The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Healthy tourism vs healthy nation - Weighing the health costs of ship pollution

Thursday, 13 June 2019, 11:47 Last update: about 2 months ago

As much of the country sits back and regales in the country’s economic successes - much of which has been artificially manufactured, many would argue – we collectively seem to be forgetting that not everything revolves around money and its accrual.

There is the environment, our children’s futures and, most importantly, our health and the health of our loved ones and of course how we prioritise such matters.  And that is where we are falling flat on our feet.

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We are more than happy to welcome the tourist euro, but we should also be questioning what that tourist euro is costing the country and compare it with the stress on the country’s infrastructure.

One perfect case in point is the cruise liner industry, for which some very interesting figures were released this week, which show that cruise ships in Europe's ports and coasts produce nearly 10 times more sulphur dioxide (SOx) than the entire fleet of an estimated 260 million cars circulating across Europe, according to a study presented by the NGO Transport & Environment, based on 2017 data.

In Malta, it is reported that 83 cruise ships docked in the Grand Harbour in 2017, producing 502.8 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions, compared to some 283,000 road vehicles, which, overall, generated 3.4 tons of sulphur dioxide. Ships produced 178 times more SOx. And, the figures show, nitrogen oxide, the 83 ships alone produced 70% of all emissions by road vehicles and 30% of PM2.5 pollution.

These shocking figures relate to 2017, but we will take 2015 as a point of reference since, when the then tourism minister had bragged that the cruise line industry contributed around €90 million through direct expenditure into the Maltese Economy.

We can match that with a study by the World Health Organisation, which found that in the same year, 2015, air pollution as a whole cost the economy an annual €550 million in diseases and death.

Of course not all of that is attributable to cruise liner pollution, but with cruise liners having been shown to produce 178 times more SOx than the nation’s road vehicles 70% of all emissions by road vehicles and 30% of PM2.5 pollution, the numbers begin to show that we are literally selling our health to the cruise liner industry.

If we were to be generous we could say that half of such pollution comes from the heavily-polluting cruise liners, which run mainly on heavy fuel oil and diesel oil when there are far greener, yet costlier in conversion terms, options that could be considered.

As such, let’s say that of the annual €550 million in diseases and death attributable to air pollution, half, €225 million, is attributable to the cruise liner industry, which operate in the heavily-populated Grand Harbour region.

And if we compare that same 2015 €90 million figure cited by the tourism minister at the time, we are looking at a deficit of €135 million in health costs that the nation is forking out to compensate for the damage being caused by this industry.

The analysis may be basis, but the math speaks volumes – at least to those who think in mere monetary terms.

But that is not what really matters, is it? What really matters is our lives and our quality of life, and not the tourism euro that the powers-that-be appear ready to sacrifice our very health for.

Drastic measures must be implemented, but would the country, for example, consider banning cruise liners that do not run on, for example, natural gas? One would highly doubt that, but it would be quite a statement for a country that seeks to position itself as the best in Europe.

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