Shipping is estimated to account for 10% of city air pollution, and campaigners are targeting cruise industry in particular
From his balcony above Marseille’s port, Jean-Pierre Eyraud has a prime position of the giant, luxury cruise liners that dock in the city bringing 1.5 million passengers a year.
But since Eyraud was diagnosed four years ago with throat cancer- a diagnosis several others in his neighborhood by the port have also had- he watches with a sense of dread as the floating vacation palaces drop off day-trippers.
He and environmental campaigners fear the air pollution caused by cruise ships burning fuel all day at port is choking Marseille’s citizens along the coast.
” The paradox is that in Marseille we love all kind of ships- we watch them leave with a kind of longing, they are symbols of liberty with the sea as an infinite expanse ,” Eyraud said.” But at the same time, I don’t want ships to kill me .”
Eyraud, 69, who lives above the cruise ship docking region in northern Marseille, is in remission from cancer. His sister, who lived nearby, died of cancer three years ago aged 56. A childhood friend was also diagnosed, as well as her sister.
Eyraud, who began work in a factory aged 15 and later became an artist, has never smoked and was very fit, diving and mountain hiking.
” We’ve noticed that the cancer cases here began emerging in the years after the cruise ship boom, as the ships got bigger and more arrived ,” he said.” I’m worried about the ships’ gasoline and the air pollution. I used to grow herbs on my balcony but now I’m too scared to eat them .”
Eyraud’s neighbourhood association is campaigning against shipping pollution and warning of the health impact for people living in port areas where cruise ships dock- a growing worry in other destinations such as Venice and Barcelona.
He and other environmentalists in Marseille want to force a move to cleaner energy and to stiffen rules on the levels of ultra-fine particles in the air.
Cruise ship engines are kept running all day in port to fulfill the energy needs of the floating hotels. There has been no study on a link between shipping pollution in Marseille and specific health issues such as cancer. But the Brussels-based Transport and Environment group estimates that about 50,000 people a year in Europe succumb prematurely because of pollution from the shipping sector as a whole.
” We want everyone to know about this, particularly tourists ,” Eyraud said.” And we want them to start asking environmental questions while on board these ships which are meant for pleasure .”
Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which is permitted to contain higher sulphur levels than road gasoline. When cruise liners dock in EU ports, they are legally required to switch to a cleaner diesel, with lower sulphur levels. But campaigners say the sulphur levels are still too high, resulting in emissions of fine particles and sulphur dioxide harmful to human health.
Marseille, desperate to shake off its old stereotypes of drug-smuggling and gang wars, as seen in the 1971 movie The French Connection, has reinvented itself as a major tourist destination in the last decade and expects 2 million cruise passengers a year by 2020. It is also one of France‘s most polluted cities, principally because of road traffic and industry.
Shipping pollution, including industrial shipping, is estimated to account for up to 10% of the city’s air pollution problem. The culprits include the large number of ferries transporting autoes and passengers to Corsica and north African countries including Morocco and Algeria.
If locals are targeting cruise ships in particular to lower their pollution levels, it’s because they feel cruise line operators should be moving away from inexpensive heavy gasoline to clean energy and because a kind of floating tourism that suffocates local people living near ports doesn’t sit well with the luxury vacation pamphlets.