The first phase of a project that will allow large ships to draw power from the national electricity grid has reached the halfway stage.
Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg, EU funds Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi and officials from Infrastructure Malta were all present on Monday to mark the the end of construction works for one of two converter stations at Marsa's Deep Water Quay.
The three-storey building, which is currently in shell form, will be able to supply electricity to four cruise liners at one go once completed.
Cruise liners must currently keep their highly polluting engines, which run on gas or heavy fuel oil, on while docked in Malta. That will change once the Grand Harbour Clean Air Project is completed, with the government saying air pollution in the Grand Harbour will be slashed by 90 per cent.
Ian Borg described the project as "a first of its kind."
"While other European ministers are pondering on how to reduce maritime pollution, we are already creating tangible solutions that will benefit 17,000 families who live around the Grand Harbour," he said.
Malta was legally obliged to begin the project, as an EU directive requires all major ports to provide shore-to-ship power facilities by the end of 2015.
Borg said that along with the introduction of cleaner cars, public transport and aircraft, the project forms part of Malta's plan to decarbonise the environment.
Cruise ships are among Malta's biggest polluters, with a 2019 study concluding that ships that visited Malta the previous year emitted 148 times more pollution than all the country's cars.
The problem is magnified by their need to keep engines on while berthed. They do this to supply their water and electricity grids which power all the facilities on board. Frequently, ships remain switched on even when there are no passengers on board, or when they are under maintenance, polluting the harbour areas with clouds of black smoke for hours on end.
How the system will work
The €50 million project is part-financed by the European Union, with Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi saying this phase of the project was granted €21.9 million in EU funds.
Underground cables will carry power from Enemalta's distribution centre in Marsa to the frequency converter stations, and then to the berths in the harbour. In the coming months, Infrastructure Malta plans to install 90 more kilometres of cables.
Its second phase will see electricity supply extended to ships berthed at Laboratory Wharf and Ras Ħanżir in Paola, as well as the Palumbo shipyard.
Borg said that in 20 years the country will have saved around €375 million in expenses in costs related to air pollution.
Last October, BirdLife Malta partnered with Danish scientist Kare Press-Kristensen and analysed the air over Valletta and Senglea. He found that pollution levels in these areas were 100-200 times higher than the levels expected in areas not exposed to any pollution sources.
He found the air had a high concentration of ultrafine particles during the time ships are transiting the Grand Harbour. These included cruise liners and smaller vessels.
Back in 2018, Times of Malta had also reported how the invisible cloud of toxins emanating from ships berthing in Grand Harbour costs the country more than €24 million in adverse side effects every year.
The huge ships sailing or bunkering just off Malta generate more toxic emissions than the equivalent of 30 Marsa power stations, according to Univeristy of Malta researchers.