Strangford: Ferry fumes 'a risk to health' of staff and passengers

  • Published
Strangford II ferry
Image caption,
Staff said they reported dizziness, headaches and chest conditions after being exposed to ferry fumes

Ferry workers on Strangford Lough say they are worried about the health of people onboard due to fears over exhaust fumes.

Some staff on the MV Strangford II said they repeatedly reported dizziness, headaches and chest conditions.

Concerns have been raised since the vessel came into service in 2017.

The Department for Infrastructure said while the emissions were within "acceptable limits" it would install diesel particulate filters.

"These are designed to reduce the amount of diesel particulates emitted and further improve the air quality, not only for the crew and passengers but also in the surrounding environment," a spokesperson added.

Workers on the ferry, which runs between Portaferry and Strangford, have called for an independent risk assessment to address their concerns.

The service transports commuters, schoolchildren, tourists and freight.

Trade union Unite said the pledge to install diesel particulate filters was "too little, far too late".

Ferry staff said the engine and generator exhaust pipes on the MV Strangford II - one of two ferries operating on Strangford Lough - released noxious fumes at water level.

In adverse conditions fumes can congregate on deck and in workplaces, they added.

'Major concern'

Joanne McWilliams, regional officer for Unite, said the "disappointing response has only raised frustration among the workers who have to work with these fumes day after day".

"Our members are not at all happy about what they feel is a potential risk to young people."

She said the union wrote to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to arrange a meeting to raise concerns but to date, no meeting had been arranged.

She added that the "stopgap measure" of installing a diesel particulate filter on the vessel had first been promised in May 2020.

Image caption,
Staff requested an exhaust stack is installed similar to that on the Portaferry II, which releases fumes high up

Workers suggested the electrification of the ferry would be a "long-term solution and an environmental necessity in the context of the 'code red' climate crisis".

A Department for Infrastructure spokesman said: "The MV Strangford II is a modern ferry which is subject to regular inspection and safety certification.

"The department takes the welfare of both staff and passengers very seriously, so in response to concerns about exhaust fumes the department employed an independent environmental specialist to undertake air quality and personal exposure monitoring.

"These tests found the air quality on board the MV Strangford II to be within the permissible workplace limits, and to provide reassurance, the environmental specialist presented their findings to the crews.

"While the emissions are within acceptable limits the Department is taking additional steps to further improve air quality by installing diesel particulate filters.

"These are designed to reduce the amount of diesel particulates emitted and further improve the air quality, not only for the crew and passengers but also in the surrounding environment.

"It is not proposed to install exhaust stacks as this would merely move the point of discharge rather than reducing the emissions.

"The minister has made funding available from her Blue Green Fund for this work, and a contract has been awarded to a specialist contractor who is currently manufacturing the units for installation in early 2022.

"A further assessment of air quality on board will be undertaken after the diesel particulate filters are installed to ensure they are effective.

"The department is also currently considering options for a transition to a low carbon ferry service, and electrification of the ferries along with other potential technologies are being investigated."