Acquittal for cruise ship captain in air pollution trial? (update)
In Marseille (France), starting on Monday, the captain of cruise ship Azura stands trial for the first time in history for air pollution. By deliberately stocking in cheap heavy fuel with high sulphur content a ship like Azura pollutes in one day as much as a million cars. Defense is going to plead acquittal, French newspaper Le Monde writes.
290 metres long, 1.557 cabins
Evans Hoyt, the American captain of Azura, a 290 metre long luxury cruise ship with 1.557 cabins, is accused of using heavy fuel with a sulphur content of 1,68% instead of the limit imposed by the EU of 1,5%. The latter was confirmed by a custom’s control when the ship moored in Marseille in March.
A difference of 0,18% might seem peanuts, but it has heavy environmental consequences, NGO France Nature Environnement (FNE) says. The NGO is civil party in the French trial. These consequences were the main reason for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to enforce a sulphur limit in fuels of 0,5% from 2020 on.
60.000 premature deaths
Air pollution by maritime transport, emitting high levels of sulphur oxide causing acid rain and soot particles and NO2 causing serious health problems, are held responsible for 60.000 premature deaths and a cost of 58 billion euro in health care in Europe alone.
A study done by FNE and German NGO Nabu in 2015 and 2016 showed that in a harbour city like Marseille an average of 5.000 fine particles per cubic centimetre were measured, but at the harbour these values soared to 60.000 particles. On board the ships themselves the air inhaled by the passengers and the crew contained 380.000 particles.
1.500 times more sulphur than diesel
The heavy fuel used by these giant cargo and cruise ships is less refined than diesel for cars and contains 1.500 times more sulphur than allowed for the latter (0,001%).
With an average consumption of 2.000 litres per hour while being at sea and 700 litres per hour when at the harbour (to generate electricity for cooling and heating, among others), air pollution is as much as the pollution by one million cars, FNE says.
The industry, as related by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), defends itself saying “it invests heavily in filtering installations on the chimneys reducing sulphur oxide by 98% and CO2 emissions by 30%. On the other hand, cruise ship companies are building new ships using liquified natural gas (LNG) with the first being put into service and 26 more that are commissioned.
200.000 dollar savings
The checks done in Marseille on board of the Azura showed that captain Hoyt moored at Barcelona (Spain) before sailing to France to stock in 900 tons of heavy fuel, costing the Carnival shipping company 341.100 dollar. It would have costed 200.000 dollar more if less polluting fuel was bought. The captain clearly wanted to do some savings at the expense of the environment.
According to Le Monde, the lawyers of the Carnival shipping company are going to plead acquittal, based on the assumption EU standards of 1,5% sulphur in the fuel used don’t apply in this case, as Azura is a cruise ship and not a ‘ferry’.
100.000 euro fine
The European directive is aimed at passenger ships ensuring regular services coming from or going to European ports. According to the lawyers, Azura is a cruise ship that doesn’t offer ‘a regular service’. According to the civil party, the European Court already overruled this question in earlier cases. It’s up to the French Justice now to decide.
In theory the captain risks one year in prison and a 200.000 euro fine, but the prosecutor pleaded to be satisfied with a 100.000 euro fine of which 20.000 to be paid by the captain himself. Judgement is expected on Novermber 26th.