Local Health Board Asks Again for Akureyri to Monitor Cruise Emissions Skip to content
Photo: Luc Coekaerts, CC 1.0.

Local Health Board Asks Again for Akureyri to Monitor Cruise Emissions

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland has reissued its request that the Town of Akureyri invest in a device that would monitor cruise ship emissions in the area, RÚV reports. Opinions are divided as to how polluted cruise ship emissions are, but hazy white smoke is often visible hanging over the town when ships are berthed in the harbour.

Almost 200,000 tourists travelling on 200 cruise ships will visit Akureyri this summer. There is usually more than one ship in port at the same time and in certain weather conditions, a white haze can be observed hanging over the town. On a windless day, like Friday, exhaust from the cruise ships in Akureyri’s harbour is easily visible.

Pétur Ólafsson, Akureyri’s harbour master, says he isn’t concerned about the emissions. “Many of the ships that come to Iceland now have really excellent cleaning equipment, called scrubbers, which clean their exhaust by around 98% so it’s often just steam coming out. People understandably think it’s all pollution, but it isn’t.”

While he admitted he hadn’t chemically analysed the haze that was hanging over Akureyri on Friday, Pétur noted that the ships in the harbour on Friday “use legal fuel” and no heavy fuel oil.

Scrubbers help, but they also create their own pollutants

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a widely used but controversial fuel for large vessels. It’s comparatively inexpensive, but has a thick, viscous consistency, has a high sulphur concentration, and is incredibly difficult to clean up in the event of a spill, as evidenced by the 2020 incident in which a Japanese freight carrier started leaking HFO into the Indian Ocean around the coral reefs of Mauritius.

As of that same year, Iceland issued a number of restrictions on marine fuels, including limiting the sulphur content in marine fuels used in Iceland and within the pollution jurisdiction of Iceland to .5% and mandating that vessels at berth in ports “shall use shore electricity instead of marine fuels as possible.” In the event that shoreline electricity cannot be used, “vessels in ports in Iceland shall not use marine fuels with a sulphur content exceeding 0.1% (m/m).”

But even if the cruise ships aren’t using HFO and are using scrubbers, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any risk of pollutants and emissions. According to a statement on the subject of scrubbers issued by HFO-Free Arctic in 2019: “Using a scrubber to extract the sulphur from a ship’s exhaust results in the production of scrubber effluent or waste which will need to be disposed of. Most scrubbers are “open loop” which means the waste produced, which can be high in sulphur and also other pollutants such as heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, can be dumped straight into the sea. There are also concerns that if a scrubber malfunctions in cold temperatures or due to ice, ships will continue to burn HFO and will emit high levels of Sulphur.”

First request for pollution to be monitored issued in 2019

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland first requested that Akureyri purchase a device that could monitor pollution from cruise ship emissions in 2019. The request was turned down. Alfreð Schiöth, the managing director of the Health Board noted that ports in Faxaflói, the bay that extends between the peninsulas of Reykjanes in the south and Snæfellsnes in the west and also includes Reykjavík and the West Iceland town of Akranes.

“The ports along Faxaflói taking doing really precise measurements at present and we’ll be watching them closely because those are the same ships that are coming [north].”


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