Cruise ships in the backyard

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In Malta, residents of a historic town are fighting emissions from a neighboring shipyard. At the center of their struggle: the world’s largest shipping company.

14.10.23, REFLEKT (Switzerland): Kampf gegen die Kolosse
14.10.23, Das Magazin (Switzerland): «Als würde ein Lastwagen mit laufendem Motor im Wohnzimmer parkieren»
14.10.23, Lovin Malta (Malta): Malta’s Grand Harbour Region Leads Mater Dei’s Asthma Diagnoses
14.10.23, Lovin Malta (Malta): Here’s What Authorities Had To Say About The Grand Harbour’s Deteriorating Air Quality


  1. Since 2020, Swiss shipping giant MSC owns 50 percent of the Palumbo shipyard in Malta. Just a few meters from a residential district, it maintains and repairs its huge cruise ships.
  2. Since there is no shore-to-ship electricity, they have to leave their engines running in the shipyard – sometimes for days. Local residents report massive air and noise pollution and fear for their health.
  3. Our investigation shows that since MSC’s arrival, pollution from cruise ships has increased massively.
  4. The monitoring station, which should measure air pollution, is wrongly placed and breaks down exceptionally often.
  5. Exclusive data shows: Significantly more asthma cases are diagnosed in the district where the shipyard is located than outside.

In the tiny EU member state Malta lies the crown jewel of a seafaring nation: the Grand Harbour, a bustling port steeped in history. A shipyard located in the harbour’s historic towns is cause for concern for many of the residents who live there. The shipyard, jointly owned by Palumbo Shipyard and MSC Cruises, carries out industrial activity in an area which is just metres away from people’s homes.

Collective pleas for stricter regulations and enforcement have largely fallen on deaf ears. Information about the extent of the problem is scarce because there is no comprehensive analysis of the shipyard’s impact on people’s health and the environment. Complaints have intensified since MSC Cruises, a subsidiary of Swiss shipping giant MSC, began servicing its cruise ships in the shipyard.

What’s the health impact of the cruise ships? And what role does the Swiss shipping giant MSC play in this? To find out, we spoke with residents, consulted experts, analyzed ship movements and obtained previously unpublished statistics. In our cross-border investigation, we show how pollution from cruise ships has increased, what health impacts the shipyard has on residents, and why official measurements of air pollution are insufficient.

Parts of the investigation are published by REFLEKT (Switzerland), Das Magazin (Switzerland) and Lovin Malta (Malta).

This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund Europe and the Active citizens fund.

Some of the datasets on which our publication is based can be downloaded below.

Julian Delia

Investigation & Text

Joanna Demarco

Investigation & Photography

Christian Zeier

Investigation & Text

Valentin Felber

Multimedia Production

Florian Spring

Art Direction

Stirling Tschan