The port of Barcelona, a city already overwhelmed by mass tourism, has topped a list of 50 European ports for the amount of air pollution produced there by cruise ships, according to a report.
In 2017 cruise ships emitted 32.8 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx) in Barcelona, according to the research. Palma de Mallorca was the second most polluted, with 28 tonnes, followed by Venice with 27.5. Southampton, with 19.7 tonnes, was fifth on the list.
Barcelona also leads in the amount of carcinogenic nitrous oxide (NOx) particles the ships emit. Cruise ships account for 15% of the NOx emitted by all of Europe’s passenger vehicles.
“Cities are, and with reason, banning diesel vehicles but at the same time are allowing free entry to cruise ship companies whose ships’ emissions cause immeasurable damage,” said Faig Abbasov, maritime coordinator of the NGO behind the report, Brussels-based Transport and Environment.
Ships run on fuel oil, which contains about 2,000 times more sulphur oxide than ordinary diesel. The report claims that cruise ships docking in European ports produced 10 times more sulphur emissions than all the 260m cars in those countries combined. In the case of Barcelona, in 2017 cruise ships emitted nearly five times as much SOx as all the city’s cars.
A recent report by the environmental group Ecologists in Action said toxic particles from the ships were detected as far as 249 miles (400km) from Barcelona’s port. The impact is exacerbated by ships leaving their engines running while in port.
The city is Europe’s busiest cruise ship destination, with some 2.7 million passengers disembarking from 800 ships in 2017. On a single day last October, seven ships with 18,000 passengers and 6,000 crew were docked in the port.
Environmental groups and residents associations in the city have campaigned for years for the numbers to be curbed. Last year, the Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, was met by protests when it arrived in Barcelona for its maiden voyage.
Campaigners argue that not only are the ships endangering residents’ health, especially those who live near the port, they are a form of tourism that brings few benefits to the city.
Most passengers visit the city for around five hours, spending an average of €57 each, and return to their ships at night.
Gala Pin, a Barcelona councillor who represents the old city that adjoins the port, raised a few eyebrows last year when she compared cruise ship tourists to locusts.
“In my opinion, we shouldn’t have this kind of tourism,” she said. “It’s like a plague of locusts. They devour the public space and then they leave.”
While the city authorities have tried to limit the number of ships, they are good business for the port, which is managed by central government, not the city council.
The International Maritime Organization limits the amount of sulphur in fuel oil to 3.5% and in 2020 a new limit of 0.5% will come into force. However, under the European Union’s clean air policy, the limit in the Mediterranean may be reduced to 0.1%.
Under current rules, there is a policy of zero emissions while ships are docked in Baltic, North Sea and Channel ports, and there are plans to extend this to the Mediterranean.