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Ignoring greener power options, cruise ships are causing pollution along the UK coast.

Many cruise ships that dock in Britain are not utilizing “zero emission” onshore power, opting instead to run their engines and emit pollutants into the surrounding environment.

The sector is facing scrutiny for its impact on air pollution and contribution to greenhouse gases, leading to certain European cities prohibiting ships from accessing central ports. Cruise companies insist that ships can reduce emissions by shutting off engines and connecting to low-carbon electricity while docked. However, openDemocracy’s investigation discovered that cruise ships often neglect to use onshore power at Southampton, the UK’s biggest cruise port.

Instead, they use marine gas oil or liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel options. While LNG produces lower air pollutants, it does release some methane into the atmosphere. Both of these fuels contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

A study of ship itineraries in Southampton revealed that from April 2022 to July 2023, there were approximately 300 days where a cruise ship was present at the port. However, the onshore power station was only utilized 71 times during this timeframe.

According to the UK Chamber of Shipping, certain ships have not been modified to utilize environmentally-friendly onshore power due to the higher cost compared to traditional marine fuel. However, cruise companies have the option to invest in retrofitting their ships with new technology in order to utilize cleaner onshore power.

Jon Hood, the sustainable shipping manager for the UK branch of Transport & Environment (T&E), which is the top organization for promoting clean transportation in Europe, stated that cruise companies have access to clean energy, but are unwilling to invest in it.

The speaker stated that there needs to be more transparency and cruise companies should be obligated to reveal their use of onshore power and duration. They also suggested that the government should mandate cruise ships to connect to onshore power whenever it is accessible.

Katherine Barbour, the initial Green party representative for Southampton, expressed concern that if cruise ships are not required to make changes, the negative impact on residents will persist. It is necessary for all docks to have the capability to offer onshore power, and for vessels to be modified to utilize it.

Every vessel is similar to a miniature community, emitting harmful substances when not utilizing electricity.

In December 2019, The New York Times stated that one cruise ship docked can produce the same amount of diesel exhaust in a day as 34,400 idling trucks, but this issue can be greatly reduced by utilizing onshore power. The cruise industry argues that this evaluation does not take into account the advanced technologies implemented on cruise ships to decrease emissions, the adoption of alternative fuels, or limitations on emissions in ports.

Although cruising is experiencing rapid growth in the tourism industry, with a projected 31.5 million passengers by 2023, there are concerns about its negative effects on the environment. A recent study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin in December of 2021 revealed that a single large cruise ship can have a carbon footprint equivalent to over 12,000 cars. Additionally, an analysis conducted by T&E in June showed that even with the implementation of stricter limits on sulphur emissions from marine fuels in 2020, 218 cruise ships operating in Europe in 2022 emitted more sulphur oxides than one billion cars.

In the year 2021, Venice prohibited cruise ships from entering its historic center. Earlier this year, Amsterdam also banned cruise ships from its center, and Barcelona will do the same starting on October 22nd.

The sector has expressed its dedication to environmentally-friendly methods, aiming for a net zero carbon cruising goal by 2050. Carnival Corporation, the leading company in leisure travel, is constructing new vessels that run on LNG, and other cruise companies are experimenting with biofuels. While the use of LNG engines decreases sulphur oxide emissions, activists argue that both the engines and the fuel production process release methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

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In April of 2022, ABP (Associated British Ports) revealed plans for an onshore power facility at the Southampton cruise port that would provide “zero emissions at berth”. The project has a price tag of £9m, with £4.4m being provided by the Solent local enterprise partnership, which includes a considerable amount of public funding. However, the facility can only accommodate one ship at a time.


The 2022 annual report for Solent LEP stated that the use of shore power resulted in a reduction of 1.7 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.2

Within one year, this amounts to only 20% of the estimated yearly savings outlined by ABP in their proposal to the LEP in order to acquire a £4.4m grant. ABP stated that it takes time to fully implement and see results.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, nearly half of its member ships are capable of accessing electricity from shore. As of September, 32 ports have at least one cruise dock equipped with shoreside power, which has the potential to reduce emissions by 98%. A representative stated that utilizing shoreside electricity is a significant step in the cruise industry’s plan to decrease carbon emissions.

ABP Southampton is proud to lead the UK in offering shore power services. We are committed to expanding this service for our shipping customers and view it as a crucial aspect of our and our customers’ journey towards achieving net zero emissions.

The port of Southampton has implemented a top-ranking plan to improve air quality and reduce emissions in the UK. This strategy is supported by a system of air quality monitors located throughout the port. Research conducted by the Southampton city council in real-life conditions has shown that air quality levels for emissions related to the port are significantly lower compared to other sources such as traffic.

Officials at the port report that there are multiple factors to consider when utilizing the onshore power facility, one of which is the high cost of power in the UK compared to other European countries. ABP has announced their intention to release a review of their shore-power performance in 2023, along with an update on air quality. Carnival Corporation has stated that they make use of shore power in ports whenever it is available and feasible, but only a small percentage (2%) of ports worldwide have a cruise berth equipped with onshore power.

Source: theguardian.com