Ferry firms need more time to clean up their act

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We’ve all noticed it. The filthy black smoke kicked out by funnels on cross-Channel ferries, cruise liners, container ships, oil tankers and even tugs.

Stand on Portsdown Hill as a Brittany Ferries vessel is preparing to sail and you cannot fail to see the dark belches drifting into the atmosphere.

It looks foul and leaves a brown haze across the port and the Solent’s shipping lanes.

As ships get bigger the lung-clogging sulphur pollution is getting worse.

Unlike power stations or cars, giant container ships can burn the cheapest, filthiest, high-sulphur fuel. The stuff nobody on land is allowed to use.

That is why as long ago as 1999 the European Commission began to get alarmed. It concluded that sulphur emissions from shipping would exceed those from all land-based sources in the EU by 2020.

And so it moved to bring in new regulations – the Sulphur Directive – from January 1, 2015. That was in 2012.

There is an argument that this afforded companies such as Brittany Ferries plenty of time to clean up their act.

As we report on page 14 today, the company promised earlier this year to spend £320m putting in gas filters on three ships and converting three of its newer vessels to work on liquefied natural gas which is less polluting than heavy oil. It has now gone back on its word because, simply, it says it’s too expensive.

This has upset the green lobby, namely Friends of the Earth and its Hampshire co-ordinator Ray Cobbett.

‘Everybody else is doing their bit. Emissions are being reduced in cars and buses. Why can’t ferries play their part too?’ he asks.

What the Sulphur Directive did not take into account was the recession. Forcing cross-Channel ferry companies to spend tens of millions now, which would send prices soaring and passenger numbers plummeting, would not only see Portsmouth people thrown out of work, but might also end Brittany’s involvement in the city.

That is a price too high to pay at the moment.

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