I’d never thought much about cruise ships. But now I know better. This week, a team from the German NGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NBU) have been measuring pollution around a harbour area of Reykjavik and discovered that while air quality in Reykjavik is generally “very, very good”, air pollution levels in the wind direction from arriving and departing cruise ships were up to 1000 times higher than local background concentrations.
The NBU were working with the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA). Dr Axel Friedrich from NBU measures ultrafine particulates, down to 20 nm, which penetrate through lung walls and can lead to a heart attack. They also contribute to dementia, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes II. Within a period of 24 hours, one ship can release the same amount of ultrafine particulates as one million cars. Iceland doesn’t have the sort of equipment required to measure these ultrafine particles.
In European Emission Control Areas, ships are required to use environment-friendly diesel oil with a sulphur content of 0.1%. But apparently regulations are less stringent elsewhere, and ships switch from low-sulphur diesel to heavy fuel oil – which has a sulphur content of 3.5% – when they reach Icelandic waters. In theory, in Iceland boats with 12 passengers or more have to use fuel with a maximum sulphur content of 1.5%. There are also rules which stipulate that ships have to use diesel or electricity when in port. But no one is responsible for monitoring this. And cruise ships keep their engines running when in port as they are required to continue to offer services to passengers in port as well as at sea. One cruise ship in harbour emits as much sulphur dioxide over a 24-hour period as 317 million cars. On Monday, when the measurements were done, three cruise ships were docked in Reykjavik.
Black carbon (also known as soot) is also released in huge amounts from cruise ships due to inefficient burning and on windy days it can be carried to glaciers where it darkens the surface and thereby increases heat absorption, which leads to melting. Transport of heavy fuel oil can also cause havoc if an accident happens out in the ocean.
About 50,000 people die annually from the black carbon, sulphur emissions and nitrogen oxides emitted from ships.
This is a complex issue which is well worth investigating. Besides NABU, check out the Clean Arctic Alliance and its website, HFO Free Arctic.
Anyone want an article on this?