Cruise ship passengers could be inhaling “60 times higher concentrations of harmful air pollutants ” than they would in natural air settings, a German environmental association has warned.
The air quality on board a cruise ship just after it left Marseille was measured by a journalist for French documentary television series Thalassa and analysed by the German group Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU).
This reportedly revealed that at peak levels, the concentration of harmful ultra-fine particles was up to 200 times higher than it would be in natural fresh air surroundings and 20 times worse than in the city centres of port cities such as Venice, Marseille, Hamburg and Barcelona, with heavy traffic.
Daniel Rieger, a transport policy officer and researcher for NABU who analysed the data, told Telegraph Travel: “The longest recording was conducted for a time period of almost 50 minutes where an average of 60,000 particles per cubic centimeter of air were documented.
“As a comparison: a fresh sea breeze at that altitude should usually be at around 1,000-2,000 particles at maximum.
“So passengers inhaled 60 times higher concentrations of harmful air pollutants.”
Measurements were taken at various points on the unnamed ship with the sun deck and jogging track on the top deck found to be most affected by pollution.
“But of course this can vary along with the wind and weather conditions. So potentially every part of the ship can be affected significantly,” Rieger said.
For this reason, the German Lung Association and the Pneumologists Association have warned passengers against staying on deck or inhaling ships’ exhaust gases as this could cause acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) if you suffer from lung diseases, Rieger added.
“Moreover they warn that ultra-fine particles are very dangerous, lead to lung diseases, heart attacks, strokes and are also linked to diabetes and cause deterioration for asthma and COPD patients,” he said.
In addition to fine dust and soot from funnels on cruise ships, passengers are exposed to harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides and heavy metals emitted by the combustion of marine diesel fuel and heavy oil.
“The passengers can only smell or see the particles before they get mixed up with the ambient air,” Rieger told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) following the recent air quality tests.
He warned that the latest results are most likely indicative of the poor air quality on nearly all cruise ships.
“They could have done the air tests on almost any cruise ship in the world while the results would have been the same. This is due to low quality fuels (mainly heavy fuel oil – HFO) and the fact that none of the ships has a particulate filter. And as a consequence air pollutant emissions are massive,” he told Telegraph Travel.
But Helge Grammerstorf, German national director of cruise trade body Clia and a former ship captain and ship broker, denied the validity of the measurements, arguing that a more systematic test over a longer period of time is required rather than the recent selective sample of measurements taken.
“We don’t know these measurements. The claim is completely unsubstantiated,” he told German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.
The major contributors to poor air quality on board cruise ships are “bad fuel quality and a lack of exhaust gas abatement systems,” Rieger told Telegraph Travel.
It would not be difficult for cruise ships to help air quality and improvements could be made with “a switch to better fuel, ideally road diesel or liquid natural gas, as well as the compulsory installation of particulate filters and nitrogen catalysts,” he said.
But four out of five ships were found to not be equipped with any exhaust gas cleaning systems or only equipped with one that meets the lowest legal standard for northern Europe, which only reduces sulfur oxide emissions, DW reported.
In a statement, Clia said: “Clia wishes to underline the commitment of its member companies to respect the regulations in force to protect the environment wherever they operate.
“Environmental sustainability is at the heart of their economic models.
“Although the cruise industry represents less than 1% of the world’s marine fleet, it has been the absolute leader in the development and deployment of environmental technology innovations for decades.
“Clia member companies take great care to ensure that each new generation of ships is “greener” than the previous one.
“The installation of exhaust gas cleaning systems is one of many measures that cruise companies are implementing on newly built ships to reduce emissions of air pollutants such as SOx [sulphur dioxide].
“Thanks to the exhaust gas cleaning systems, these emissions have been reduced by more than 90%. Clia members are also working to fit existing ships with these technologies.
“The cruise industry has also taken a leading role in the development and use of emission reduction technologies for years.
“Working closely with suppliers and manufacturers, it constantly seeks to develop and deploy new technological solutions.
“Its members are currently working on the development of particulate filters, exhaust gas cleaning systems, alternative marine fuels, and the use of liquefied natural gas both when docked and at sea, among other innovative measures.
“With these emission reduction measures, they not only seek to comply with existing regional and international regulations but in many cases go far beyond existing legal requirements.”
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