Air Clean Up

  • How Much Do London Ferries Pollute?

How Much Do London Ferries Pollute?

Jul 19 2018 Read 1168 Times

It’s no surprise that London is nicknamed the Big Smoke. The UK capital regularly falls afoul of European regulations on the quality of its airways, resulting in hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of fines and unquantifiable consequences for the health of its inhabitants.

Over the past several years, environmentalists and politicians have drawn increasing attention to the issue, rightly pinpointing the emissions from the city’s plethora of cars, buses and taxis as the main culprit. However, one other transportation sector is comparatively far worse for London air, yet gets off largely scot-free: river travel. As well as polluting the water, the cruise vessels, ferries, tourist boats and container ships using the Thames are contaminating London’s already dirty airwaves even further.

We need to talk about ferries

While London Mayor Sadiq Khan has introduced a raft of new measures to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution with regards to road traffic, his remit does not extend to vehicles passing through via the Thames. Instead, river transport is controlled by the Port of London Authority (PLA) and its legal emissions regulated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Under new legislation brought in three years ago, all boats traversing the Thames must use fuel sources that contain 0.1% sulphur. While this figure might sound impressive enough in its own right, it’s actually 100 times laxer than the standards which apply to road diesel. That’s because London ferries are subject to the same laws as North Sea trawlers, so dirtier fuel is permissible.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a lack of enforcement with regards to the nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions produced by boats, meaning that engines on such vessels can account for as much as 10 times pollution per person as on a standard double decker bus. When compared to a truck complying with the latest European regulations, they can be up to 20 times more polluting.

The case for the defence

The PLA has defended its regulatory efforts (or lack thereof), pointing to the fact that river traffic accounts for just 1% of all emissions in the city. However, such a stat is misleading since it encompasses the city as a whole, whereas boats are obviously restricted to just the Thames. The percentage of river traffic pollution in and around the river belt would be much higher.

PLA spokesman Martin Garside has also suggested that river traffic could actually be alleviating air pollution, since its capacity for transporting goods takes the pressure of the HGV industry. “With a single barge able to carry the load of 50 lorries, it is central to reducing traffic and pollution on London’s congested roads,” he asserted. “Last year more than four million tonnes of cargo were transported by water between terminals on the Thames – equivalent to more than 300,000 lorry movements removed from London’s roads.”

However, this sort of misdirection ignores the fact that the same container ships could be powered by cleaner sources of energy. As such, environmentalists are calling on the PLA and the IMO – as well as industry itself – to do more to tackle London ferry pollution, or risk it being left behind by other forms of transportation in the capital.

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