Summer is the silly season for television. How else can you explain the popularity of Love Island, Marriage Boot Camp, or “documentaries” like the show last night that had Eamonn Holmes mincing around Dubai’s desert dunes dressed as a fake sheikh?
Eamonn and Ruth’s How The Other Half Lives had no pretensions about being serious – it was a collection of open-mouthed awe and jaw-dropping admiration of all the over-the-top excesses the Gulf state can muster.
A so-called documentary earlier in the evening claimed to have more earnest intent. Dispatches: Secrets of Your Cruise sent reporter Tazeen Ahmad undercover on P&O Cruises’ Oceana to investigate what it claimed were “deep concerns” about the impact some ships could be having on the environment and public health.
After boarding the ship in Valletta, Malta, Tazeen managed to find time to throw back a mojito cocktail (“Mmm, that’s good,” she reported) before unpacking her air-sampling meters to test the amount of pollution emerging from the 17-year-old vessel’s funnel.
Later, she watched an “expert” mix together a cocktail of food waste, teabags, detergents and cooking oil which he said demonstrated the sort of liquid waste that cruise ships are legally allowed to discharge into open oceans – although he also added that his sample was unlikely to be an accurate representation of the mix.
And she spoke to a group of campaigners determined to prevent the development of a cruise terminal on the River Thames at Greenwich.
At no point was there any suggestion from the reporter or anyone else taking part in the programme that cruise operators or international regulatory authorities were making any attempt to improve their environmental performance.
No mention of the fact that many ships newer than Oceana have sophisticated sewage treatment systems treating waste so that the end product is actually drinkable. Or that P&O’s newest ship, set to debut in 2020, will be powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), claimed to be the world’s cleanest fossil fuel.
The Greenwich discussion was full of threats to protest against the arrival of cruise ships at its new terminal, yet made no reference to the possibility that the vessels could be plugged into shore power in order to eliminate pollution at the pier.
The fact remains that the po-faced makers of Dispatches threw together a collection of pseudo-scientific propaganda disguised as factual research, in much the same way that Eamonn and Ruth bundled up their wide-eyed look at Dubai.
Dispatches’ only saving grace is that it did not add a competition to win a holiday to see how the other half lives.
Comments from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and P&O Cruises incorporated into the programme were heavily edited, so it might be useful to give them a wider airing now.
CLIA say their member cruise lines “take great care to ensure that each new generation of ships is more eco-friendly than the previous one and our members are committed to fitting existing ships with the latest technology as part of continued improvements.
“Environmental sustainability is at the heart of the cruise lines’ economic models and it has been the absolute leader in the development and deployment of environmental technology innovations for decades.”
P&O Cruises responded: “Cruise lines comprise less than one per cent of the global maritime industry of more than 50,000 commercial vessels[yet]are leaders in implementing alternative fuels and emission reduction technology.
“Carnival Corporation and plc is breaking new ground in reducing sulphur compounds, soot and particulates from engine exhausts at sea and in port.”
The statement added that Carnival is the first cruise company in the world to use LNG to power ships, and that the company has more than 41 ships equipped to connect to shore power where it is available.
The last word goes to viewers who responded on Twitter to the programme’s allegations.
There were some in support, and it’s probably fair to say @trishysunflower had all her negative impressions reinforced. She wrote: “Well done 4 ur report on pollution frm gigantic cruise ships. Ive always hated them. Floating sewers that the sea has 2 swallow.”
Others were more considered. @StuFlack said: “Just watched that dispatches about cruise ships. Worst tv programme I ever watched. Very biest [biased]and very much against cruise ships.”
While @RayGirling added: “ Dispatches programme on cruise ship pollution hit a new low for the series. Suggestion without evidence = scaremongering. Shame on Ch. 4.”