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Ship emissions an afterthought at Hong Kong cruise terminal

Ship emissions an afterthought at Hong Kong cruise terminal

by Greg Knowler

Mar 06, 2013, 9:54PM EST

It hardly comes as a surprise to learn that curbing ship emissions at Hong Kong’s new cruise terminal is not regarded as a priority by the Tourism Board.

When it comes to infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, environmental concerns are rarely allowed to stand in the way. The grossly wasteful and pointless Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is a case in point, and we do not have the slightest doubt that the airport’s third runway will go ahead regardless of the cost to taxpayers or the cacophony of protest from green groups.

But we were astounded to see a report by local think tank Civic Exchange that warned of significant ship emissions in the six months after the terminal opens. Cruise ships using its two berths will emit 43 tonnes of sulphur, 44 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide and five tonnes of particulate matter.

Okay, in terms of the marine emissions by container ships and the enormous volume of Pearl River delta traffic in Hong Kong waters such as river trade vessels, tankers and pleasure craft, the cruise terminal’s contribution to the total will be relatively minor.

However, the Civic Exchange report goes on to say the emissions from ships using the cruise terminal can be cut by more than 80 percent if the vessels switch to low sulphur fuel while in port, or even plug in to berth-based electrical power while alongside.

That sounds reasonable and a good idea. Our question is why wasn’t that covered in the environmental impact process before the project was given the go ahead? Why is it that only now, three months before the terminal’s two berths are scheduled to open, these emissions-curbing “options” are being mentioned?

Newspapers reported that the cruise industry is “mulling the feasibility” of introducing low sulphur fuel or onshore power. They are understandably concerned over the costs of adopting a low emissions strategy, and in the absence of legislation forcing shipping to use low sulphur fuel while in port, you can bet the cruise operators will do nothing about it.

The cruise terminal was approved by the former administration of Donald Tsang, a disastrous five-year period in the territory’s history that will be remembered for its profligate infrastructure projects plugged into the public purse.

Still, if the current bunch of clowns running Hong Kong had any testicular fortitude they would ram through mandatory regulation that all vessels switch to low sulphur fuel while at berth, regardless of the cost to shipping.

So far about 570 ships have registered for the Fair Winds Charter, a voluntary scheme to use low sulphur fuel to reduce ship emissions while alongside in Hong Kong. But they have warned that if there is no regulation in place by the end of the year, they will go back to burning the dirty stuff.

Voluntary doesn’t work in business, at least not for long when it is costing shipping companies US$1.5 million a year to use the low emission fuel in port. Make it compulsory or laugh it off.

There are signs that the government is paying more than lip service to environmental protection, but it remains to be seen if this administration puts a higher priority on public health than the previous one.

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