Shipping Industry Under Pressure to Reduce Air Emissions

Shipping Industry Under Pressure to Reduce Air Emissions

As shipping nations consider new air pollution standards for ships, environmental, and public health organizations are calling for 70% to 90% reductions in ship smokestack emissions to reduce premature death, cancers and respiratory ailments suffered by people living and working near ports. The groups contend that current regulations, adopted in 1997, are outdated and completely inadequate. New regulations, once finalized, will likely not be effective for several years.

Responding to pressure from environmental groups and governments, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has begun a process to revise international standards on ship emissions and marine fuel quality, and to consider regulating harmful particulate matter produced by ship engines for the first time. Limits on existing engines are also being considered.

A delegation of international, EU and U.S. organizations, formally represented at the IMO by Friends of the Earth International, are pressuring the shipping industry to immediately switch to cleaner fuels, turn off dirty diesel engines so ships can plug into shoreside power while docked, and put air pollution controls on both new and existing ship engines that will drastically reduce smog-forming emissions and soot from diesel ship exhaust. "Urgent action is needed to protect public health and the environment from the toxic air pollutants emitted by ship smokestacks around the world," said Teri Shore, Clean Vessels campaign director for Bluewater Network -- a division of Friends of the Earth - U.S. "We hope that the IMO will now lead the way to stronger air standards instead of putting shipping profits first."

David Marshall, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, stated, "IMO's new attention to air pollution standards reflects a recognition that shipping emissions are substantial and growing, that individual governments at various levels are beginning to take action on their own to reduce air pollution from ships, and that this pollution can be reduced substantially by feasible control techniques currently available."

According to Eelco Leemans, coordinator of FOEI's Maritime Campaign, the need for a strong revision of Annex VI is recognized by many, not just NGO's. "We feel that the time is ripe for the maritime industry to come up with real solutions to counter the impacts of shipping."

Ships are estimated to generate almost 30% of the world's smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions and nearly 10% of sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain and deadly fine particles. One ship entering port generates the air pollution of 350,000 cars in one hour. Shipping trade is expected to triple in the next two decades. People living near ports experience higher levels of cancer, asthma and respiratory illness.

Based on current technology and cleaner fuel supplies, the organizations urged the IMO to require:
  • Reductions of 70% to 90% for smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions
  • Reductions of 70% to 80% of sulfur oxide emissions
  • Reduced sulfur content in bunker fuels to 1.5% or less at sea; and .5% or less in coastal zones and ports
  • International mandatory quality standards for marine fuel
  • International standardization for electrification of ships and ports so vessels can turn off engines and plug into shoreside power when docked
  • Prohibition on-board incineration in coastal waters
  • Adopt a Port Community Bill of Rights to protect public health as ports and shipping trade expands
The IMO plans to adopt final regulations by next year.