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Ship emissions cost €24m in health, environment damage

The invisible cloud of toxins emanating from ships berthing in Grand Harbour costs the country more than €24 million in adverse side effects every year, according to a “shelved” government report.

Known as particulate matter, this complex mixture of microscopic particles and toxic liquid droplets rises into the air from ships berthed in Valletta’s iconic port.

The tiny particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health complications, with the World Health Organisation placing them in the same carcinogenic category as smoking and asbestos.

According to the European Environment Agency, 60,000 people die every year due to shipping and cruise liner emissions.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported that air pollution expert Axel Friedrich, who blew the whistle on the Volkswagen emissions scandal, found that air around Grand Harbour was reaching toxic levels 10 times higher than the most congested roads.

Environment Minister José Herrera has now asked the ERA to examine Dr Friedrich’s findings to obtain a better picture of the situation.

It turns out that, about five years ago, the government had already commissioned a report that underscored the impact of particulate matter from the shipping industry.

It found that the harmful toxins were estimated to cost the country about €23 per gram in adverse effects to national health, agricultural crops and the built environment every year.

Some 11,000 tonnes of the microscopic emissions are pumped into the air from ships annually.

The report was submitted to the government in 2014 but appears to have been shelved, government sources said. Questions sent to Dr Herrera on Wednesday had not been answered to by the time of writing.

The government sources said that although the document had made it clear emissions from ships were taking a hefty toll on the country, the main solutions it suggested were “not feasible”. Specifically, the report explored the possibility of Malta investing in a shore-to-ship power supply system that would stop the vessels from leaving their engines running in port.

Although the report, from two independent consultancy firms, showed ship emissions would be halved by the introduction of a plug-in power supply, it also said this would not be feasible if a similar system was not introduced across the Mediterranean.

According to the report, cruise liners accounted “by far” for the highest level of emissions when they berthed.

Most of them ran their auxiliary engines while in harbour, in what the industry terms “hotelling”. To power their restaurants, bars and casinos, the liners have a “large power requirement, which at times is at par with a town of about 10,000 inhabitants”.

Conservationists believe the best way to address the problem is to put stricter caps on cruise liner emissions. According to Dr Friedrich, Malta should lobby the International Maritime Organisation to make the entire Mediterranean shipping region a controlled emissions area, like the North and Baltic seas.

A Transport Ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday the government was open to suggestions on how to help improve air quality.

However, she added, lobbying for more controls on the region’s tolerable emissions was no simple task.
Source: Times Of Malta

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