Cruise ship pollution

The Disney Wonder discharges garbage at Canada Place, 2016-05-23The Disney Wonder discharges garbage and takes on fuel at Canada Place, 2016-05-23 (Max Burley photo)

A recent article in The Guardian, “The world’s largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem” focuses on Southampton, UK. The Port of Southampton is Europe’s busiest cruise ship terminal, projecting 462 cruise ship calls in 2016 and more passengers than 2015’s 1.7 million. The port has four dedicated cruise ship terminals able to handle the largest vessels currently afloat.

The Guardian says,

The Harmony, owned by Royal Caribbean, has two four-storey high 16-cylinder Wärtsilä engines which would, at full power, each burn 1,377 US gallons of fuel an hour, or about 66,000 gallons a day of some of the most polluting diesel fuel in the world.

In port, and close to US and some European coasts, the Harmony must burn low sulphur fuel or use abatement technologies.

British Columbia’s Ministry of the Environment says1:

Marine engines make a sizeable contribution to emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM2.5), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) on a provincewide basis. The contribution is even more significant when one considers that many of these emissions are concentrated in the busy ports of the Lower Mainland.

Marine engines use either marine diesel or marine heavy fuel oil. Both of these fuels have much higher sulphur contents than transportation fuels used on land. For ocean going ships visiting B.C., fuel sulphur contents typically fall in the range of 1 to 3% (this compares to 15 ppm or 0.0015% sulphur content for on-road diesel in Canada).

To address air emissions from ships the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010 adopted MARPOL Annex VI which contains the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA). Effective August 1, 2012, it applies to ships operating in US and Canadian waters. The ECA extends approximately 200 nautical miles offshore and stipulates that when in force all ships operating in this area must use fuel oil with a sulphur content that does not exceed 1.0% m/m (10,000 ppm). See the IMO’s Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships page for more information.

The Harmony of the Seas won’t be visiting Vancouver anytime soon because, like other recent cruising colossuses, it is too big to pass under the Lions Gate Bridge.

Port Metro Vancouver’s shore power initiative has the potential to greatly reduce ship emissions in the lower mainland. Ships with the necessary equipment can shut down their auxiliary engines while at the dock and “plug in” to the electrical grid. Currently available only at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal (shore power enabled berths for container ships at Centerm Berth Five and Deltaport Third Berth are scheduled to be operational in 2017) the service recorded 76 successful connections in 2014, out of 98 ship calls having connection capability2.

In 2015, Port Metro Vancouver recorded 228 cruise ship calls with 805,000 passengers (includes both embarkations and disembarkations)3.

Other resources:

3Cruise Statistics Report 2008-2015, Port Metro Vancouver