Report claims that regulation of air emissions from ships is virtually nonexistent today in the developing world.

Companies claiming social responsibility might wish to consider how their ocean shipping needs are being met. According to a new report from the respected New York City based Natural Resources Defense Council,  an estimated 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 were caused by ambient air pollution, and shipping is a significant source of these air pollution and health problems.

Although the focus of the report is China, it also addresses international and developing country problems associated with emissions from ocean going ships. According to the report:

  • China is home to seven of the world’s ten busiest container ports. About 26 percent of the world’s containers pass through the top ten Chinese ports every year.
  • a medium- to large-size container ship running at 70% maximum power for one day using bunker fuel with 35,000 ppm (3.5%) sulfur emits as much soot (PM2.5) as the average of half a million new trucks in China during that same day.
  • shipping emissions are essentially unregulated in China and in many other developing countries.
  • soot from diesel or bunker fuel combustion contains black carbon, a short-lived pollutant that is accelerating glacial and polar ice melting, exacerbating climate change. NOx and SOx emissions from diesel engines also cause acidification, eutrophication, and nutrient enrichment of ecosystems, contributing to ocean acidification.
  • the soot in diesel exhaust has been designated as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s cancer research institute. Diesel PM is especially toxic due to the very small size of the soot particles, and because these particles contain roughly 40 different toxic air contaminants, 15 of which are recognized carcinogens. One particularly toxic class of chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), can be adsorbed onto fine PM and travel for long distances (as far as 10,000 km).
  • one of the most common measures to reduce air pollution from vessel exhaust is to switch from bunker fuel to a
    fuel that contains a much lower percentage of sulfur. Both California and the EU have imposed the strictest at-berth
    fuel switch requirements, mandating that ocean going vessels use fuel with maximum sulfur content of 1,000 ppm (0.1%) while at dock. The fuel switching regulation in California is even more stringent, extending to 24 nautical miles from the California shore. Within the four existing Emission Control Areas, all ocean going vessels now have to use fuel with a maximum 10,000 ppm (1%) sulfur content; the limit will be lowered to 1,000 ppm (0.1%) in January 2015. In 2011 the Port of Singapore, the world’s busiest container port, introduced a voluntary Green Port Programme offering a 25% reduction in port dues for OGVs that used approved abatement/scrubber technology or burned clean fuels (with no more than 1,000 ppm sulfur) both at berth and within Singapore waters.

It seems to GallonDaily that companies that contract for ocean transportation of large quantities of goods might have a very positive influence on this problem if they were to specify more environmentally responsible behaviour by the ocean shippers which carry their goods.

Much more detail on the problem can be found at, where there is also a link to the full 43 page report with an analysis of technical and regulatory measures which can dramatically reduce pollution from ships. Our sister publication, Gallon Environment Letter, covered the topic of pollution from ships in volume 9, number 2 dated January 22nd 2004.

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