A report from the European Federation for Transport and Environment found that cruise ships in European waters owned by Carnival Corporation emit 10 times more air pollution than all of Europe’s cars.
The study analysed air pollution caused by 203 luxury cruise ships in European waters in 2017, and found that ships are releasing sulphur dioxide, sulphate, and nitrogen oxides at an alarming rate — all of which have implications for human health.
The European ports most affected by cruise ships are Barcelona (Spain), Palma Mallorca (Spain), Venice (Italy), Civitavecchia (Italy) and Southampton (UK).
Ships owned by Carnival were found to emit 10 times the amount of sulphur oxide alone than all of Europe’s cars, of which there are about 260 million.
Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Norway are the European countries most affected by cruise ship air pollution in comparison to how much their cars are producing.
Spain’s cars produced 23 million tonnes of sulphur oxide, while cruise ships in their waters produced 172 million tonnes.
Europe has sulphur emission control areas (SECAs) in their waters, which have strict rules surrounding fuel standards, but the report found that even these fail to protect oceans from the effect of cruise ships.
In Denmark, where the coastline is entirely protected by SECAs, cruise ships still emitted 18 times more sulphur oxide than all of the country’s 2.5 million passenger vehicles over the course of a year.
Shipping policy management of Transport and Environment, Faig Abbasov, said that luxury cruise ships “are floating cities powered by some of the dirtiest fuel possible.”
Abbasov noted that while European cities are passing more stringent laws on pollution from other forms of transport, “they’re giving a free pass to cruise companies that spew out toxic fumes that do immeasurable harm both to those on board and on nearby shores”.
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Sulphur oxide has damaging effects on the marine environment and increases the acidification of ocean water — disrupting growth in marine animals and stopping the growth of corals.
Sulphur oxide also affects human health but this appears to be quite different from person to person. People who are especially sensitive to it, such as asthmatics, appear to have their airways constricted quite severely after inhaling, but the effects are relatively short-lived.
The authors of the Transport and Environment report recommend that stricter laws are enforced in European waters that keep emissions below the the equivalent expected of cars.
Emissions from cruise ships are also likely to increase in the years to come because there is little regulation on marine fuel quality and engine emissions standards, according to the report.
Carnival released its ninth annual sustainability report this week, announcing the company had achieved its 25 percent carbon reduction goal three years ahead of schedule in 2017.
The company also states that it has introduced ‘advanced air quality systems’ on board 74 percent of its fleet, which are “capable of removing virtually all of the sulphur from the ships’ engine exhaust, enabling cleaner overall air emissions”.
Abbasov said governments need to step in and mandate “zero emissions standards” for cruise ships in ports, such as batteries and hydrogen technology, because the “cruise sector are apparently not willing to make the shift voluntarily”.