With some of the world’s worst polluting cruise liners visiting Malta’s ports at an alarming rate, it’s about time the country starts finding practical solutions to the environmental crisis beyond addressing single-use plastics and land transportation.
One thesis, written by Bjorn Cassar Simonds, a Transport Malta Maritime Section employee, focuses squarely on a straightforward solution that could rectify the growing issue, a shore-side power supply.
Shore-side power or “cold-ironing” allows ships to turn off their engines and plug into an electrical grid while in port.
As it stands, cruise liners, which are in effect large aquatic hotels, contribute heavily to air quality and environmental issues in the country, given they never turn off their engines once in port to operate the many amenities on the vessel.
Past analysis of cruise ships that visit Malta found that they bring with them a massive 502.8 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx), 1.1 million kilograms of nitrogen oxide, and 80,000 kg of PM 2.5, the country’s most harmful pollutant.
In a study published in November 2015, the European Parliament warned that if left unregulated, the shipping sector would contribute 17% of global CO2 emissions in 2050.
With an overhaul in all the engines used by the vast shipping industry seemingly impossible, a shore-side solution seems to be the best option out there.
The case for shore-side power is evident. Shore-side power supplies, also known as “cold-ironing”, has the potential to eliminate ship engine emissions in port waters, reducing each pollutant by about 90% and greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, as well as reducing noise, vibration and engine wear-and-tear.
With Malta now fully converted to LNG power, the emissions generated to control the shore-side supply would remain relatively low.
Many within the industry do remain highly sceptical of its benefits, primarily discouraged by an expensive retrofitting process. However, with the EU offering subsidies of between 20% and 50% to implement the system, maybe it’s time to impose such a system, and prioritise environment over industry.
Not burning extra fuel while stationary will even save the ships some costs, although these savings vary by engine, vessel and fuel type.
The system has been implemented in ports around the world. The most successful example of cold-ironing in the Mediterranean is in Marseilles.
The EU has so far imposed a deadline to implement the technology by 2025. However, most member states seem way off the target, in another glaring example of international air pollution policy proving complicated and ineffective.
Maybe it’s time for Malta, one of the most powerful states within the UN’s International Maritime Organisation, to step up and lead the way in greener shipping.