Trying to clear the air on ships

Cruise line shows smoke-free engines as pollution debate nears

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

Capt. William Wright says he used to look for smokestack emissions on a cruise ship as a signal that the engines were fired up and the vessel was ready to leave port.

That doesn't work with the Radiance of the Seas, the new Royal Caribbean vessel that docked in Juneau on Monday. The ship's gas-turbine engines, which burn "the champagne of the fuel oils," create no visible emissions aside from steam and a heat shimmer, Wright said.

"It's a good feeling when we look back and see the clear skies," he said.

Nancy Wheatley, senior vice president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was in Juneau on Monday touting the new technology during a tour and luncheon for a dozen members of the news media.

Last week, Holland America Line showed off new wastewater treatment technology on the Statendam. The activity comes in advance of a special session of the Legislature. On Thursday, lawmakers will consider a cruise ship pollution bill that would authorize the state to negotiate with the industry on rules for air emissions, marine discharges and solid-waste handling.

Wheatley didn't discuss the bill, which she said she hasn't read. The North West CruiseShip Association, which endorses the bill as long as a passenger head tax isn't added to it, speaks for Royal Caribbean on the issue, she said.


Out of sight, out of mind: Clear exhaust exits the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas while in port in Juneau on Monday.


Instead, Wheatley stressed the company's strides in environmental protection.

"We're very proud of our ships, and we do like to show them off," she said. "But we're also very proud of some of the innovative things that we've done for the environment, and the gas turbines in particular are a real environmental commitment and, I think, a major milestone in the cruise industry."

Royal Caribbean's sister company, Celebrity Cruises, launched the world's first gas turbine cruise ship, the Millennium, in May 2000. Another Celebrity ship with a gas turbine, the Infinity, is making Alaska runs this year. And the Radiance of the Seas is the third of what will be nine ships with the gas turbine technology to be fielded by parent company Royal Caribbean International by 2003 or 2004, Wheatley said.

The Radiance has two of the gas turbine engines. Each engine with rotor assembly weighs 11,500 pounds. Along with a steam turbine, they have a capacity of about 80,000 horsepower.

The General Electric gas turbines are exactly the same as on a DC-10 jet, except that they power electrical generators instead of fans, Wright said. The engines burn a distilled, purer fuel that is twice as expensive as the common diesel blend that customarily has been used in cruise ships, although greater fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs offset some of the expense, he said.

"The smog-causing pollutants are reduced by 80 to 100 percent, and the visible emissions are reduced by 100 percent," Wheatley said.

A closed circuit TV monitor in the Radiance control room Monday afternoon appeared to show smoke coming out of the stack. But it turned out to be from a Holland America ship docked directly in line with the Radiance.

An air-monitoring program conducted by the state last summer found ambient levels of pollutants downtown well below the federal health-based limits. But several cruise companies were cited by state and federal officials for violating the air opacity standard, a visibility measurement. The state program for air opacity readings is continuing this year, financed by a settlement with Royal Caribbean for pollution of Southeast waters in 1994-95.

Bill McAllister can be reached at

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