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Yesterday (5 August 2018) The Observer published an article headed “Will giant cruise ships destroy the wonders their passengers claim to love?”. It was written by Rowan Moore, who is their architecture correspondent. (This is the second ‘In the News’ post I said I’d do.)

The thrust of the first part of the article is a reaction to the shooting of a polar bear by a guard on an island in Svalbard. The guard was one of two making preparations for the landing of passengers from MS Bremen on the island – the other guard was attacked by the bear and suffered some injuries before the second guide opened fire. Here’s a link to a BBC News story about the incident.

In his article Mr Moore reflects on the balances required when ships visit fragile environments – in this case, the waters of the high arctic, and on his own participation in that balance (he visited the area himself on a three masted sailing ship, the Antigua, this year). But the article quickly takes aim at cruise lines for increasing the pressure on these places. He mentions the following points:

  • that HAPAG Lloyd (the operators of the Bremen) will soon deploy two new 200-passenger Expedition ships into the area;
  • that Crystal Cruises will next year launch what is described as a “Polar class mega-yacht”;
  • and that Crystal Serenity became (in 2016) the first cruise ship to navigate the Northwest passage, “to the dismay of environmentalists”.

So far so good, I felt. Like Rowan Moore I have reservations about tourism into fragile environments, wherever they be, and like him I would probably prefer that these places should be left alone. Of course, there are counter arguments – it’s also probably the case that the two guards involved in the incident with the polar bear were locals, who were therefore gaining some employment and income from the ship’s visit. Nonetheless, I agree that these most fragile environments deserve the closest protection.

However, Mr Moore then goes on to say “it is contradictory to thrust floating towns…. into places whose beauty is in their pristine  solitude”. Well, I’m not aware that Royal Caribbean have any plans to send Oasis of the Seas into the far Arctic, and I don’t think that most of the ships he mentions could realistically be called ‘floating towns‘ (my emphasis). Indeed, if we feel that these places should be left alone, then not only should HAPAG Lloyds’ Bremen (and their new Expedition ships) be discouraged from calling, but so also should the three-masted Antigua. Mr Moore writes that he and his companions on Antigua “thought themselves good people, concerned about the environment, uneasy about the air miles that had got us there…”, but they still went. I’m not sure I see much difference, therefore, between him and passengers on other ships in that environment.

Later in the article he says “Giant cruise ships look to me like misery machines”. Well, I disagree, of course, and I’m someone who has some reservations about where cruising is going. Nonetheless, I still think that cruising is a perfectly good holiday for millions of people. It’s very easy to take pot-shots at people having the kind of holiday that you yourself wouldn’t take. Anyone for a stag or hen in Amsterdam? How about a week alternately sunning and clubbing on Ibiza? Not for me, either of them, but plenty of people would. Surely, as long as no laws are broken and local agreements and policies are observed, people should be free to enjoy the holiday they want? In the case of cruises, many passengers are ‘seniors’, quite a lot of them very senior indeed, and they will have spent many decades of their lives working very hard. Why shouldn’t they enjoy a comfortable holiday in their old age?

Rowan Moore raises a number of issues in his article, and I do agree with many of them. But I also think he repeats the journalistic mantra that I’m seeing more and more: that “cruise ships are evil!”. I’d like to reach out to Mr Moore and discuss these issues with him, but unfortunately I don’t have any way of contacting him to do so. I shouldn’t think he’ll read this article, but if he does perhaps he could send me a comment.

2 Responses to ““Will giant cruise ships destroy the wonders their passengers claim to love?” (Observer article)”

  1. Nicholas Stephens says:

    This from Observer Website:

    To contact any member of staff
    Individual staff, whether editorial or commercial, can be contacted using this email format:

    Firstname.lastname@theguardian.com
    Firstname.lastname@observer.co.uk

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