In Marseille, unwanted cruise ships

“Marseille is suffocating.» It is with these words, created strong, that Benoît Payan, mayor of Marseille (Printemps marseillais), introduced a video to call for signing the petition he sent on July 19th. Its main objective? “Prohibit cruise ships from calling at Marseille on pollution days. »

Within days, the petition garnered 46,000 signatures. “We see it with climate change, what we thought was temporary will set in. Combining pollution peaks and increasingly frequent heat wave peaks makes the situation explosive. This petition aims to influence the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the French government and those of other Mediterranean countries to ensure that this sea does not become a garbage can,” explains Benoît Payan to The cross. For him, the largest cruising units, these “floating cities that discharge here as much pollution as a million cars”, must no longer dock during the very regular pollution peaks experienced by the city in summer.

Creation of an emission control area

The mayor and his majority – whose fight against air pollution generated by the “mega-ships” that park in the state-owned port is a campaign promise – are calling for tougher rules on sulfur emissions and nitrogen oxide. And the rapid creation of a so-called ECA control zone (from the English Emission control area), initial promise for 2022, which is struggling to see the light of day.

Benoît Payan raised the issue with Clément Beaune, the Minister of Transport, during his visit to Marseille last Thursday. “This is not an appeal against cruises, but against the most polluting boats, those which use fossil fuel when maneuvering in port or in the harbor and have a health impact on the population”assures Hervé Menchon, deputy mayor in charge of marine biodiversity.

After the Covid-19 parenthesis, this year Marseille has regained a level of reception of cruise passengers comparable to that of 2018, with 530 stopovers and nearly 1.5 million passengers. In fact, confirms Dominique Robin, general manager of AtmoSud, air quality observatory in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, atmospheric pollution linked to maritime activity is not neutral: “For nitrogen oxides – they come from combustion, it is the plume that we see coming out of chimneys – the contribution of ship emissions is 38% in Marseille, compared to 47% for road traffic. . » Of this 38%, the share of cruise liners accounts for 20%, and it is growing.

A “Zero smoke stops” plan

The port area, for its part, has little taste for municipal initiative. A letter dated July 28, translated to the mayor and signed, among others, by Hervé Martel, chairman of the management board of the Grand Port maritime de Marseille Fos and Jean-François Suhas, chairman of the Marseille Provence cruise club, is irritated that “This petition suggests that maritime transport players are not taking their responsibilities on this subject, which is so crucial for the sustainability of our territory”.

He recalls the efforts already undertaken via electrical connections at the quay, the region’s “Escales zero smoke” plan (in which the city has just announced a contribution of 10 million euros) and outlines the upcoming schedule: “All ferries to the Maghreb should be connected by 2023, and cruise ships by 2025.” The mayor replies that, far from wanting “kill the economy” its approach aims to speed up the agenda, to protect this working tool which is also the Mediterranean.

Marseille is not the only city in the Mediterranean where the presence of these giants of the seas is controversial. A year ago, on August 1, 2021, Venice banned the largest units from its historic center due to the erosion of its foundations and the air pollution produced.

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