Air pollution monitoring near cruise ship dock problematic due to faults

Residents and NGOs concerned about impact on health and environment.


Ever since their requested monitoring system was put in place in May, residents and activists who form part of the coalition Action: Give Us Back Our Land, have been facing difficulties in monitoring air pollution surrounding the new cruise ship dock at Palumbo shipyard.

Back then, the residents and groups, including Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffiti, were concerned about the environmental impact that a new joint venture between Palumbo Group and MSC cruise ships would have on the surrounding area. The group had first united against the expansion of the American University of Malta and now find themselves battling other issues in the area.

Meetings with Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) ended on a positive note for the groups as a mobile monitoring system was parked at Senglea’s Gardjola Gardens (pictured). But, in November, not long after the MSC Splendida cruise ship berthed in the Palumbo shipyard, the group noticed that the system, which had provided close to live time values accessible online, stopped working.

A spokesperson for the coalition told The Shift how, when questioned about the malfunctions, ERA pointed to an issue with the air conditioning system, which caused overheating, as well as faults with the particulate matter (PM) analyser. The link was soon fixed with live information. Yet the particulate matter analyser remains absent two months later.

Particulate matter is a widespread air pollutant consisting of a mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The matter can range from soil to smoke, acid droplets, dust, and so on, and is one way in which air pollution can be monitored.

This lack of particulate matter values is one of the contributing factors making the extent of the air pollution “a little shaky” to calculate, the group said.

In replies to questions by The Shift ERA initially said the station is working, adding that the aim of the monitoring campaign is to “better understand and eventually quantify the impact that shipping activities have on ambient air quality”. They said that in “near real-time”, the mobile station monitors “a suite of air pollutants, including particulate matter”.

When pointing out that the particulate matter reading was not present on the website, ERA admitted that the particulate matter reading is indeed malfunctioning and being fixed overseas, but they are still monitoring PM2.5 (one of the pollutants) using alternative equipment. The readings still cannot be followed online.

Besides the particulate matter reading, another hurdle that the group came across was accessing last year’s data. There is only data since December 2020 available online, with past data only accessible through the authority, which the group has requested. The coalition spokesperson said that at least six months’ worth of data is needed to analyse readings.

The group’s need for air pollution monitoring increased following the official agreement of the joint venture last July when the cruise ship company took over a 50% share of the shipyard management. As a result, the shipyard is now being used to service MSC cruise ships and other vessels. The yard has been leased from the government in a 30-year-concession by Palumbo Group since 2010.

Since October, the MSC Splendida, a 333-meter-long ship, has been berthed in the dockyard for two months…with engines running. According to the NGOs that have been following the situation, the vessel has been causing disturbance to residents and producing a steady stream of emissions. Residents had also voiced their concerns to The Shift about the impact of this on their health.

The spokesperson for the coalition had explained their main concern – although cruise ships had made use of the dockyard’s services before, they had never experienced a situation where a cruise ship was berthed “for such a long period”.

The NGOs making up the coalition include Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Forum Komunita’ Bormliza, Moviment Graffiti, Friends of the Earth, Futur Ambjent Wiehed, Senglea Historical Socity, Association for Justice, Equality and Peace and Zminijietna – Voice of the Left.

Questions sent to Palumbo in December remain unanswered.


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Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
1 year ago

It may be a coincidence but it certainly looks like when potential problems arose the monitoring equipment all of a sudden malfunctioned and has been unable to be repaired for the duration of the potential problems. Friends and friends of friends, anyone?

John Holiday
John Holiday
1 year ago

Before Covid Cruise Ships in European waters emitted more pollution than all of Europe’s cars combined. Worst of all, Cruise ships emit huge volumes of particulates which are much more damaging to lungs.

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