BirdLife Malta is currently working on a project Together Against Air Pollution from Ships that will be delivering an awareness campaign on air pollution generated by cruise ships in the Mediterranean.
In Malta, concentrations of ultrafine particles in the ambient air when ships are transiting through the Grand Harbour have shown to be 80 times higher than clean air levels expected of areas not exposed to any pollution sources, highlighting the need for solutions to air pollution from ships to to help better protect biodiversity.
Launched in December 2016, the project works with international partners including NABU (BirdLife Germany), BirdLife Greece, and other NGOs in Italy, Spain and France with the long-term goal of establishing a network among Mediterranean countries supporting the establishment of a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Background information
- The situation in Malta
- Project Overview
- Project partners
- More information
Despite the fact that clean air is a basic requirement for human health and well-functioning ecosystems, air quality is globally in a constant decline particularly in urban areas. Cruise ships, berthing in harbours often located in close proximity to dense urban areas contribute massively to air pollution that threatens our climate, our environment and our health. In 2012, the World Health Organization identified that 95% of Europeans living in urban environments are exposed to levels of air pollution considered dangerous to human health and about 420,000 premature deaths are known as a result in the European Union.
Running engines of ships contribute considerably to global and local emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOₓ) and particulate matter (PM). The latter includes soot emissions (black carbon) which are in particular harmful to health and climate.
NOₓ emissions diminish the function of the lungs and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. NOₓ is also a powerful greenhouse gas causing climate warming due to its contribution in the formation of ozone (O₃). High concentrations of O₃ in cities are responsible for the death of elderly people and people with poor health conditions.
Emissions of sulphur oxides such as sulphur dioxide (SO₂) are harmful for our environment, not least because it causes acid rain which leads to the eutrophication of soils and coastal areas and it damages buildings and structures, particularly those made of limestone. Air pollutant emissions are furthermore responsible for a significant loss of productivity in agriculture and have a negative impact on biodiversity.
The situation in Malta
Cruise shipping movements in Malta have increased by almost 16% over the past six years with 280 cruise ships in 2010 and 324 in 2015 berthing at Valletta Cruise Port. In 2014, cruise ship passengers stood at 471,554 for the year, a rise of 9.3% in comparison to 2013. Because of the small size of Malta, it can be assumed that a major part of the island is affected by the above-mentioned impacts.
This adds on to Malta’s significant air pollution caused by traffic, energy generation and industry, identified as major concerns to the environment and health under the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED). Malta’s Greenhouse Gas emissions increased by 54% between 1990 and 2012, the transport sector being the principal contributor with 91.1% in 2012 (SPED, 2015).
BirdLife Malta will implement the project “Together Against Air Pollution from Ships” together with various Mediterranean environmental Non-Governmental Organisations including Cittadini per l’Aria (Italy), France Nature Environnement (France), Ecologistas en Acción (Spain), and our BirdLife partners Ornithologiki (Greece) and NABU (Germany). We will work towards national awareness raising and knowledge development on air pollution from ships through activities and information sharing among relevant stakeholders as well as general public. As a long-term goal, we will work together with our partners towards the establishment of a network among Mediterranean countries supporting the establishment of a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) in the Mediterranean Sea.
Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) are declared areas under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) ANNEX VI of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates air pollution from ocean-going vessels and ships in international waters. Ships are obliged to limit their maximum Sulphur content of fuel oils to 1.0% in comparison to outside SECA where a limit to 3.5% is established. The regulations apply to SO₂ emissions generated from ships including combustion equipment and devices onboard.
To tackle these problems, the project approach is divided into three parts.
National awareness raising, knowledge and information sharing
With the aim to increase the knowledge of the problem of air pollution from (cruise) ships among the general public and identified national stakeholders, we will work towards sharing and publishing information on the topic regularly. Communication activities include distributing project background material, regular updates on the project’s website will make it possible for interested parties to follow all developments.
Compiling national data and taking measurements
Improving the quality of data on the causes and consequences of air pollution from cruise liners provides the groundwork to respond appropriately to the problem. Through air quality monitoring, emission control and research on national health studies, we will work together with relevant stakeholders towards providing the opportunity for suggestions on the development of environmental policies in this field. Existing national baseline data will be researched and collected to be able to measure change throughout the project circle(s). Together, we will identify the most suitable solutions for Malta and the Mediterranean Sea to tackle the problems arising from ship emissions. These include for instance a change in political measures (establishment of emission control areas), technical measures (obligation for ships to install diesel particulate filter, selective catalytic reduction systems, seawater scrubbing and the use of liquefied natural gas), infrastructural measures (onshore power supplies from renewable energies), and voluntary measures for ports (ecological port fees depending on environmental performance of ships, incentive programs to motivate ship owners to be more environmental-friendly).
