Sardinia’s iconic Emerald Coast is famous all over the world for its stunning beaches and sea, which, in this particular part of the Mediterranean, has shades of green – hence the name ‘Emerald’.

Now, this picturesque corner of paradise has inspired – and lent its name – to Costa Smeralda, Costa Cruises’ first-ever ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Scheduled to set sail for the first time in November, the ship will be fuelled by LNG both at port and at sea. It will soon be followed by its sister Costa Toscana, which is currently under construction and is due to become operational in 2021.

A celebration of Italy and the Western Mediterranean, Smeralda’s decks and public areas will be named after some of the country’s most iconic squares. Once inaugurated, the ship will offer one-week trips to Marseille, Savona, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Civitavecchia and La Spezia until April 2021.

Moving towards decarbonisation

Smeralda and Toscana are Costa Cruises and its parent company Carnival Corporation’s first steps towards a much-needed decarbonisation of the industry as a whole, with LNG as the designated fuel.

“LNG is a ground-breaking innovation that will minimise environmental impact.”

In fact, according to Tom Strang, senior vice-president at Carnival Corporation Maritime Affairs, opting for LNG was a no-brainer, with the technology currently making for the most popular alternative to fossil fuels.

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“LNG is the future, a ground-breaking innovation that will minimise environmental impact,” says Strang, who declares it’s an “enormous environmental breakthrough that improves air quality by virtually eliminating all sulphur dioxide emissions and particulate matter both at sea and in port.”

As he explains, a key factor in choosing LNG over other alternatives was also the fact that it provides “environmental future proofing” and meets all post-2020 standards set by the IMO without requiring any additional equipment.

The challenges of turning to LNG

Yet as promising as it can be, fitting ships with LNG is a rather complicated process, especially because the technology is still relatively in its infancy, and there is limited availability of bunkering facilities around the world.

“We know that the transition to LNG is no simple task,” explains Strang, though claims that the complexity of its implementation makes it a milestone for Costa, Carnival and the whole cruise sector.

“Certain areas in Europe are investing heavily into the infrastructure that allows for the use of cleaner fuels.”

However, as time goes by, he says the industry will show growing commitment to it, leading to “establish it as a trusted power source and develop the infrastructure needed to use it,” which will make LNG “more readily available and a more viable option”.

Paramount to achieving this goal is the construction of new bunkering facilities around the world. In Costa Smeralda’s case, LNG will be supplied in Barcelona through a new partnership with Shell, which has been tasked to provide the fuel to currently future LNG-powered Costa ships.

Nevertheless, stronger collaboration will be needed in the coming years. As Strang puts it, “Port infrastructure is improving all the time and certain areas in Europe are investing heavily into the infrastructure that allows for the use of cleaner fuels.

But at the same time, Carnival is working with ports around the world to ensure that the fuel it needs, in the form and quantities it needs it, will be available when the company’s ships arrive.”

Carnival’s wider plan

Costa Smeralda and Toscana represent only one piece of the puzzle for Carnival and the future of its fleet. In fact, despite previously finding itself in the midst of controversy over its environmental credentials, the company and its subsidiaries are investing heavily in building a sustainable cruise liner reputation.

With plans to cut Costa and Carnival’s carbon footprint by 25% by 2020, and a long-term goal to build the most sustainable set of ships in the world, Smeralda and Toscana will be the second and third vessels in Carnival’s range to be powered by LNG after Aida Cruises’ AIDAnova.

“The company is also directing efforts and money into improving the air quality its ships are emitting.”

“AIDAnova, as well as Costa Smeralda and Costa Toscana, are part of a new building plan including 11 LNG-powered ships for different brands of Carnival Corporation to be delivered by 2025,” explains Strang.

Other than investing in LNG, the company is also directing efforts and money into improving the air quality its ships are emitting, something that was achieved by investing about €230m into implementing sustainable technologies on-board Carnival and Costa ships.

These include advanced air quality systems, which have been installed on 70% of the two companies’ range, as well as implementing lithium-ion battery systems on-board Aida’s AIDAperla by 2020.

“The experience that will be gained with this pilot project on the first Aida ship will serve for further development of battery systems on other vessels of the Aida Cruises and Costa Cruises fleet,” says Strang.

Lastly, Carnival is currently working to fit Costa’s ships with Shore Power, which would allow to recharge them with electricity when docked, following the example of AIDAsol in Hamburg. According to Strang, the aim is for 50% of the group’s fleet to be equipped to receive Shore Power by 2050.