What's all the fuss about?

May 14, 2018


Why it's so important we have an onshore power supply at Enderby Wharf


The first big cruise ship of the season, the Viking Sun, came to Greenwich for the May Bank Holiday weekend. The Viking Sun is the first of 16 ships to come to Greenwich over the summer and there are another 18 scheduled for Tower Bridge. It moored between Cutty Sark Gardens and Deptford Creek from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon and ran its engines for a total of 60 hours.


If we use the figure of 700 litres an hour for fuel consumption, we estimate up to 42,000 litres of marine diesel would have been burnt  and released into the air we breathe in Greenwich, the Isle of Dogs and beyond by just one ship in a single weekend.


The cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf has permission for 55 visits a year from May to September. If 60 hours is the average length of stay, we could be looking at a cruise ship in Greenwich burning 700 litres of fuel an hour virtually every day of the summer. 


The source for the 700 litres fuel consumption figure comes from planning documentation  submitted for the Enderby Wharf development. It was provided by Greenwich Council consultants, TMC Marine Consultants Ltd, as an estimate for the amount of fuel used by cruise ships to operate the services they need for electricity, heating, ventilation, cooking and so on when in port. 


The Viking Sun is, however, bigger than those modelled in the plans and so the actual amount of fuel used last weekend could be more. 


Road diesel in its current form contains about 10 parts per million of sulphur. Under the EU’s Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA), which runs along the UK’s south and east coasts, ships are only permitted to burn ‘low sulphur diesel’, which contains 1,000 parts per million, or 0.1% sulphur. But it’s only ‘low sulphur’ compared to regular marine diesel and it still has one hundred times more sulphur content than road diesel.


The combustion of sulphur produces sulphur dioxide which irritates the nose and throat, causes coughing wheezing and tightening of the chest. When combined with rain it forms sulphuric acid which eats away at trees and buildings. So, watch out Greenwich World Heritage Maritime Site and St Alfege Church.


Along with the sulphur dioxide, cruise ships release enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide (NOX) into our air. It’s the NOX that is really lethal and is referred to in London air quality reports as causing premature death, heart disease, strokes, cancer, lung impairment and mental health disorders. There is currently no control of NOX emissions in our waters unlike the US where they have Nitrogen Emission Control Area (NECA). Norway wants to implement a Zero Emission Control Area (ZECA) by 2025 with electrical powered vessels only.


In a recent industry report we were told that switching to renewable electricity at UK ports would not only reduce emissions, but could save the UK up to £483m in health related costs. Sadly though, the report highlights ‘The UK is one of the last global regions to introduce shore connections at its ports’. In this respect, the UK lags behind the rest of the world. We have a long way to go to meet our shipping minister’s  recent aspiration to position the UK as a "world leader in green maritime technology". We hope, though, that the installation of electric shore power in UK ports features prominently in the Government’s "green maritime revolution to reduce emissions".  




Global shipping was listed in a BBC report as the sixth biggest source of CO2 pollution in the world.  For some reason the shipping industry was and is exempt from any targets set by both the Kyoto and Paris climate accords. We took part in the recent protest outside the International Maritime Organisation's headquarters to try and get the organisation to reduce worldwide shipping emissions. The members of the IMO did agree a deal to cut greenhouse gases by 50%, but these will not become binding until 2050.  Too little and too late! 




If we must have a cruise terminal for London at Enderby Wharf, then having one with onshore power should be a minimum requirement, and our own aspirations should be a zero emissions cruise port. With just one shipping berth planned for the London’s terminal, this is an ideal place to mandate shore-side power.  Many ports already equipped with an onshore power facility are multi-berth ports, so not all cruise ships are able to plug in to shore-side electricity when in port.  Forward looking ports such as Seattle are installing multiple power points to solve this.


Cost has been given as a reason for not having an onshore power supply at Enderby Wharf.  The port of Kristiansand in Norway is in the process of upgrading its cruise ship terminal to include onshore power at a cost of €4 million with an additional cost to run the necessary power supply to the terminal.  Following discussions with a national electricity supplier, we estimate it will cost £6 million to install onshore power at Enderby Wharf including connection to the grid.  This might seem like a tidy upfront sum, but Greenwich Council estimates the port will bring in up to £25 million in revenue to the local economy per year once established.


Ultimately, we have to ask what price do you put on the health of Londoners?  The Port of Los Angeles obviously thinks the health of people living and working at its ports is worth significant investment having spent $200million in onshore power along its 43 mile coast line. Subsequently the Port of LA has achieved a 97% reduction in sulphur, an 85% decrease in diesel particulate matter and 50% reduction in NOX.


It would not be unreasonable to expect Greenwich Council, the Government, the Mayor of London, developers and the cruise industry to form a partnership and come up with a co-funding plan. Add the EU to the equation, which part funded the Kristiansand upgrade even though Norway is not an EU member state. Greenwich Council and the developers overlooked this funding avenue however, failing to recognise an EU subsidy was available.


One of the remarkable facts to emerge from studying this market is that in most other places onshore power projects are collaborative.  This begs the question, does Greenwich and interested parties have the ability or mind set to explore this model of development? It all comes down to whether the community’s health becomes the priority, and given the real issues we face in Greenwich with air quality it is difficult to understand why this is not the case.


Securing a clean power supply is only half of the problem. Ships need to be equipped to plug in and the cost can be in the region of $1million to connect to the shore side facility. Cruise companies spend millions on passenger amenities and focus predominantly on passenger experience. For nearly thirty years cars and trucks have had to comply with evermore stringent emissions requirements, so it’s up to the cruise industry to now clean up and do the same.


If the terminal gets built and there is an onshore power supply, we must make sure that only those ships able to use it are allowed to moor at Enderby Wharf. After years spent fighting for and securing shore power, residents in Brooklyn, New York still have issues with ships not plugging in even when there is technology on board. There is no point installing electric shore power facilities if their use is not then mandatory. We need to have custodians of the Thames who can monitor as well as enforce the use of shore power. But more than that, we need to have proper regulation of emissions on the Thames as currently there is no national or regional entity invested with the authority to do that. It’s been delegated to the IMO by DEFRA. More information on this can be found on our website section about the port under legal anomaly.


So, back to the Viking Sun operated by Viking Cruises and headed by a Norwegian born entrepreneur. If Norway is moving towards zero emissions for their own ports, we hope Viking will be moving their own fleet to cleaner options rather than allowing their ships to come to London and run their diesel engines.


We’ve only dealt with air pollution issues in this blog, but there are other potential problems associated with having a cruise terminal in Greenwich and in a crowded London urban setting. But that’s for another day.


For more information on how you can help the campaign, please go to our join the fight page


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