Marseille (AFP) - French prosecutors called for a 100,000-euro fine against a US cruise ship captain and the vessel's owners for having deliberately flouted European air pollution limits.
The company "...wanted to save money at the expense of everyone's lungs, in the context of major air pollution, caused partly by cruise ships," prosecutor Franck Lagier told the court in Marseille. A spot check of The Azura in March found it was burning bunker fuel containing 1.68 percent sulphur, above the 1.5-percent European limit.
The ship's captain, Evans Hoyt, knew perfectly well that the fuel he had filled up with in Barcelona was illegal, said the prosecutor.
Owners Carnival had simply not wanted to respect the law, and they should pay 80,000 euros ($92,000) of the fine, said the prosecutor. Lawyers for Carnival argued that the strictest laws on pollution were reserved for passenger ships using a regular route and so did not apply to the Azura. The court will delivers its verdict on November 26.
The captain, 58-year-old Hoyt, was not in court. According to prosecutors in Marseille, this is the first time a ship's captain has been prosecuted for pollution on France's Mediterranean coast. The Azura, capable of carrying more than 3,000 passengers, is one of the largest in the fleet operated by P&O Cruises, which is owned by Carnival. The Mediterranean port city is grappling with the polluting effect of its drive to increase boat tourism. The city has wrestled with increased smog in recent years, as it seeks to attract more lucrative cruise tourism.
Authorities say shipping could be responsible for 10 to 20 percent of the damaging particulate matter in Marseille's air, which can cause respiratory problems and lung disease. High-sulphur fuel, which is cheaper than cleaner versions, produces sulphur oxides which contribute to acid rain and the acidification of oceans.
- Sulphur in crosshairs -
Environmental campaigners say shipping is particularly harmful in Marseille, with fine particle levels 100 times higher near the city's bustling port than elsewhere in the city. Even when docked; a single ship emits as much pollution as 10,000 to 30,000 cars, according to AirPaca, the regional air pollution monitoring agency. The UN's International Maritime Organization has been lowering the allowed sulphur levels in ships for years, with a new limit of 0.5 percent coming into force in 2020.
But the NGO France Nature Environnement, one of the plaintiffs on the civil side of this case, says the new maximum is still too high.
It cites a 0.1 percent sulphur limit enforced in the Baltic Sea and other designated Sulphur Emission Control Areas, including the North Sea and along coastlines in North America and the Caribbean. Marseille registered 1.55 million cruise ship visitors last year, and officials hope it will surpass the numbers in Venice this year to become the fourth-largest port of call for cruise ships in the Mediterranean.
The city is aiming for two million cruise line tourists in 2020.
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