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GENEVA: MSC Group cruise subsidiary Explora Journeys has ordered two auxilary hydrogen-powered ships from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. The deal completes a total investment of €3.5 billion for six vessels delivered by 2028.

The two ships will also be capable of using alternative fuels such as bio- and synthetic gas and methanol as well as carbon capture technology to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent.

The use of liquid hydrogen fuel cells will power passenger accommodation to eliminate carbon emissions when the vessels’ main engines are switched off in port.

The company says the ships will also feature a new generation of fossil gas (LNG) -powered engines that will tackle the issue of methane slip with “containment systems”. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, over 80 times more climate warming than CO2.

A report published in June 2023 concluded MSC was the most polluting cruise ship operator in Europe in 2022 with its vessels emitting nearly as much sulphur as 291 million cars.

MSC has been investing in fossil gas (LNG) as an alternative to conventional marine fuels to power its cruise and container fleets. Although these ships cause less air (CO2) pollution, they are more damaging than fuel oils due to methane slip from their four-stroke engines.

According to the study, the level of methane from LNG-powered vessels would remain unchanged even with the use of renewable bio-methane (bio-LNG) or e-methane (e-LNG), both of which are compatible with existing LNG engines.

So even if LNG vessels use renewable fuels, the methane by-product of LNG will continue to have a negative impact on a warming planet.

Barcelona was Europe’s most polluted port last year from cruise ship emissions followed by Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome, and the port of Piraeus. Hamburg rose from 17th most polluted in 2019 to sixth in 2022 as the cruise industry recovered from Covid-19.

On the other hand Venice, Europe’s most polluted cruise destination in 2019, fell to 41st place in 2022 following a ban on large cruise ships entering the port.

The study’s recommendations to operators for remedial action include:

• Establish more stringent decarbonisation requirements on cruise ships that call at European ports.
• Extend the zero-emission berth mandate for cruise ships to cover stay at anchorage.
• Implement zero-emission operational corridors for the most popular cruise ships trajectories in European waters.
• Extend the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) to the rest of all EU and UK waters.
• Develop NOX operational standards for ships at the EU level.
• Ban the use of scrubbers, especially open-loop ones, in all European waters.
• Cruise companies should discontinue investing in LNG-powered vessels and prioritise zero emission technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and wind-power.
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