Cruise ship air pollutants fall 80% in Venice following the ban on large liners

   June 19, 2023 ,   Cruise Industry

A recent study by Transport & Environment has revealed that toxic air pollutants emitted by cruise vessels near European ports have exceeded pre-COVID levels, leading to severe pollution in major port cities.

Despite the implementation of IMO's sulfur cap in 2020, Europe's 218 cruise ships emit as much sulfur oxides (SOx) as one billion cars in the previous year. However, Port Venice (Italy) experienced an 80% reduction in air pollutants from cruise vessels following the city's ban on large-sized liners. This demonstrates the potential for addressing air pollution, according to T&E, which advocates for greater electrification at ports as a life-saving measure.

Compared to 2019, the number of cruise ships, their presence around ports, and fuel consumption all increased by ~23% to 24%. Consequently, there was a 9% rise in SOx emissions, an 18% increase in NOx emissions, and a 25% increase in PM2.5 emissions - 3 hazardous air pollutants.

Barcelona (Spain) ranked as Europe's most polluted port in the previous year, followed by Civitavecchia-Rome (Italy) and Piraeus-Athens (Greece). Cruise ships in Barcelona emitted ~3 times more SOx than all the cars in the city, despite car emissions in Europe being subject to SOx limits that are 100 times more stringent than those for ships. On the other hand, Venice demonstrated significant improvement, dropping from the most polluted port in 2019 to 41st place after implementing a ban on large cruise ships in 2021, resulting in an 80% reduction in SOx emissions.

Italy, however, surpassed Spain as the most polluted country in Europe in terms of cruise ship emissions. Although the Mediterranean region bears the brunt of cruise ship pollution, Norway ranked 4th in the ranking and had the highest cruise traffic, albeit with smaller ships.

Among cruise operators, MSC emerged as the most polluting, with its ships emitting nearly as much SOx as all the passenger vehicles in Europe. Carnival Group's subsidiaries accounted for the highest pollution overall.

Many operators, such as MSC, are investing in fossil gas (LNG) as a cleaner alternative. Over 40% of 2023-ordered new ships are LNG-powered. While these vessels have lower air pollution impacts, they are environmentally damaging due to methane leaks from their engines, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas 80+ times more potent than CO2 in terms of warming potential.