Sailing Clean

River cruise lines adopt strong measures to preserve wildlife and waters By: Marilyn Green
Viking River Cruises use diesel-electric hybrid engines. // (C) 2012 Viking River Cruises
Viking River Cruises use diesel-electric hybrid engines. // (C) 2012 Viking River Cruises

River cruise vessels are sailing the Mississippi, the Nile, the Rhine, the Volga, the Danube, the Chobe, the Mosel, the Yangtze, the Mekong and other rivers. And, as passengers explore the expanding choices among the waterways of the world, the cruise lines are paying even more attention to environmentally friendly features and policies that protect the cruising regions and provide guests with a smooth, quiet journey. These features conserve fuel and energy, draw food from sustainable farms and maintain recycling programs and waste treatment.

For example, Avalon Waterways uses the newest technology available in its propulsion systems, engines and generators. Sewage water is treated in a multi-step procedure releasing treated water that is actually cleaner than the river water, and there is a recycling system in place onboard. Likewise, Tauck operates an aggressive onboard recycling program that includes paper, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles and biological waste.

AmaWaterways is paying particular attention to environmental issues. On its new Africa cruises and safaris, a water jet-propulsion system replaces the conventional propeller system to ensure that there is no damage to the river bed.  Fuel-efficient, low-emission generators are used during daylight hours, and the boat operates on battery power throughout the night. Hot water is provided by a solar heating system, and water-saving taps and showers as well as energy-saving lights are used throughout. There is an onboard sewage processing plant and a five-stage water purification system, using river water in showers and faucets. Cleaning detergents used onboard are biodegradable. In Europe, Ama uses LED lights and high-insulation glass windows.

In America, river cruises are also environmentally geared. For instance, American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi has advanced gray and black water treatment; this can be stored and treated onboard or stored and treated and pumped out once ashore into a septic truck/facility. Also, light bulbs and insulation are all energy efficient. Great American Steamboat Company’s American Queen has had its engines upgraded to give greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions, and the line has a strict recycling policy onboard.

With its history of bringing people to some of the most exotic places on earth, Lindblad Expeditions has an extensive recycling/reuse program in the Pacific Northwest and beyond; paper, for instance, is reused onboard the vessels and in the offices. Onboard the ships, a number of programs have been instituted to reduce waste, including the distribution of reusable water bottles to guests and battery recycling (in addition to traditional recycling of cans, bottles, paper, etc.). Water/ice stations at key points enable guests to effectively use the stainless water bottles provided in the cabins.

Lindblad’s dinner sign-up is an illustration of the line engaging its guests to reduce and eliminate waste.During breakfast, the guests choose one of three options that will be available during the dinner service. Guests are always welcome to switch options but their selections help chefs anticipate the quantities of food needed for each selection, which significantly reduces food and packaging waste.

The ships have been replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent and LED bulbs; engines and generators have been upgraded to increase efficiency. In the Pacific Northwest, Lindblad is the only Food Alliance Supply Chain Ally in the travel industry and serves guests organic eggs, milk, yogurt, herbs and more.

Also in the Pacific Northwest, American Safari Cruises adheres to the Marine Mammal Viewing Code of Conduct from the National Marine Fisheries Service, respecting wildlife and their habitat by trying to be unobtrusive when viewing wildlife. Onboard, the company provides guests with reusable water bottles, eco-friendly amenities, encourages less frequent washing of linens and exceeds regulatory requirements for disposal of waste. American Safari Cruises buys ship supplies and fresh food that are locally produced whenever possible.

Power source is a key area for Viking River Cruises’ four new Longships, which will be christened in Amsterdam this spring. They will bring the total number of Viking vessels with hybrid engines to six, and another two will follow in the course of the 2012 sailing season. The diesel-electric propulsion system was introduced onboard Viking Legend and Viking Prestige in 2009 and 2011, in which diesel engines generate the power necessary to charge the batteries from which the ship systems gets its power. Computer software ensures that the ship only generates as much electricity as needed — one or more engines automatically shuts off if not needed, reducing waste in fuel consumption and lowering emissions. The ships are designed with five slightly smaller engines instead of the usual three, giving them flexibility, and four smaller propellers instead of the traditional two, providing less vibration.

In addition, the new Viking Longships will be equipped with solar panels — which feed the ships’ batteries — as well as small, organic herb gardens that help raise environmental awareness as well as supplement supplies.

Across the fleet, Viking asks its patrons to consider reusing their towels more than once, and the ships’ showers and faucets meet all European environmental standards; both of these help to reduce overall water usage.

Viking is also introducing “green” cleaning supplies across the fleet. In 2013, the line will introduce a number of eco-shore excursions that showcase the natural values of the rivers.

Scenic Cruises divides onboard garbage into biological waste, paper, glass and residual waste, and packaging waste is returned to the vendors. The line uses recycled paper and, whenever possible, local products from regional suppliers. A towel usage policy is in place, reducing energy and detergent consumption and wastewater.

All products used — cleaning agents, lacquer, varnish, etc. — are biodegradable and without toxins. LED lamps and thermal insulated glass are used to reduce energy use.

In addition to the care exercised by the cruise lines, wholesalers such as AdventureSmith Explorations, which books American Safari and Lindblad, offer carbon-free cruising without increasing the price of the cruise.

AdventureSmith calculates the amount of carbon emitted by its small ship cruise passengers each year and pays it to the Free Cruising campaign. The cruise line says that it has completely neutralized emissions and hopes to educate travelers about how to fight global warming by reducing their carbon footprints.

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