The sustainable agenda of European cruise ports

29 Mar 2017
Isabelle Ryckbost

Isabelle Ryckbost

At the end of February, Brussels was the place to be for the European maritime sector. The maritime beau monde gathered in Europe’s capital for the second edition of the European Shipping Week, writes Isabelle Ryckbost, secretary general, ESPO.

ESPO actively participated in an interesting workshop organised by the cruise line organisation, CLIA, and hosted by the Maltese Presidency. The cruise lines very rightly showed how the cruise industry is doing well, despite the geopolitical situation. They summarised the challenges for the sector in four “C’s”: Conversion, Congestion, Conservation and Collaboration.

But what about ports? Until three years ago, the voice of the cruise ports in Brussels was dispersed over different organisations. In 2014, ESPO together with five regional cruise port organisations, Cruise Baltic, Cruise Britain, Cruise Europe, Cruise Norway and MedCruise created the Cruise and Ferry Port Network with the aim to better represent the interests of the ports in the cruise business. It is in that capacity that ESPO participated in this workshop.

It is clear that a growing business has to overcome certain challenges to remain sustainable. The challenges that European ports have identified in the ESPO code of good practices for Cruise and Ferry ports are fivefold - the port-city relationship, infrastructure, cooperation, relation with the cruise and ferry lines and security. On each of these issues, we have seen that there is a coalition of the willing to go beyond compliance, to exceed what has to be done. And in many cases, port authorities are in the lead, or at least actively involved in finding proactive solutions to make the cruise activities in and around the port more sustainable.

Looking at the sustainable policy agenda of the European cruise ports, there are two important topics at the moment. The first is to adapt the ports and the port facilities to the use of alternative fuels by the shipping sector. Ports need – as far as the TEN-T core ports concerns by 2025 - to have adequate LNG refueling facilities and on shore power installations. Other alternative solutions, such as the installation of scrubbers, will lead to new forms of waste to be managed in the ports.

Ports very much welcome the efforts the shipping sector is making to move towards low sulphur fuels and to decarbonise and will do their utmost to support these developments. But if ports really want to accelerate this process, they will have to find the means to do so. And that is where EU funding can help. We hope that the upcoming funding calls will open up more possibilities for financing of infrastructure in ports linked to the taking up of alternative fuels. 

The second important topic is the review of the waste reception facilities directive. We have now fifteen years of experience with this legislative framework and I believe we can say that this policy has delivered. The combination of the polluters pays principle with the incentives created through a fee system whereby ships are paying a contribution irrespective of whether they deliver waste or not, has led to an important decrease of waste discharges at sea. But we are not there yet and new challenges are coming up.

The Commission is therefore preparing a review. At ESPO we support this review if it means clarifying definitions, updating, but not, if it means changing the current principles, the basics.

The review may not ignore the diversity of European ports. I think that we must keep in mind the principle of “adequacy” when assessing the current rules. Ports need to have the installations that are fit for the purpose they serve. This implies a constant dialogue between ports and cruise lines, if possible some long-term engagement, giving ports the incentive to make their facilities adequate.  Moreover, one should not overestimate the role of the port authority. Many of the concerns with the current directive, do not fall within the competence of the port authority.

The problem often lies upstream, with the national and local waste legislation and/or management system. Finally, we need to carefully reflect on how to adapt to new forms of waste, to new international frameworks: the upcoming obligations on sewage in the Baltic or the scrubber waste to name some.

Waste from ships is the sixth most important environmental challenge for European ports. Sure it would be even higher if we looked at Europe’s cruise ports only. The review of the waste reception facilities directive will be a priority for ESPO and certainly for our cruise ports. We are looking forward to work together with all stakeholders on this review with the aim of limiting the discharges at sea even further.

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