urgency exists and the greatest health and environmental benefits can be achieved," the paper states.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority last month released the results of an air quality study for the James Bay neighbourhood of Victoria, a popular cruise ship stop. The study found sulphur dioxide levels spiked when cruise ships were arriving or leaving port and that those higher levels could aggravate health conditions such as asthma and lung disease. The region's chief medical officer has called on cruise ships to switch to lower-sulphur fuel while in or near port ahead of the 2012 requirements.

Some North American ports, including Vancouver, Seattle and Juneau, have installed shore power systems that allow cruise ships to connect to city grids while docked. About one-third of ship calls this season in Vancouver will hook up to the system.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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