A €50 million shore-to-ship power infrastructure that will drastically reduce air pollution over Grand Harbour was unveiled on Tuesday by Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg.

The Grand Harbour Clean Air Project will allow cruise liners to switch off their gas or heavy-fuel-oil fired engines and plug in to shore-side electricity points to power their services while they are berthed. 

The project will be implemented by Infrastructure Malta.  

Back in 2018, Times of Malta had 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. 

The first of the project's two phases will provide shore power (also known as cold ironing) on the five main cruise ship quays of the Grand Harbour by end 2023. The second phase will extend the project to another two quays, which are also used by cargo ships.

The project will cut 90% of air pollution caused by cruise liners.

"This is the biggest environmental intervention in the south since the closure of the Marsa power station," said Dr Borg.

By switching off their auxiliary engines, cruise liners visiting Valletta will emit 93% less nitrogen dioxide, 92.6% less particulate matter and 99.6% less sulphur dioxide.

The maritime industry is an essential contributor to the economy, including the cruise liner sector, Dr Borg added.

He said that last year Malta's ports welcomed 372 cruise liners carrying over 900,000 passengers.

The industry has seen a 30% increase in sea passengers between 2014 and 2018 and a 13% increase in cruise liner calls between 2014 and 2017.

This meant more economic growth in an important sector for an island state like Malta, pointed out Dr Borg. 

"However, this also comes with a negative environmental impact affecting mostly localities around the Harbour area," he added.

He explained how a 2015 report showed that one cruise ship berthed at port for eight hours produced an estimated 1.2 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide, the equivalent of 300,000 cars driving from Cirkewwa (Mellieha) to Marsaxlokk.

It also releases 30 kilograms of particulate matter, the same as 180,000 cars travelling the same distance across Malta.

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