Chief executive David Dingle told Travel Weekly that company brands P&O Cruises and Cunard Line have already planned a 28% cut in Baltic and Norway cruises between 2013 and 2015.
Despite a large increase in new ex-UK capacity targeting newcomers to cruise holidays next year, the Baltic region is not a strong draw for new to cruise passengers, suggesting further reductions could be possible.
Dingle spoke after a cross-party group of MPs last week lobbied the government to amend the rules to give the cruise and ferry sectors time to adapt their ships.
The sulphur content of fuel must fall to 0.1% in January 2015 in the North Sea and English Channel to cut pollution.
But Dingle calculated that there was only a “50-50” chance of getting the required breathing space to allow ships to be fitted with the scrubber technology required to clean existing fuel.
The UK Chamber of Shipping wants prime minister David Cameron to lobby Brussels to buy time to allow shipping companies to install the technology.
It estimates that it could take up to two years for every ship to be fitted with the new technology – so the January 1 deadline is seen by the industry as being “entirely unrealistic”.
Dingle said lobbying would be stepped up in the second half of the year ahead of the deadline and warned of the detrimental social and economic impact that would be incurred if ferry companies had to abandon routes and cruise lines were forced to alter itineraries away from regions such as the Baltics and Norway.
DFDS has already announced the closure of the Harwich to Esbjerg route and there are fears that 2,000 jobs could be lost across the country if other routes are forced to closed.
“Northern Europe is not sacrosanct even at a time when cruise lines are starting to grow capacity,” said Dingle.
UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Guy Platten said: “We support the move to reduce sulphur emissions and the introduction of tough new limits.
“But the sharp increase in demand for low sulphur fuel will see a massive spike in costs both for ship owners and potentially for ordinary diesel car users – so we need to use the new technology instead. But that technology is only now beginning to work, and could take up to two years to fit properly to all of our ships.
“Reducing sulphur is a job we agree needs doing, but it needs to be done in a pragmatic way that protects jobs as well as the environment. All we’re asking for is the EU to understand the practical realities we face and give us the time we need to comply.
“A report by [consultants] AMEC recently said if we implement new regulations before the technology is ready, then 2,000 UK jobs could be lost, thousands more lorries will clog up our roads and 12 million tonnes of additional Co2 will be emitted into our atmosphere unnecessarily every year (Travel Weekly June 12).
“We know other countries within the EU share our concerns – but they are waiting for leadership from the UK.
“So this is an issue in Europe where the prime minister can make a real difference, it is a real opportunity for him to stand up for British business in Europe and succeed. We are simply asking that he takes it.”