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‘Zero particulate’ ferry begins sailing between Marseille and Corsica

The boat, which is the first of its kind, has filters designed to capture sulphur oxides and particulates

La Méridionale ferry operator has launched an upgraded ‘zero particulate’ version of one of its ferries, which uses filters to capture pollutants Pic: RVillalon / Shutterstock

French shipping company La Méridionale has unveiled its new “zero particulate” ferry, which is to use a filter capturing air pollutants while sailing between Marseille and Corsica. 

La Méridionale chairman, Marc Reverchon, told reporters on board the Piana ship that: “It’s an unprecedented solution, a world first” and that the boat was “the cleanest in the Mediterranean”. 

The filters installed on the Piana are supposed to capture 99% of sulphur oxides emitted by the engines, along with 99.9% of the particulates created by the heavy fuel oil used on these ships.

It is this type of gas and particulate which causes the vast majority of the air pollution around maritime ports.

They use the same technology as power stations, where sodium bicarbonate is funnelled into the exhaust fumes, reacting with the particles produced in combustion. They are then captured by the air filter. 

“[The ship] will not release anything, not in the water, not in the air,” Méridionale CEO Benoît Dehaye said.

A chemicals supplier called Solvay will then dispose of the residue, and will perhaps be able to recycle it in the future.

La Méridionale’s technical director Christophe Seguinot said: “We didn’t have to look too far. We didn’t invent anything. The challenge for us was to make it suitable for a marine setting.”

Heavy fuel oil is a cheap but highly polluting transportation fuel, which is high in sulphur and can cause both respiratory problems and acid rain.

A €15million bill 

Installing the particulate filters has cost La Méridionale €15million, €4million of which came from the regional council and €1million from the state.

The company has said that this is only the latest stage in a “strategy aiming to limit [its] environmental footprint”, which began in 2016.

Welcomed by environmental groups

Environmental associations have welcomed the new development, with Dominique Lanfranchi of the Sentinella group saying: “This is the proof that an industrial [organisation] can also work for the environment when it wants to. 

“La Méridionale is heading down a virtuous path; we hope that all companies will do the same.” 

He also added, however, that it is difficult to impose environmental standards on ferry and cruise companies, because they are often registered in different countries.

Marseille hosts many cruises and other ships, and over 50,000 people have signed a petition calling for action to be taken over the pollution that they create.

Read more: Marseille mayor in row over giant ‘polluting’ cruise ships

"Let's hope that the big polluters follow the example of La Meridionale," the city’s mayor Benoît Payan tweeted on Monday (September 5).

Other shipping companies also try a technique called ‘scrubbing’, through which water is sprayed into the exhaust fumes, capturing some of the pollutants. 

However, the resulting dirty water is often then released into the sea. 

There have also been experiments with liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is cleaner than heavy fuel oil.

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