Southampton horizontal cruise terminal 1
Southampton is in the top 10 cruise-polluted cities in Europe. Associated British Ports

In a major development, one of the UK's foremost ports has made it to the list of most cruise ship-polluted cities in Europe. Southampton in Hampshire located 80 miles southwest of London is the only UK port that is in the top 10 cruiser ship pollution cities in Europe list.

The list is part of the Transport & Environment June Edition report titled 'The return of the cruise', which has Barcelona at the top of the cruise ship pollution list.

The report said most of these ports, including Southampton's port, are back to pre-pandemic levels of emissions. The cruise ship numbers, the time they spent in ports and their fuel consumption have all gone up by 23 to 24 per cent.

It was found that in 2022, 218 cruise ships in Europe emitted higher amounts of sulphur oxides than 1 billion cars. This is 4.4 times higher than all the cars in the continent. When it comes to Southampton 45 cruise ships emitted more sulphur oxides than 93,390 cars.

Why is Southampton important?

Known as the UK's gateway to Europe, Southampton brings 2 million passenger visits from cruises to England. Each of these visits has the potential of generating £2 million in revenue, says the Associated of British Ports. All major cruise liners like Carnival Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Aida, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises etc cover Southampton in their itinerary. Regarded as one of Europe's leading turnaround ports for cruises, Southampton had been crowned the Port of the Year by the Seatrade Cruise Awards in 2021. In the same year, the port won the Best Port title at the Wave Awards.

As such cruise ship pollution has been a major issue in Southampton. Despite the new sulphur emission guidelines of the International Maritime Organisation or IMO, cruise ship pollution is on the rise.

This particular report highlighted the plight of major ports like Barcelona and Mallorca in Spain, Civitavecchia in Rome, Hamburg in Germany, Southampton in the UK, and Marseille in France. Southampton is in seventh position on this list which is a considerable change from pre-pandemic times.

What did the report say?

The report underlined that cruise ship emissions in Southampton increased between 2019 and 2022 despite the 2020 IMO Sulphur Emission Cap.

The report was created by evaluating the toxic air pollutants level from ships based on the anti-pollution technology available onboard the vessels, the engines and the movement of the ships. Based on the yardsticks, it was found that Southampton's PM2.5 particulates emissions, nitrogen emissions and sulphur emissions increased by 8 per cent, 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively in the last three years.

The report further revealed how the emissions differed based on what particulates the ship was emitting. While those ships which emitted nitrogen oxides and other particulates were third in the list of emitters, those emitting sulphur oxides were positioned seventh in the list. This shows that ships are complying with the 2020 IMO sulphur cap but the pollution is still there.

What does this mean for the health of people?

A Southampton University air pollution toxicologist, Dr Matt Loxham said that sulphur dioxide emissions in Southampton are within legal limits. Hence it isn't a problem. Sulphur dioxide is often associated with breathing problems.

But Loxham cautioned against the nitrogen oxides and the PM2.5 particulates, a greater concern in the UK. He made it clear that the health effects of particulate emissions need to be studied more. Loxham further underlined that cruise ships aren't contributing that much to nitrogen pollution in Southampton as per a study done by the city council.

Cruise companies turning to green fuel

The major cruise ship firm associated with Southampton is Carnival which has gone on record stating that they are developing clean fuels to reduce emissions.

Carnival has made it clear that 93 per cent of its fleet uses advanced air quality systems to reduce sulphur and other particulate matter from the exhaust and they are planning to introduce LNG and other clean fuels soon.

The way out

The Horizon Cruise Terminal of Southampton gets most cruise ships as it is one of the two terminals having cruise ship-specific shore power installations

Stressing the need for immediate action, the Sustainable Shipping Manager of Transport & Environment, Jon Hood said that the ships have to plug into shore power to avoid releasing pollutants in Southampton air. Shore power reduced diesel emissions by 80 per cent and carbon emissions by 66 per cent from every berthed ship.

Cruise ships coming to Southampton can plug into the shoreside facilities available in the city from 2021. This helps them to turn off their engine and prevents emissions. But there's a catch. The possibility of a power drain doesn't let the port authorities use both shore power terminals simultaneously. They are used one at a time.