Can your cruise ship kill you? New concerns have been raised about the potential toxic quality of the air on a cruise ship. Recently, the German environmental association, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), studied air quality on passenger cruise ships and found that people could be inhaling “60 times higher concentrations of harmful air pollutants” than they would in natural air settings.  

This supports the position of the German Lung Association, which has long warned cruise ship passengers against staying on deck or inhaling a cruise ship’s exhaust gas from smokestacks, caused by the combustion of marine diesel fuel and heavy oil, as those fumes may trigger acute irritations for passengers who are already suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD.  

The French documentary television series Thalassa went undercover and secretly measured the air quality on board a cruise ship just after it had left Marseilles, France.  According to news reports, it tested the air using NABU’s facilities and discovered toxic concentrations of ultrafine particles registering more than 200 times higher than would be found in fresh air and 20 times worse than in congested port cities with heavy traffic.  Although measurements were obtained throughout the ship, the sun deck and jogging lanes were found to have the worst air quality.


According to NABU’s website, its CEO Leif Miller has said, “Ship owners expose their passengers to high loads of health damaging pollutants. Actually nobody can call this a fresh sea breeze any longer, facing 200-fold higher particle concentrations on deck of a cruise ship. Despite the shocking data, major parts of the cruise industry are refusing to switch to cleaner fuels and to install exhaust gas cleaning systems like they are a common standard for all land-based sources since years. Such measures could reduce the massive pollution from cruise ships immediately and therefore limit the impact for humans, the environment, and climate significantly. We interpret this behavior and ignorance as irresponsible profiteering.”

Currently, NABU does not recognize any European-based cruise ship as environmentally green and ranks Celebrity, MSC, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean as some of the worst offenders.  

This information is especially concerning given that the World Health Organization says inhaling ultrafine particles is as dangerous as breathing asbestos, which can lead to lung disease, heart attacks, and strokes, and has been linked to diabetes. Since soot can blow and float hundreds of meters, this poses a health risk not only to people onboard cruise ships, but also to those living and working in the ports and surrounding areas.

Not surprisingly, Helge Grammerstorf, the German national director of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and a former cruise ship captain, has denied the validity of the study. “We don’t know these measurements. The claim is completely unsubstantiated,” he told Hamburger Abendblatt, a German daily newspaper.

In my opinion, as a personal injury lawyer who has sued cruise lines for over 25 years, the cruise industry will continue to choose to use the cheapest fuels available regardless of the environmental or health implications until they are either held accountable by civil law suits or the legislature imposes strict guidelines, such as requiring soot filters and using shore-side power sources while in port, which would apply at least to ships that dock at US Ports.


If you have been injured on your cruise, in port, or on an excursion, we recommend that you consult with an experienced cruise ship accident law firm as soon as possible. Our maritime injury attorneys are focused on holding cruise lines–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Royal Seven Seas, Oceania, Celebrity, MSC, Disney, Holland America, and Princess–accountable for putting their profits ahead of injured passengers.

Call us today, toll-free at 1-866-597-4529 or locally at 305-441-0440, or reach us by email at [email protected] or SKYPE to speak with a cruise ship accident lawyer today. We are ready to help.