Polluting Vessels Use The Dirtiest Fuels With Emissions From One Container Ship Equivalent To 50 Million Cars

Are officials letting a bigger problem sail past them...

Diesel cars are rapidly becoming the demons of the road, targeted with surcharges and scrappage schemes and blamed for air pollution that contributes to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease.

But are officials letting a bigger problem sail past them while they focus on drivers?

For years the shipping industry has gone largely unchecked when it comes to fuel emissions.

Yet analysts warn the maritime industry, that includes vessels such as cruise ships or shipping containers delivering our iPhones or consumer goods, use bottom of the barrel-style fuel and emit dangerous levels of sulphur oxides.

These are also contributing to air pollution and could be as much, if not more, of a factor in creating the chemicals in the atmosphere that medical experts warn can cause cancer, asthma and other issues.

There have been various studies in recent years pointing to the health dangers from sulphur and shipping.

In 2009, a study by the Danish government’s environmental agency found the chemicals in emissions from one container ship are equivalent to 50 million cars.

More recently in 2012, NABU, a German non-governmental organisation dedicated to conservation at home and abroad, found one 7500kg cruise ship emits as much sulphur dioxide as 376 million cars.

There are attempts to reduce shipping emissions, led by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation.

Ships must currently cap sulphur content in their emissions at 3.5 per cent, and this is being cut to 0.5 per cent after 2020.

Vessels sailing in emissions control areas - around the Baltic Sea area; the North Sea area; the United States coast, Canada coast, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands – already have a lower 0.10 per cent cap on sulphur content.

Outside of this zone, ships will need to cap sulphur content to 3.5 per cent.

The trouble is, there is no single authority that polices international waters and no standardised detection methods.

There are also disparities about who enforces the rules as a ship has a flag state based on where it is registered, and a port state that reflects the jurisdiction it is entering.

Daniel Rieger, transport policy officer for NABU, warns that while cars can become more environmentally friendly by going electric, it is unlikely ships will ever have the capacity to store enough power, so more technological solutions may be needed.

He said: “Ships are using the dirtiest fuels on the market.

“While we have euro 6 standards for vehicles, this isn’t the case for the vessels.

“Ships don't have any exhaust gas aftertreatment systems installed even though stricter standards will come into effect by 2020.

“The requirement to install filters and catalysts like on land is not something that will happen in the next few years as there are so many lobby groups and countries involved.”

So, it’s all very well for the UK to ban new petrol and diesel car sales from 2040, or to have a toxicity charge in London, or surcharges on parking permits for dirtier vehicles in Edinburgh, but what impact will it have if the port you are parked in is even more polluting?

It’s like boasting about being a vegetarian while your neighbour holds a barbecue and hog roast next door. The pig is still going to die, even if you are not the one eating it.

But Rieger says everyone needs to play their part, both on land and sea.

He said: “Both need to be addressed at the same time as the air pollution problem is so massive, especially where both sources occur simultaneously like in port cities and close to the coast line but even in-land.

“Proper hardware solutions like particulate filters and nitrogen catalysts could have helped vehicle manufacturers avoid driving restrictions or complete bans for diesel cars that we are now seeing, but everyone has to address things that they can control.”


Hi. Re the new charges in London and Manchester. for driving into the city with a Diesel car. that cause Toxic fumes. What a great idea. because the fumes are killing people/ Oh mind you if the drivers of said cars pay to drive into London with their toxic fumes/ That's ok is it. What a load of toff. Just another charge for the public. When this charge comes into Manchester and surounding area's. If anybody has the bottle to join me in a demonstration, by blocking all roads into Manchester. let me know on this site. Big T.

What is mentioned in the above article regarding enissions from ships are not entirely correct. I worked on ocean going ships of various tonnages and horse power (up to 40,000 BHP) for 43 years of which 30 years as a Chief Engineer and retired in 2009. Many changes have been brought into the Maritime Industry sine 1990s, Unfourtunately the enforcement of changes are slow due to regional differences around the world and the age of vessels. Same as the motor industry, when changes are brought in, they have to be done gradually due to economic reasons. In certain areas such as US coast and European waters the ships are not allowed to use so called dirty fuel since 2005/2006. The vessels arriving in those restricted areas have to change their fuel from HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) to DO (Diesel Oil) of less than 0.5% sulphure. These fuel changeovers have to be recorded in Engine and Deck logbooks with Date, Time and Location (latitude/longitude) for aurhorities to check and inspect (Port State Control) the validity of the recorded data. If any Master (Captain) or Chief Engineer flout these regulations, the punishment could be £5000.00 personal fine or 5 year prisonment or BOTH. Since 2011, many more regulations have been brought-in by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation, an arm of United Nations to regulate the shipping indudtry) which has increasd the paperwork and the work load. Which inturn has become a stressful environment for people who are working on board ships. The above is only a small snap shot of polution prevention activity under taken by the shipping industry and there are many more rules and regulations that has to be complied by the Shipping Industry to keep our Air and Water clean. More can be provided on request. Constantine.

I wonder if we will once again see cargo ships being sail assisted in order to help reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency... It is a shame cars can't be fitted with a mast and sails to take advantage of some free assistance. Like railway trains lots of ships have enough flat surfaces to be covered in photovoltaic panels - anything to increase efficiency should be done... It shouldn't be an insurmountable engineering problem to produce ship-mounted electricity generating devices to take advantage of wind and wave power that could be incorporated in new builds without increasing the weight, strength or seaworthiness of vessels.