France launches first zero-emissions ferry

The French city of Marseille has inaugurated a 'zero-emissions ferry' - hailed as a world first, the ship's innovative filter stands to cut over 99 percent of polluting particles in maritime transport.

France launches first zero-emissions ferry
This photograph taken on September 5, 2022 shows the ferry Piana docked in Marseille harbour. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

Promising to be the ferry of the future, the shipping company La Méridionale’s flagship, the Piana, will emit zero polluting particles during its journey between Marseille and Bastia, on the island of Corsica. 

“It’s an unprecedented solution, a world first,” said Marc Reverchon, the president of the company, to BFMTV.

The device essentially works by neutralising the sulphur and fine particles with sodium bicarbonate and then filtering them out. It has been installed on the four engines of the Piana are set to eliminate 99 percent of sulfur oxides (SO2), as well as 99.9 percent of fine and ultrafine particles, which are among the main air pollutants emitted by ships.

Having cost approximately €16 million, the scheme was supported by France’s Agency for Ecological Transition, as well as the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region, as part of its regional climate plan “Une COP d’Avance.”

The region had already committed €30 million in support of shore side power (electrification of the ships) in 2019 to enhance the air quality of, like port cities Nice, Toulon and Marseille.

Meanwhile, for the city of Marseille specifically, it is ready to invest in bringing the filter from the Piana to other cruise ships. After the boat’s inauguration, Marseille mayor Benoît Payan tweeted that he hopes other “big polluters” will “follow its example.”

While private jets, which are responsible for over half of global aviation emissions, are the current focus of many climate activists’ ire, cruise ships are not far behind.

Cruise ships are known to be huge polluters – a 2019 study by the NGO Transport & Environment found that cruise ships were responsible for more pollution than all of Europe’s automobiles combined, and the city of Marseille knows this intimately.

Black smoke and sulfuric smells from cruise ships and ferries have been part of daily life for Marseille residents for several years.

The city’s mayor, Benoît Payan, even launched a petition against pollution in the Mediterranean caused by the liners. It collected over 44,000 signatures. 

In response to climate concerns, the sector is trying to adapt, and a zero emissions ferry was unveiled in Marseille on Monday. Its fine-particle filtration system will be a global first.

Member comments

  1. It’s got 4 diesel engines. How can it possibly be zero emissions? Is that like saying that because my car has a catalytic converter it’s also ‘zero emission’? A zero emission ferry would use a sail or an electric motor.

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UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

The main union representing French air traffic controllers has cancelled calls for a strike from September 28th to 30th, after "reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry."

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

SNCTA, the main union for air traffic controllers said this week that they had lifted their calls for a three-day strike at the end of September after coming to an agreement with France Ministry of Transport. 

In a statement on its website, the SNCTA said “In view of the concrete progress made on the demands, the SNCTA is lifting its [strike] notice for September 28th, 29th and 30th. The strong mobilisation of September 16th was necessary and instrumental for reaching this conciliation in a very constrained calendar. Thank you to all of you!” 

The French ministry of transport has not yet commented on the above agreement or lifting of the strike.

The International Air Transport Association tweeted their support for the SNCTA’s decision to cancel further industrial action, calling Friday’s strike “unnecessary.”

The association also urged the European Union to implement a “Single European Sky.” This reform, which was put forward almost 20 years ago, has not yet reached fruition. It intends to shift the current system of air traffic organisation away from national borders and toward a “coherent zone” in order to reduce emissions and save both time and money.

The strike on September 16th left over 1,000 flights in France grounded, as well as widespread delays and over 2,400 flight cancellations across Europe. 

The SNCTA mobilised for wage increases due to the rising cost of living, in addition to an acceleration of recruitment in order to anticipate a wave of retirements. After Friday’s action, the union had called for further strikes from September 28th to 30th before reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry.