In contrast to the progress in reducing emissions from land-based polluters (cars, trucks and power plants), shipping emissions of nitrogen oxides are not obliged to be filtered to the same extent, BirdLife Malta points out. This could be easily witnessed by comparing data of ultrafine particles measured at Marsa Junction around midday on 23rd June. Heavy traffic present during that time measured an average level of ultrafine particles of 16,000 pt/cm³.

In June, BirdLife Malta carried out its second air quality measurement exercise, monitoring the arrival and departure of four cruise liners and several smaller ships at the Valletta Grand Harbour as part of our ongoing Together against Air Pollution from Ships project. Air samples taken opposite to the cruise ship terminal in Senglea showed high concentrations of ultrafine particles and NO₂ in the presence of cruise liners, passing by and berthing in the port.

During the summer months up to seven cruise liners can be catered for at full capacity at the port. The findings show that these ships contribute to the critical levels of air quality present in Malta – although the Air Quality Index published by the European Environment Agency rates the air qualify of Malta as fair (measured in Msida, Zejtun, Attard and Gharb). Nonetheless, the EU’s Environmental Implementation Report on Malta, published last year, shows that 230 premature deaths in Malta result from fine particles. Health-related external costs from air pollution are above €182 million/year, and 44,000 work days are lost each year due to sickness leave related to air pollution.

Air quality expert Dr Axel Friedrich of Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU), BirdLife partner in Germany, explains: “Ship emissions have an effect on human health diminishing the function of lungs and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as asthma particularly caused by nitrogen oxides and ultrafine particles.”

The costs could be significantly reduced by stepping up pollution control or prevention measures, the European Commission concluded in the report. Will the travel industry take up the challenge?