Pandemic fuels talk of cruise ship cap to ease crowding; but air quality also a major concern …


Bar Harbor explores bans on cruise ship visits for 2021

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 18, 2020 – Before the pandemic shut the industry down, Bar Harbor hosted some of the worst polluting cruise ships in the world. Yet as the town re-considers its cruise ship policy going forward, environmental concerns have been given scant attention.

The ships are often anchored less than a mile from one of the most environmentally sensitive places in the country, Acadia National Park, which runs propane-fired buses to protect air quality in the park.

Yet, last year 158 ships and hundreds of tender boats bellowed an incalculable amount of noxious and toxic pollution into the entire area around Frenchmen’s Bay.

Many of the 11 towns in the Frenchman Bay Partners, a regional environmental group, have voiced concern about the impact of cruise ships in Bar Harbor, said the group’s president Jane Disney, who is the lone scientist on the Bar Harbor Cruise Ship committee. “Many towns are affected but only one benefits,” she said.

They worry about potential spills and air pollution, she said.

The carbon footprint of a cruise ship passenger is three times that of someone on land. One cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 trucks and as much particulate matter as a million cars, according to Forbes Magazine.

“A single engine on a cruise or cargo ship is large enough that, if it were based
on land, would be considered a major source and require mandatory emission controls,” the Maine Department of Environmental Protection stated in its study on air emissions from Maine vessels in January 2020. “Even marine engines built to today’s standards could potentially emit as much pollution (on an annual basis) as Maine’s largest utility.

Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU
Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU

“This combined with the potential growth in cargo and cruise ship traffic and the need to address regional haze prevents the Department from disregarding marine vessels as a potentially important air emissions source.”

Imagine the reaction from Friends of Acadia if a company wanted to build an incinerator in Seal Harbor, or a 1,000-room hotel on Schoodic Point, or a restaurant with 500 seats overlooking Eagle Lake? That is essentially what Bar Harbor has allowed for more than 30 years – huge mobile polluters parked about a Tiger Woods two-iron shot away from a national treasure.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth issued a report card earlier this year on major cruisers, including 10 companies which send ships to Bar Harbor. Eight of the 10 received failing grades for air pollution reduction, meaning they have not adopted industry recommended improvements.

Transport & Environment, a group which promotes sustainable travel, published an analysis of major European ports earlier this year and showed air pollutants generated by ships versus cars.

It found that 47 of Carnival Corp.’s ships docked in Europe emitted 10 times more sulfur than all the passenger cars in Europe. While Carnival vigorously disputed the report, the company can’t deny it has been convicted of environmental crimes multiple times in recent years. No such study exists in the United States but the parallels remain the same.

Ships burn the lowest quality of fuel, and they burn a lot of it. Cruise operators have been urged to switch to cleaner fuel alternatives with a lower sulfur content, but few have heeded these calls, according to Forbes.

“Safer fuel, such as liquefied natural gas, is more expensive and operators have favored using scrubbers, which have been called “emission cheat” systems. These scrubbers wash cheap fuel in order to meet environmental standards, but then discharge the pollutants collected directly into the ocean.”

There are new technologies, such as onboard incineration plants, recycling programs, and less polluting fuel. “However, without homogenized standards and strictly enforced international rules, the cruise and shipping industry is likely to continue side-stepping many of the possible solutions,” Forbes said.

There are two air emission monitors on MDI but Acadia biologist William Gawley doubted that they adequately measure cruise ship emissions. “The issue is we get the whole mess” – all emissions – from trucks to cars to boats. There’s no ability to distinguish the source. Also, the monitoring station on McFarland Hill is probably too far from the ships in Bar Harbor.

Gawley said he’s read much about the pollution caused by cruise ships. “It’s pretty horrendous.” The best way to measure emissions is to perform tests on the ships themselves, using instruments such as the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter.

Then there is the issue of the hundreds of trips by tenders ferrying passengers from the ships. “You can see the smoke from the tenders,” said Jane Disney. “The pollution is terrible.”

