Cruise liners calling at Valletta’s Grand Harbour ranked for their environmental pollution

September 20, 2022 8:34 am

Six cruise ship companies which regularly call at Valletta’s Grand Harbour as part of their schedule are amongst the 14 cruise ship companies rated for their environmental performance by BirdLife Partner Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, NABU (BirdLife Germany), as part of the joint ongoing initiative with BirdLife Malta and other Mediterranean partners called Together Against Air Pollution from Ships. Cruise ship companies have been surveyed to assess the impact they have on the environment, health and climate, with ships having the most harmful impact placed at the bottom of the list.

The ranking, which was revealed last month, and is the tenth carried out annually, show that cruise brands are still not doing enough to lessen their environmental impact, particularly the emissions these cause from the combustion of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO). Heavy Fuel Oil may contain varying levels of sulphur and nitrogen, which combustions leads to the production of gases harmful to human health and the environment. Such an impact is heightened when cruise ships operate in the vicinity of towns and cities such as the Grand Harbour in Malta where various cruise ships have restarted calling after a decreased activity due to COVID-19.

Ranking reveals cruise ship companies are still not doing enough to lessen their environmental impact

In the ranking, NABU evaluated the implemented measures and goals of cruise operators on the way to a clean climate-neutral cruises based on NABU’s roadmap to 2040. 19 shipping companies were surveyed, and a total of 17 points could be scored. However, the first-placed Hurtigruten Norway achieved just half of the achievable points, with all other companies rating behind. Among the top five are the three German companies AIDA, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, and TUI Cruises, which can be considered as pioneers for introducing measures on large ships. The results also show, however, that the companies are mainly making promises and announcements, but so far little has been done in concrete terms to improve the situation.

Air pollution from a cruise liner in Valletta (Photo by Veerle Van Werde, BirdLife Malta)

Since the beginning of the year, at least 48 cruise liners of the companies (Phoenix, Norwegian Cruise Lines, MSC, Viking) which altogether demonstrated less than 30% progress in implementing measures to reduce harmful emissions, have called at the port of Valletta (according to the Valletta Cruise Port schedule). In August, Valletta’s Grand Harbour experienced up to three cruise ships berthing on a single day. For example, on the 18th of August, the cruise liners of TUI Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises were all passing through the Grand Harbour, contributing immensely to the air pollution, including in the adjacent coastal area.

Sönke Diesener, NABU cruise expert, remarked: “In the tenth year of the cruise ranking, the results once again show that environmental and climate protection are still not at the forefront for the cruise companies. Heavy Fuel Oil continues to be the fuel of choice for the majority of the existing fleet. Only a few truly future-proof projects are in the planning and implementation stages. But the nature and climate crisis are pressing”.

At the same time, the majority of cruise companies at least have a climate strategy by now and are committed to the Paris Climate Goals. The front runners have started using modern technologies such as batteries and fuel cells, but so far only to complement the combustion engine. Nevertheless, heavy fuel still dominates the market today, and cruise ship holiday bookings feature almost exclusively ships that use fossil fuels.

More and more ships are shore-power capable, but actual usage is still very low. Hurtigruten, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, and Ponant score well with HFO phase-out and shore power. In Malta, a shore-to-ship connection for cruise ships berthed at the port is being developed, which will allow parked ships to connect to the electrical grid. This would allow ships to switch off their engines at the port, significantly reducing the emissions around residential areas. Infrastructure Malta claims that such a measure “will drastically reduce the emissions of cruise ships visiting Malta” as it will lead to up to 93% less Nitrogen Oxides, 92.6% less particulate matter and 99.6% less Sulphur Dioxide emissions from ships.

Malta, along with the rest of the Mediterranean, is expected to establish a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) in 2025, gradually further restricting also the levels of nitrogen in fossil fuels. Other countries such as Norway has had a strict Nitrogen Oxide regime since 2007, and certain fjords may only be navigated by zero-emission ships soon.

The phasing out of heavy fuels is one step in efforts at reducing further and further emissions and at making cruise shipping more sustainable and climate-neutral. Malta has one of the largest shipping registers in the world and should be promoting more climate-neutral solutions.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.