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Environmental activists in Lochaber are clamouring for action to tackle the pollution caused by cruise liners of the sort which regularly visit Fort William and the West Coast throughout the summer.
The very idea of going on a cruise is rich with echoes from a simpler, less frenetic era, and the gigantic ships can bring lucrative trade to local shops and businesses.
But in these days of climate and ecological crisis, the wider environmental impact of large liners, such as the MV Deutschland which moored in Loch Linnhe last week, is coming under closer scrutiny.
These ships typically use heavy fuel oil in their engines, producing exhaust fumes which are, per passenger mile, considerably worse than those from long-haul flights.
What’s more, even a modest-sized ship will generate, and can discharge en route, more than 4,000 gallons of sewage daily from around 500 passengers and several hundred crew, as well as grey water and contaminated ballast water.
A spokesperson for the local branch of the Extinction Rebellion climate activist group (XR) told us: ‘Boats have been an integral part of life in Lochaber for generations, and whether or not the environmental impact of cruise ships visiting Fort William is a price worth paying for the commercial advantages to Lochaber is a decision first and foremost for the people of Lochaber.
‘But, as with so much that we’ve all been taking for granted for a long time, what is now critically important is that the bigger environmental picture should be understood while making such decisions.’
And the Fort William branch of Greenpeace echoed those concerns.
‘The MV Deutschland was in town and its engines kept running all day,’ said the group.
‘Cruise ships keep their engines running while in port to maintain electrical supply to all the onboard services, whether heating, heated swimming pools, casinos – anything that requires power.
‘Walking along the shorefront you could really smell the pollution as the wind was blowing it all to shore. Even though the boat seemed far away, its pollution footprint reached town, and it’s very bad for your lungs.
‘Cruise ships are an important part of the local economy, but they shouldn’t get a free pass to pollute. Maybe priority could be given to clean cruise liners that take air pollution seriously. That way we get the tourism boost without the unwanted baggage of pollution.’
Asked for her thoughts, Sarah Kennedy, secretary of Fort William Marina and Shoreline Company, which organises official welcomes for cruise liner passengers and crews to the town, concedes it is an emotive subject.
‘However anyone travels to Fort William, it will have an impact on the environment. Even yachts have engines on them so they can get about if there’s no wind,’ she told us.
‘Some of the cruise ships that have visited recently have been hybrids – diesel and battery. The industry is heavily regulated and controlled with marine law regarding the environment.
‘The cruise ships coming to Fort William often have to keep an engine running so they can make sure she is stable in the loch and can manoeuvre quickly should the weather change.
‘There are strict regulations about the emissions and anything being discharged from the ship.
‘We need to make more use of the loch to reduce the traffic congestion on the A82 and if we can expand the facilities we currently provide with the small marina and ultimately an alongside berth with minimal impact on the environment, then surely this would be even more beneficial to Fort William and Lochaber.’