Water quality is less of an issue because most ships do not discharge in harbors. Disney has been monitoring water quality in area harbors since 2005 and is grateful we have not had a significant spill. But only two weeks ago 5,000 pounds of shredded plastic trash from Northern Ireland headed for an incinerator in Orono spilled into Penobscot Bay and washed ashore on Sears Island.

Consider that L.L. Bean has been sponsoring the Island Explorer buses on MDI since 1999 to help reduce air pollution with clean, propane-fired buses only to have another industry compromise its good work by parking 158 floating cities over 106 days in Bar Harbor bellowing some of the worst air pollutants made by man.

This week Bar Harbor council members said they heard enough from residents and took matters into their own hands, steam-rolling the standing cruise ship committee, to deal directly with the complaints about the hoards of passengers.

There is a “jaded perception,” Councilman Joseph Minutolo said, that the cruise ship committee will only serve the interest of the industry. It’s not capable of “an unbiased view,” he said. Except for two at-large members, the police chief, harbormaster, Acadia representative and Jane Disney, the 14-member committee is dominated by people who have benefitted financially from the cruise ship industry. The chairman operates the tender business for Ocean Properties Inc., which is the largest hotel owner in Bar Harbor.

By a vote of 4-2 the council voted to survey of residents on whether to impose a ban on ships, a cap on ships (or passengers) or continue to allow ship visits in its existing scope, to conduct a public hearing on the questions and to vote on the issue next June.

“In this situation I want unbiased, a fresh outlook going forward, not the normal channels like we’ve been doing it,” Minutolo said. The cruise ship committee members “are not policy generators,” he said. “They are about passenger movement. They are about making the system more efficient. They’re about being able to generate and process more people. We’re the policy makers.”

Councilman Gary Friedmann, who made the motion which passed, said he is not in favor of a total ban but that he’s heard from many residents who liked the shutdown of the cruise ships wrought by the pandemic. “It’s nice to have the town back,” he was told.

Thus far the discussion has centered around overcrowding and impact on the local economy.

The environmental impact of the cruise ships has not been discussed much in any of the meetings. That would first require a discovery of facts which does not exist. For instance, the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter is a $4,000 instrument. How many of those would be needed to measure air pollution caused by the ships and who would fund it? Once a baseline has been determined, ships may be required to prove that they are in compliance with new rules promulgated this year to cut sulfer emissions by 85 percent.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, as part of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (referred to as MARPOL), sulfur emissions must be reduced from 3.5 percent of total mass to 0.5 percent. Since the industry has been dormant because of the pandemic, it’s anyone’s guess how many ships will be in compliance when they return to operation.

Bar Harbor can be a gold standard port, requiring visiting ships to comply with those standards.

Banning cruise ships outright doesn’t seem a likely prospect. But capping the number of ships doesn’t address the air quality problem which is immense and affects more than just Bar Harbor.


  1. le is way off the truth on the facts. At the town meeting this article fails to mention the Town councilors were inundated with emails the majority of which demanded abolishment of this Trojan Horse.
    This article fails in it’s assessment when it states 700 trucks worth of So2 are emitted when a typical 10 hour visit with the Anthem of the seas 1100 feet long will put out 40,000 idling semi trucks worth of carcinogenic SO2. A code violation on our downtown by 4,500,000 times. This mathematical analyses I figured out in 2017 is now used by the EPA. See NYT article on Cruise ships failing to plug in in Brooklyn NYC. They state 36,000 trucks for an 11Mw idling ship. I stated 40,000 for 12 Mw.

    Another reason why this town wants to abolish cruise ships is because of some independent research on Right Whale deaths I did that found Carnival Corp had likely killed 18 of these endangered species in 3 years. 3 ships Zaandam Maasdam and the Veendam were the only ships in the area where these deaths happened.
    Combined link includes research on Scrubbers that simply turn the chimney upside down and pump the smoke under water where group 1 carcinogens bioaccumulate in shellfish and do not breakdown. It poisons our lobsters, crabs clams, etc.

    If you guys want the whole story on the Bar Harbor battle and the small group that kick these cruise ships in the head with math and science and political tactics give me a call! Do not be writing half baked info!

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