World's Biggest Cruise Ship Sparks Protests Over Vessel Emissions in Barcelona

Thursday June 9, 2016

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL)'s latest vessel and largest cruise ship in the world, Harmony of the Seas, has become the new focus of residents' concern over air pollution at the vessel's base port of Barcelona, Spanish Media reports.

Having made her maiden voyage last month, environmental activists are using her recent arrival in Barcelona as an opportunity to highlight the pollution caused by such mega-cruise ships.

“This kind of heavy oil is now illegal on land because of its high sulfur content,” said María García, spokesperson for Ecologists in Action and the Platform for Quality Atmosphere, referring to the HFO burned by the vessel when underway.

As voiced at other ports, at-berth emissions are of particular concern, with the report noting the MGO used to power her generators "still pollutes 100 times more than normal diesel."

The port's cruise terminal does not currently have shore power, although a study from September last year found CO2 emissions would be reduced by 90 percent if it did.

As it stands, Barcelona City Hall says it will be carrying out emissions tests to verify claims over exactly how polluting the vessel is.

The report also points to a 2012 study by German environmental group Nabu that criticizes the level of emissions caused by such cruise ships. 

While Nabu’s Daniel Rieger argues the data is official and is based on average consumption, RCL argues otherwise.

"All the figures included in this study assume that the ship is always running at full capacity,” says RCL VP Richard Pruitt.

"They also suppose a sulfur content that is almost impossible nowadays. The calculations are based on a 3.5% sulfur content whereas it is actually 2%."

Ironically, and perhaps indicative of a change in attitude towards such ship emissions, DNV GL says Harmony of the Seas is actually 20 percent more fuel efficient (and thus less polluting) than her two sisters that were launched in 2009 and 2010.

A public shift in attitude towards ship emissions also has wider implications.

It is feared that a strong enough shift in public opinion against shipping companies in general could encourage national or regional policymakers to implement their own regulations before the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implements tighter global limits.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has warned the resulting patchwork of rules would result in "chaos" for the shipping industry.