Cruise ship air pollution around ports is getting worse

A new Transport & Environment report, an update to their 2019 study, reveals that not only is the luxury cruise market back to its pre-pandemic levels, it is polluting the air around European ports more intensively than before. 

Compared to 2019, the number of cruise ships, the time they spent around ports and the fuel they consumed all increased by about a quarter (23-24%). This resulted in an increase of 9% in SOx emissions, 18% in NOx and 25% in PM2.5 emissions.

cruise ship

The report reveals that there are 218 cruise ships currently on European waters, which between them emit more four times more sulphur oxides than every car in Europe combined.

Compared to the 2019 figures, Italy has taken over from Spain as the country suffering most from cruise ship air pollution, although Venice, formerly the most polluted individual port, has dropped 40 places on the list since a 2021 ban on large cruise ships entering the port. This has led to an 80% fall in SOx emissions from cruise ships.

Barcelona has taken over the mantle of most polluted European port while Southampton, where 45 ships were responsible nearly ten times more harmful pollutants than all of the city’s 93,000 cars, has climbed to seventh on the list.  

T&E express particular concern about the use of liquified natural gas (LNG) by ships in order, ironically, to reduce their CO2, SOx and PM emissions. Combustion of LNG releases methane – which is the main component of LNG – into the air. 

The report says: ‘The most worrying trend observed in our results is that methane emissions increased fivefold between 2019 and 2022 to reach 7,804 tonnes. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, over 80 times more climate warming than CO2. To provide a point of comparison, we estimate that one of the biggest LNG-powered cruise ships in the fleet – MS Iona – emitted as much methane in 2022 as 10,500 dairy cows do in a year.’

T&E have produced a series of recommendations:

  • Establish more stringent decarbonisation requirements on cruise ships that call at European ports.
  • Extend the zero-emission berth mandate for cruise ships to cover stay at anchorage.
  • Implement zero-emission operational corridors for the most popular cruise ships trajectories in European waters.
  • Extend the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) to the rest of all EU and UK waters.
  • Develop NOX operational standards for ships at the EU level.Ban the use of scrubbers, especially open-loop ones, in all European waters.
  • Cruise companies should discontinue investing in LNG-powered vessels and prioritise zero emission technologies, such as hydrogen fuel-cells, batteries and wind-power

Constance Dijkstra, shipping campaigner at T&E, said: ‘The pandemic provided some respite for port cities, but this is now well and truly over. Cruising is back and tourist hotspots like Barcelona and Athens are again choking on toxic air pollution from cruise ships.

‘Venice has shown that tackling cruise ship pollution is possible, but bans aren’t the only way. Ports can significantly reduce pollution levels by forcing ships to plug into electricity at the port instead of running their engines, and by supporting the adoption of zero-emission fuels.’


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1 year ago

Thank you, Paul. Astonishing and worrying. I cannot understand why anyone (sensible) would ever want to go on these cruises. But they do. Some go several times a year too. Money to burn?

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