Partnering for green cruise in Southampton

Sue Simmonite, development and environmental manager, Port of Southampton  Photo: ABP
Sue Simmonite, development and environmental manager, Port of Southampton Photo: ABP
Six cruise ships docked in the Port of Southampton Photo: ABP
Six cruise ships docked in the Port of Southampton Photo: ABP
Industry Database

As a major turnaround port for cruise operations in Europe, the Port of Southampton can handle the world’s biggest cruise ships with 500 cruise calls per year at its four cruise terminals. Michele Witthaus finds out how the port ensures sustainable operations

The UK Port of Southampton is a hub for a never-ending stream of ships on itineraries in Europe and beyond, while enabling easy drive-and fly-cruise options for holidaymakers from the United Kingdom and abroad.

The largest global cruise brands maintain a strong presence, with Carnival Corporation & plc’s UK brands P&O Cruises and Cunard Line based at the port, while Royal Caribbean International, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and Saga Cruises are frequent visitors. Other major operators such as Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises enjoy the services provided in Southampton for their ever larger new-generation ships.

Sustainability challenge

As at any big turnaround port, peak times can bring a significant concentration of vessels and people. For example, on 31 August this year, Southampton hosted calls by six cruise ships: P&O’s Arcadia and Aurora; Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Braemar; Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas; TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 3; and Cunard’s Queen Victoria. While the port’s capacity to accommodate all these ships at berth at the same time is impressive, an all-time record was set in 2017, when a total of 15 ships called over a June long weekend.

Clearly, the high level of cruise traffic in Southampton (whether it arrives at comfortable intervals or with several ships calling simultaneously) places significant pressure on various aspects of sustainability at the port. The impacts are felt in areas as diverse as port waste reception facilities and the quality of the air left behind in the wake of the cruise ships.

“Southampton is Northern Europe’s number one cruise port, welcoming over two million passengers every year,” says Sue Simmonite, development and environmental manager, ABP Port of Southampton. The port’s cruise business embraces each of the three pillars of environmental, social and economic sustainability, she says. “We take our commitment to each of them very seriously.”

Air pollution is always an issue for communities living or working within large port cities and Southampton is no exception. “One of our current areas of focus is air quality and we have recently published our first Air Quality Action Plan, where we detail our commitment to reducing port-related emissions,” says Simmonite. “We are also engaged with the local city council on this matter with the aim to improve air quality city-wide without impacting on the economic viability of port activity.”

The local authority, Southampton City Council, recently published information on air quality and the sources that contribute to local emissions, says Ms Simmonite. “The Council estimates that around 2.7% of NOx emissions is attributable to shipping – which includes cruise. We believe that as new-build vessels, fitted with NOx abatement technology or running on alternative fuels, come into service and visit Southampton, this figure will reduce.”

Cleaner fuels

Given the large number of cruise ships that call at Southampton, the port is committed to facilitating the use of cleaner fuels where possible. One way in which it is doing this is by encouraging the use of LNG, thus making the port attractive to those cruise ships designed or adapted to run on the fuel, which is currently enjoying unprecedented interest among cruise operators seeking to lower their emissions.

“There are a wide range of customer expectations that we seek to fulfill,” says Ms Simmonite. “We already have vessels visiting the port that are capable of running on LNG and we anticipate that this number will increase significantly in the short term with a large number of LNG vessels currently under construction.”

One of the weapons available to ports seeking to cut emissions while ships are docked is shore power and Southampton is currently considering the potential to add value to its cruise customers by offering cold ironing facilities. “We are working with the cruise sector to assess the demand, viability and benefits of shore power,” she says.

Waste management is another area in which the port is active on behalf of cruise operators. “The cruise sector has very sophisticated ways of managing, segregating and recycling its waste and ABP has been working with waste provider Veolia UK for many years, looking at providing the best waste services,” says Ms Simmonite.

"The relationship with Veolia is facilitated by the company’s proactive approach to waste collection. “Veolia collects much of cruise vessel waste by its dedicated marine barge, thereby negating the requirement to run HGVs to collect waste streams.”

Transport links

Transport links beyond the port itself are a critical aspect of Southampton’s cruise sustainability and receive dedicated attention. Although the port currently offers good access to major motorways, airports and railway networks for both freight and passenger trains, plans are underway to ensure sustainable growth in the years ahead.

“ABP, together with the relevant road and rail authorities, has recently set up a Port Surface Access Forum so that we can actively plan for the future for road and rail infrastructure,” says Ms Simmonite.

Given the robust sales of cruise holidays, coupled with continuing investment by operators in more and larger ships, sustainable growth will depend on managing to meet the needs of larger numbers of both cruise ships and guests in future.

“We anticipate that there will continue to be an increase in customer demand, with customer numbers increasing in the short, medium and longer term,” says Ms Simmonite. “We work closely with a large number of cruise companies to anticipate their future ambitions, whether that is in increased vessel size, number of calls, or use of alternative fuels and technologies.”

Looking ahead

The port’s close relationship with Carnival UK led to the announcement in May 2018 of a partnership between the two organisations to achieve the UK’s first carbon-neutral cruise terminal. So far, this has involved the installation of more than 2,000 roof-mounted solar panels on Ocean Terminal, the largest cruise terminal at the port.

The goal is to make the terminal carbon neutral as part of a GB£1m investment in solar energy on buildings owned by ABP. The terminal already generates more energy than it consumes and the partnership will continue with other initiatives to improve the port’s overall environmental performance.

In addition to formal sustainability partnerships such as the one with Carnival UK, the Port of Southampton also works with a variety of partners and stakeholders in the wider community and region to ensure a green future for cruise travel and tourism.

“We work very closely with the port community as well as our partnering cruise lines to aim to be as environmentally conscious as possible,” says Ms Simmonite. “We liaise regularly with our customers and the port management team to actively plan to improve sustainability within cruise tourism.”

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