A new environmental movement has been started by BirdLife Malta, NABU (BirdLife Germany) and several other international partners with the goal of declaring the Mediterranean Sea as a Sulfur Emission Control Area.
Earlier this week, air pollution measurements were undertaken in Valletta and Birgu, Malta, which the organizations say showed high concentrations of ultrafine particles in the ambient air when ships transited Grand Harbour. Measurements revealed concentrations 80 times higher than clean air levels, says BirdLife Malta.
Passenger vessels are a particular concern for the partners. Cruise ship movements in Malta have increased by almost 16 percent over the past six years with 280 cruise ships in 2010 and 324 in 2015 berthing at Valletta Cruise Port. In 2014, cruise ship passengers stood at 471,554 for the year, a rise of 9.3 percent in comparison to 2013.
Ultrafine particles are known to be a major risk to human health. Such emissions diminish the function of the lungs and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified that 95 percent of Europeans living in urban environments are exposed to levels of air pollution considered dangerous to human health with about 420,000 premature deaths in the E.U. because of poor air quality.
Partners in the initiative, Together against Air Pollution from Ships, include the Hellenic Ornithological Society (Ornithologiki), Cittadini per l’Aria (Italy), France Nature Environnement (France) and Ecologistas en Acción (Spain).
Through an established Clean Cruise Ship Action Network, the project partners will regularly exchange information through conferences which will discuss air pollution from ships.
Currently, emission control areas established under MARPOL Annex VI for Sulfur oxides are: the Baltic Sea area; the North Sea area; the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada) and the United States Caribbean Sea area (around Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands).
Outside the emission control areas, the current limit for sulfur content of fuel oil is 3.5 percent, falling to 0.5 percent in 2020.