Cruises in Quebec: pollution, tourist saturation point and doubtful consultation

Cruise ships that stop every fall at the Port of Quebec are running their engines 24 hours a day to meet the energy needs of these real “floating cities”.
Thismay seem worrisome when we discover that about fifteen of these vessels are denounced as being among the most polluting in their industry by European monitoring organizations.

Major media outlets such as The Guardian, USA Today, CNN and Forbes have resonated in recent years with Friends of the Earth or Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union.

The methodology of these studies is sometimes disputed by cruise lines, but it is a fact that these ships release into the air polluting particles. Not to mention the often deficient management of gray or waste water.

The reality of cruises in the St. Lawrence is thankfully less alarming than that described in European ports. At least in theory, because Transport Canada, despite my repeated requests, refuses to say whether inspections and follow-ups are done on cruise ships.

Since 2015, they must comply with a standard of 0.1% on sulfur emissions (ECA standard for Emissions Control Area). These standards are much more stringent than those prevailing elsewhere in the world (3.5%).

In addition to Canada, the ECA standard is only applicable to the US West Coast, the North Sea and Alaska.

To comply with this standard, ships entering Canadian waters must change fuel. This involves technical maneuvers and additional costs, with the “clean” fuel costing more.

Are these standards respected?

The fines are strong and “there is no fly by night [thug] who wants to play with that,” believes the CEO of the Port of Quebec, Mario Girard.

This sounds reassuring, but the Port of Quebec can not swear anything. Surveillance is the responsibility of Transport Canada, which does not report to it or to its inspections or the results thereof.

What is known, however, is that even if the standards were followed, harmful particles continue to be rejected by cruise ships on the move and at the dock.

Concerned by these emissions, Ottawa and Quebec governments agreed in 2015 with a $ 10 million to build the platform of the Pointe-à-Carcy (Pier 22) of a power supply system ( shore power ) . The Port was to provide the remaining $ 3.4 million.

Such a system makes it possible to connect to the dock and turn off the engines during stopovers. The Port was to provide the remaining $ 3.4 million to complete the financial package.

The Port of Quebec’s CEO, Mario Girard, at the time applauded this “gesture of environmental leadership”. This “fits perfectly into the vision of sustainable development” and will “reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The Port of Quebec, however, never followed up on the project that has since been abandoned.

Mr. Girard today invokes the “insignificant” benefit of the project.

Pressed for self-applauding, the port authority had just forgotten to analyze its market before rejoicing publicly.

Only a few of the ships that come to Quebec City are equipped with connection equipment. That’s only 1% of the time at the dock, he estimates.

The Port also mentions a logistical difficulty in parking the electric ships at Pier 22, the priority to be given to ships boarding and disembarking.

Tides also pose constraints. A ship could not always be parked in the right direction to be connected. Not to mention that the dock equipment is the size of a bus, which is cumbersome.

But it is especially that the cruise industry “did not go there,” said he found Mr. Girard. At the time, the industry relied instead on scrubbers to reduce polluting emissions. The Port then perceived that the trend was towards vessels powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is less polluting than current diesel.

Quebec then had a mobile facility to supply ships with LNG.

It sounds good, but the reality is that none of the cruise ships that go back up the St. Lawrence River this year are propelled by LNG. For now, only Groupe Desgagnés vessels use this service.


A report from the International Cruise Line Association (CLIA) produced in August 2018 heralds a trend towards the electrical connection of new ships:

50 of the 56 ships then on order (89%) will be filled or are designed to accommodate.

This is in addition to the 55 vessels that are already equipped and 11 others planning to do so. Ultimately, more than 40% of the fleet will have taken a step towards shore connections.

This does not mean that these ships will take the St. Lawrence route, but it is hard to deny the interest. Mr. Girard says do not exclude to return to a project of electrical connection if this tendency is concretized.

In the meantime, the Port of Quebec is at the same point as in 2015 watching the engines of cruise ships running, trying to understand where the industry is going.

It is only half-astonishing to us that an organization that for years has given the impression of sailing on sight according to the moods of the time of the maritime industry.

We saw him with the silos he was pressing to build on Champlain Boulevard, which have been empty for years; then for the project of a new wharf whose vocation and justification has constantly changed. Today with electrification on the docks.

Despite the explanations given, the Port of Québec is clearly lagging behind in the electrification efforts that are observed elsewhere in public transportation.


Unlike Quebec City, the Port of Montreal chose to take advantage of the subsidies offered in 2015 to acquire a shore power system.

However, the reality of the two ports is different, as the Montreal electrical installation is not only used for cruise ships, but also for “wintering” vessels.

Nevertheless, since 2017, cruise ships can connect to it. During its nine visits to Montreal that summer, Veendam used the system, which accounted for 17% of the cruises of the season in the city.

During its three visits to Montreal this fall, the Veendam will also be connected, which will eliminate 25 tonnes of greenhouse gases, the Montreal Port Authority assesses.

“We know that not all ships are yet equipped to benefit from it, but for us, this project allows us to take a green turn,” says Mélanie Nadeau, director of communications at the Port of Montreal.

“We strongly believe that this technology will have significant positive impacts in the medium and long term,” she says.

Meanwhile, without being able to connect, the Veendam , who was at home Friday and Sunday, will continue to burn diesel during its six stops in Quebec City.

Share Button
Previous Article
Next Article