National and international partnership development
On the national level, the project activities have to be aligned with the objective to work together with relevant stakeholders from the maritime industry and authorities and discuss the necessary steps for the implementation of a SECA in the Mediterranean Sea.
On the international level, a network will be established that is able to work on shipping related to air pollution in the partnering Mediterranean countries. Regular exchange of information and knowledge sharing will take place through this network and we will take part at periodical conferences with other European members of the “Clean Cruise Ship Action Network”.
This project involves six European partners which are all Mediterranean eNGOs, two of them BirdLife partners in Germany and Greece. Click on their logos to learn more about them.
NABU (2015): Clean Air in Ports Manual.
Centre for Energy, Environment and Health (2011): Assessment of Health-Cost Externalities of Air Pollution at the National Level using the EVA Model System.
More information about the project from NABU.
Presentations and input provided by stakeholders such as national governments, EU bodies, industry stakeholders, leading scientists, ports and NGOs during the international shipping conference in Rome, March 2017. (Balearia, CE Delft, Danish Ecological Council, Dr Axel Friedrich, French Ministry for the Environment, NABU, Paul Scherrer Institute).
New study on air pollution from shipping reveals direct link on health impacts
A new study on air pollution from shipping reveals the direct link on health impacts and shipping emissions and assesses regional health benefits as well as positive effects on global climate in the near future. Currently, ship-related health impacts include about 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease and about 14 million childhood asthma cases annually worldwide. After 2020, all vessels will be obliged to switch to lower-sulphur marine fuels. The UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is introducing tougher standards on marine fuel quality of 0.5% sulphur maximum, compared to 3.5% currently. This will lead to a decrease in health-related issues caused by international shipping. However, with regard to the study’s findings “despite these reductions, low-sulphur marine fuels will still account for about 250,000 deaths and about 6.4 million childhood asthma cases annually”.
By analysing geospatial shipping data (analysis of statistical and geographical data) of over 64,000 IMO-registered vessels on a global scale, local intensities of these changes in health and climate have been found to be directly related to major trade routes and continental coastlines. For a small island state like Malta impacts can be more devastating, given its location in close distance to major shipping routes (e.g. Suez Channel – Strait of Gibraltar) and a long coastline with residential areas in close distance exposed to massive shipping traffic (e.g. Port of Valletta and residential areas along the Peninsula).
A similar study on a national level was published in 2017 by the Department of Geosciences of the University of Malta. Prof. Raymond Ellul highlighted the problem of air pollution from ships in Malta, stating, “One big tanker that passes by has an engine of about 80 megawatts. A Maltese power station outputs a maximum of 450 megawatts. So a tanker is a fifth of that. But we get 200 ships of that size passing by Malta like that going through every day! It’s like having a couple of hundred mini-power stations going past every day, emitting sulphur dioxide and everything else a power station would emit”. (click on references below)
Sofiev, Mikhail et al. 2018. “Cleaner Fuels For Ships Provide Public Health Benefits With Climate Tradeoffs.” Nature Communications 9.1 (2018).
THINK Magazine, 2017, Issue 20: Stuck in the middle with the fumes, University of Malta.
Adoption of the “Rome Declaration” for an ECA in the Mediterranean
On Tuesday 28th March 2017 the alliance of European environmental organisations participating in the “Together Against Air Pollution from Ships” project adopted the “Rome Declaration” to designate the Mediterranean Sea as an Emission Control Area (ECA) to limit air pollution from ships.
The declaration followed a one-day international Mediterranean Shipping Conference held in Rome. BirdLife Malta was present as one of the signatories.
Extreme air pollution levels found on deck of a cruise ship
Click here to read NABU‘s latest press release issued on 24th January 2017 on the high levels of ultra-fine particles found on deck of a cruise ship following an exercise carried out by French journalists and reported on French TV.
The measurements confirmed that cruise ships’ exhaust gases not only severely damage the environment but also harm human health. Undercover air tests taken on the passenger deck of a European cruise ship unveiled high loads of health damaging ultra-fine particles in the ambient air. A journalist documented concentrations up to 200 fold above natural background levels. The measurements were carried out by a French TV team working for the renowned TV show “Thalassa” which was broadcasted on January 20th on France 3.
This documentary initiated a big discussion on air pollution from cruise ships in France.