No Clean Air Day for the Thames



At the National Air Quality summit organised by the Mayor of London on the eve of Clean Air Day last week, focus was firmly fixed on reducing pollution on our roads. And rightly so. That's where the greatest threat to the nation's health comes from in terms of air pollution. Joined by other city leaders and Michael Gove MP, the Mayor called for an earlier ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles, a national vehicle renewal scheme and a Clean Air Act to set strict air quality limits. All credit to our regional leaders for pushing the Government harder to tackle "our country's filthy air" and to our Secretary of State for DEFRA for turning up to listen. No Toxic Cruise Port was there to flag the issue of London's Cruise Port to Michael Gove once again.



London benefits from the addition of 68 green buses to TfL's fleet from next year which will make it the leading City in Europe for electric double deckers.


But where is the initiative to tackle pollution on the Thames which has once again been left floundering in air quality no man's land? Neither the Government nor the Mayor controls emissions on the Thames. It has been delegated to the International Maritime Organisation. And there are no limits on emissions for NOX  or particulate matter. Added to that, river vessels have no post combustion mitigation which means that the fumes they produce when threading their way along the Thames are much dirtier than emissions from cars and vehicles on the road.


The Port of London Authority, "the custodians of the Thames", oversees all moorings and vessel movements, but has no remit to control river emissions.  Its recently released air quality strategy states that whilst emissions on our roads are due to decline as a result of legislation,  they are expected to increase on the river and for NOX to rise steadily until 2020.


The PLA are at a very early stage in scoping out a possible on shore power site with a feasibility study planned over the next 12 months. But no electric power for cruise ships berthed on the Thames can be expected any time soon.


Meanwhile the number of cruise ships coming to London every year creeps up in keeping with the PLA's main priority to increase river traffic.  This summer a total of 34 ships are coming to London mooring at the Tower Bridge and Greenwich piers. The PLA is the first UK port to order an hybrid power pilot boat, but overall it just feels like we're playing catch-up and that there is no real impetus for the reduction of emissions to be commensurate with river traffic growth.




We have to look further afield for the inspiration to clean up our waters. The Norwegians are forging the way prompted by concern over the weight of pollution hanging over their fjords which are a popular destination for the cruise ship companies. 




Norway has been bold enough to announce the creation of what would be the world’s first zero-emission zone at sea. Its Parliament has adopted a resolution to halt emissions from cruise ships and ferries in the Norwegian world heritage fjords as soon as technically possible and no later than 2026. Existing ships must be equipped with battery packs for electric propulsion and, in the future, hydrogen. No such luck as yet to protect our World Heritage site in Greenwich.


Electric ferries are already in service in Norway. Not only do they cut emissions by 95%, but costs also come down for the ferry operating companies by 80%. Until now electric ferries have been conversions of older vessels, but a new fleet of ferries designed from the ground up to be electric will come into operation in 2020. 




These ferries operate on relatively short routes between the same ports where they can install charging infrastructure. It's a lot easier for ferries to go electric than cargo and cruise ships which have longer and more varied routes. But Stena Line, which operates the Stena Jutlandica ferry between Frederikshavn (Denmark) and Gothenburg (Sweden), has announced that they will convert its 185-metre long Stena Jutlandica to electric propulsion with a massive 1 MWh battery pack – making it one of the largest electric ships in the world.


And now electric cruise and cargo ships are on the way with the expertise of none other than our own home grown Rolls Royce  who have developed a hybrid engine for Norwegian cruise line company, Hurtigruten. So, we don't have to look too far for the expertise required to clean up Thames' cruising. The first ship, MS Roald Amundsen, launched earlier this year in February and is destined for Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords.



Before we can invest in innovation though, we need to replicate Norway's leadership and resolve to tackle our own riparian emissions. Whilst much has been made of the Mayor's Ultra Low Emission Zone, there can be no ULEZ if there is a massive cruise ship in the middle of it burning heavy fuel oil and producing vast quantities of poisonous fumes. To put things in perspective with the roads again,  vehicles over 3.5 tonnes not meeting Euro 4 emissions standards are issued a penalty charge of £1,000. Where is the penalty for vessels with even worse emissions? The PLA provides an incentive through its green tariff for cleaner ships to come to London, but otherwise the dirtier ships pollute with impunity.


We are calling for the Government to give the Mayor the powers to regulate emissions and introduce an ULEZ on the Thames. You can do the same by writing to the Government - join the fight!


And let's make sure we clean up the air around our UK ports and in our waters by including them in the Clean Air Act being proposed.


In the meantime, if you're wondering how the clean onshore power works that we've been talking about, take a look at this video which demonstrates the hook up in the Port of Hamburg

 Shore power, also known as cold ironing or alternative marine power, is the process of providing electrical power from the shore to a ship whilst its docked, thereby allowing a ship's auxiliary engines to be turned off and the burning of diesel fuel to cease.  Shore power is an effective way of reducing air emissions and improving local air quality. 


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