I stepped aboard my dad’s ship when I was maybe nine or ten and ever since have always wanted to go to sea. I remember being assailed by the smell of oil and salt and sugarcane and bananas and stranger smells from faraway countries. I remember what seemed like acres of clunky painted steel, corridors and stairs, wood, tarpolin and mounds of neatly piled rope. I imagined ploughing through rough seas, night watches in Sou’westers, hearty breakfasts and mugs of strong tea.
On that basis, at the age of 15, I set off to train as a ship’s cook, but then life happened and I became a teacher instead. Ship’s Cook or Teacher? In my experience, whatever choice a person makes has its own unique wonders. Having said that, I can’t get rid of the urge I had as a child.
A cruise would be the easiest option, though the idea of a floating town is hardly attractive. At one point I researched the possibility of going as a passenger on an ordinary merchant ship. There are websites devoted to this form of travel. I thought it would also be significantly cheaper, but it wasn’t.
So for the moment, to the despair of my wife, I watch reality programmes on cruise ships – a holding operation you might say.
But last week an arresting image held my attention and prompted this post. On the Royal Princess, the programme in question, there was a blockage in one of the sewage pipes. The camera zoomed in on a beautiful pattern of blue piping, but it was the commentary that gripped me. This ship has a crew of 1400 devoted to the needs of 3,000 passengers in their 1,800 cabins consuming 110 tons of food a week. Mercifully there are 3000 lavatories but what eventually happens to the waste? We are talking about, on one estimate, 21,000 gallons of sewage a day.
It’s estimated that a billion gallons of sewage is dumped into the sea every year by cruise ships. Regulations allow ‘treated’ sewage to be dumped 3 miles out from the coast, untreated sewage 12 miles out from the coast.
A few companies have ‘Advanced wastewater purification systems’ but most still use an older less efficient technology that effectively dumps bacteria, pathogens, heavy metals and other contaminants in to the once pristine waters of the Antarctic, the Caribbean and Alaska. It is the human urge to travel and explore. It is also the human urge to poo, but on such an industrial scale? And should I add mine to it? Maybe we should all be issued with ‘dog-poop’ bags and take the stuff home with us. It might makes us think twice about that extra dessert.