How sustainable is travelling on board a cargo ship?

How sustainable is travelling on board a cargo ship?

Who hasn’t heard about the impact of aviation in the global emissions of CO2? And yet we need to take planes for going home, visiting our beloved ones, for accomplishing with work demands or simply for travelling. However, the latter action -travelling- is usually the most flexible one, and the choice of going wherever by plane or other means lies solely and exclusively in our hands. We know it: giving up flying is neither a realistic nor a feasible option in our days; but, while governments and the aviation sector strive for reaching agreements and developing cleaner technologies, we would like to present an exciting, less-polluting alternative: holidays on a cargo ship.

Basically, it consists of travelling on board a cargo vessel around a continent or the whole world while the crew do their duty, delivering containers with tonnes of freight in different ports.

Containers stored in a harbour in Belgium - Photo by Olafpictures

Containers stored in a harbour in Belgium – Photo by Olafpictures

With every passing year, this way of journeying is becoming more and more popular, although it’s still pretty unknown and not for everybody. Companies such as Cargo Ship Voyages in the UK, Freighter Expeditions in Australia, and Cargo Voyages in France offer this service for trips lasting from 6 nights to over two months. Usually, these ships will admit 4-6 passengers, being 12 the maximum. All of them must be in good health and not be over 80.

As for prices, they may range from £500 for a 7-nights journey to £7,000 for 77 nights, not bad bearing in mind that everything is included and the variety of places and countries you get to know.

On the other hand, it’s clear that this option has its downsides, and that’s why we have allocated this post to the yellow category. Despite the fact that a ship emits proportionally less greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere than a plane, it wouldn’t be right to say that it’s “sustainable”. In fact, it’s estimated that shipping industry is responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions and, as consequence, some voices are pressing to replace the heavy fuels normally used in this sector with cleaner ones. Adaptation is slow, but there are also some pioneering projects like this solar-powered boat getting ready to cross the seas.

Shipping is responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions - Public Domain Image

Shipping is responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions – Public Domain Image

In addition, there is another point that makes cargo ships conceptually non-sustainable to our eyes: they carry commodities from one end to the globe to the other -and the other way around-, in many cases unnecessarily. It happens with food: tomatoes from Morocco, when Europe produces plenty of them; avocados coming from Chile, whose final price is £1 after having crossed the Atlantic Ocean, etc. Taking into consideration that supermarkets, distributors, shippers, commercial intermediaries, etc. all work for a profit, what the farmers’ and growers’ wage may be?

These are our thoughts on cargo ship trips. It has some cons in regards of sustainability, but also some pros you can read from travellers experiences. What do you think? Would you get on board?



Travelling and staying on board a cargo ship as a way to spend the holidays is a less polluting way to journey around the world than by plane. In these trips just few passengers are allowed at once (maximum 12) and they complete their tour while the crew work as usually. They can last from 7 days to over 2 months or more, and prices may range from £500 to £7,000 depending on the lenght, the itinerary and the carrier.

However, this way of travelling has its downsides: the shipping industry is still very polluting, being responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It also represents the excessive rates of importation and exportation to the detriment of local consumption, and in some countries, this might mean wage dumping for growers and farmers.

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