Cruise ships can emit as much particulate matter as a million cars every day

Cruise ships can emit as much particulate matter as a million cars every day and the air quality on deck can be as bad as the world’s most polluted cities, according to a new investigation. An undercover investigation by the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 television station has revealed the shocking levels of pollution found on board some cruise ships.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme sent its investigators onto P&O Cruises’ 250-metre-long Oceana vessel, which can carry more than 2,000 passengers. The programme focused on monitoring ultra-fine particles in the air around the vessel and the investigation showed that just one ship can emit the same amount of particulate matter in one day as one million cars.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) will investigate the fight against air pollution, which kills half a million European citizens every year, the court announced on Friday (10 February).

Dispatches found that the air on the upper deck of the Oceana, downwind from the boat’s funnels, had 84,000 ultra-fine particulates per cubic centimetre. The numbers topped 226,000 directly next to the funnels. The same programme monitored the air quality in London’s busy Piccadilly Circus, using the same recording devices, and found that the numbers were just 38,400 per cubic centimetre.

One doctor told the programme that “these are the levels you would expect to see in the most polluted cities in the world like Shanghai, Delhi and so on”. He added that short term exposure could cause increasing respiratory symptoms and that crew members working long-term on board could experience side effects “we are just starting to understand”.

Cruise ships typically use heavy fuel oil in their engines, a residual product that is left over after petrol and diesel have been produced. It has very high sulphur content but is more cost-effective than other fuels.