Cruise companies are balking at a proposal to create a low-emissions buffer zone around the United States and Canada, saying it sets arbitrary boundaries based on faulty science that overstates the health benefits.
The proposed Emissions Control Area would extend 200 nautical miles, which is 230 statute miles (370km), around the coast of the two nations and set stringent new limits on air pollution from ocean-going ships beginning in 2015.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency that sets regulations for ships operating internationally, is expected to adopt the proposal at its week-long meeting that begins today in London.
Cruise executives at an industry meeting in Miami said the plan would force them to switch to low-sulfur fuels that would dramatically drive up costs.
"Our estimate is that in today's market it's probably 40 per cent more expensive," said Michael Crye, Executive Vice-President of technical and regulatory affairs for the Cruise Lines International Association, known as CLIA.
It "essentially means all the current fuel that we burn cannot be burned within 200 miles," Stein Kruse, Chief Executive of Holland America Line, told the Cruise Shipping Miami conference.
Proponents, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, say the plan would clear the air around polluted port cities and save up to 8,300 lives a year in the United States and Canada. It would limit emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, pollutants that are linked to asthma and cancer. The Environmental Defence Fund activist group cheered the plan, saying "the dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a serious health threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work in port cities".
But cruise executives say there is no reason to extend the boundary that far out to sea because the pollutants do not travel even a quarter of that distance, and that a more precisely tailored boundary would suffice.
They said the IMO research ignored the effects of prevailing winds, which push emissions ashore in some problem areas such as California, but push them away in other areas.
"Putting it out to 200 miles is completely arbitrary," said Kruse, whose line is part of Carnival.