CptnZeppos bij CBC National Canadian Radio

CBC National Canadian Radio, Rohit Joseph, 29/06/2023

(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

luister hier (Engelstalig)

(Indien je dit interview wenst te beluisteren, het gesprek met Joris Van Bree start op 40:45)

Is travelling by cargo ship a low-emissions alternative to flying?

If you live by the ocean, you've probably seen big cargo ships hanging out by the harbour, hauling a lot of the goods we end up consuming.


Peter Easthope, who lives on North Pender Island in B.C., recently contacted the What On Earth radio show with an unusual question: Could these vessels be an environmentally friendly alternative to flying?


According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Climate Portal, aviation's share of global emissions is currently five per cent and growing every year. Aircraft emissions also occur higher in the atmosphere, which can result in an increased warming effect. The portal says that while cargo ships emit carbon (largely by burning heavy fuel oil), they carry large amounts of freight, making them the most efficient way to move cargo.


Jonn Axsen, director of Simon Fraser University's Sustainable Transportation Action Research Team (START), agrees and says in theory, adding a few passengers wouldn't make much of a difference.


"So you want to use [cargo ships] for passenger travel? Sure," he said. "If it's a ship that's already going [to a destination] and all you're doing is using an extra crew room that you're in, you haven't added any energy use to that at all. It's going to be fine."

Of course, cargo ships take a lot more time to get to their destination. A one-way trip between Halifax and Antwerp, for example, takes 12 days, compared to less than 24 hours by plane (there are typically stopovers).


So if you wanted to hitch a ride on a cargo ship, how would you go about it?


Aranui is one of the few cargo ship companies that will take your call and sell you a ticket. But if you want help co-ordinating the logistics, some booking companies will take care of that for you. One of them is Cptn Zeppos, a Belgium-based company owned by Joris Van Bree. Cptn Zeppos will book and deliver your tickets, take care of the necessary paperwork and arrange transportation to and from the port.


But it's far from cheap. Prices vary depending on your route, but Van Bree says a standard cabin in a cargo ship costs about $140 per day. A round trip for Halifax-Antwerp with Cptn Zeppos, which includes stops in ports along the way, three meals a day and a standard double cabin, would take 37 days and cost more than $4,000.


Despite the time, cost and inconvenience relative to flying, Van Bree says he sees growing demand for this type of travel. Aside from environmental reasons, he has noticed that some people just want to get away from their cellphones and connections to their life on land.


"The right people will say, 'Ah, interesting, I can watch the ocean all day, all night, I can watch the stars,'" said Van Bree. "Most [passengers] take books, but they don't even read because they're too busy just looking and enjoying being aboard."


One person who has tried it is Tal Oran, 27, who goes by the handle TheTravelingClatt on YouTube. Because of a fear of flying, the U.S.-based influencer has experimented with alternative methods of travel, including cargo ships.


"The experience was interesting," Oran said in an interview with What on Earth. "The cabin was phenomenal — it was kind of like a little condo with a nice bathroom, a big bedroom."


But it wasn't all smooth sailing. On the open seas, there is always the potential of rough weather. "The ship was rocking for four days non-stop," said Oran. "I couldn't pee normally, I couldn't brush my teeth. I didn't get seasick but … you're just wobbly and dizzy."


A few What on Earth listeners shared their impressions of cargo ship travel.


"I had a wonderful experience on a freighter in 1964, and yes, we were on the edge of a storm … I was 24 years old and it was an adventure," said Pauline Ciaffone.


Andrea Lawrence from Logan Lake, B.C., said she and her partner began travelling the world in 1970, during which time they spent 19 days on a freighter heading across the Atlantic to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.


"Our room was spacious, and being an Italian freighter, the food was a parade of delicious pizzas, ravioli and lasagna," said Lawrence. "But yes, in November, the sea was stormy enough to throw us out of our beds…. Definitely an unforgettable adventure for two 20-year-olds!"


Given all this, flying is probably too convenient and affordable to abandon entirely.


Easthope said he would seriously consider cargo ships as a way to travel. He's retired, has time on his hands and says he prefers boats to planes anyway. But when asked why he prefers cargo ships over traditional cruise ships, Easthope is quite direct.


"Cruise ships are too ostentatious for me. I don't like getting assailed with food."