China Cracks down on Maritime Emissions

Posted by PortVision

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“Enough is enough,” seems to be the underlying message in the set of regulations China has finally put in place to curb the pollution coming from the thousands of ships that frequent its ports.

China is home to seven of the world’s ten busiest ports, with more than 25% of the planet’s cargo passing through them.  According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), all that maritime traffic has had a measurably negative impact on the environment and on the health of people, especially those living in heavily populated coastal cities such as Gaungzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

The link between cardiovascular diseases — heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer — and exposure to pollutants has been well documented. In 2013, an estimated 18,000 premature deaths in China were attributed to pollutants.

How much of the noxious stuff from maritime vessels — sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter — has been making its way into the air?  An awful lot, according to the NRDC report: “With ocean-going ships allowed to burn fuel with sulfur levels that are 100 to 3,500 times higher than permitted in on-road diesel, one container ship cruising along the coast of China emits as much diesel pollution as 500,000 new Chinese trucks in a single day.”

Regulatory agencies to the rescue

Across the globe, the International Maritime Organization oversees the environmental regulations for ships. The IMO’s efforts to cut maritime pollution have, for the most part, worked in America and Europe, where the agency has implemented special emissions control zones, which use low-sulfur marine fuels as standard. China, however, had remained relatively unaffected by those regulations.

But now that the regional impact of pollution from ships has been clearly documented by scientists and researchers, that country’s Ministry of Transport has developed an ambitious plan aimed at reducing harmful emissions by 65% by the year 2020. In addition to outlining that goal, the plan includes steps to achieve it.

China’s pollution solutions

Policies introduced in 2016 by China’s Ministry of Transport focus on providing pollution-control of ships and control of emissions at the country’s major ports. They include:

  • Setting up domestic-emission control areas (DECAs) where ships would be required to use marine fuel limited to a sulfur content of no more than 5,000 parts per million through 2019, with even stricter limits to the parts-per-million after 2020.
  • Subsidizing berths equipped with cleaner power, so ships can shut off their dirty engines and instead tap into a land-based energy-source, like electricity.
  • Welcoming more vessels fueled by lighter, cleaner Liquid Natural Gas, rather than by heavy fuel oil. And to that end, increasing the number of LGN facilities at port terminals.
  • Providing a direct connection from ships to railroads — thereby decreasing the need for trucks to transport cargo inland. Decreasing, too, the pollution trucks cause.

What it will take to succeed

Whether these new policies and regulations succeed at improving the quality of the air and the lives of those who breathe it depends to a large extent on enforcement. And China now appears determined to do exactly that. It has ramped up its enforcement capacity and its ability to carry out different kinds of inspections — everything from officials with clipboards to surveillance via drones — to verify compliance. But success also requires buy-in from ports and city authorities, along with their willingness to accept and work with the program’s goals, penalties and incentives.  

“Unless port cities cooperate on regional emission control measures, the fear that ships will shift to less regulated ports could prevent port cities from adopting stricter measures,” says the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.  But goal of the regulations and their enforcement remains a worthy one: to bring about significant air-quality improvement to China’s coastal areas and throughout the country.


PortVision has been involved in a number of emissions reduction initiatives over the last decade with a number of companies such as: the Port of San Diego, Port of LA, Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, and the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association. To learn more about how PortVision's AIS data can help reduce vessel emissions, please call us at 713-337-3737.

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Posted on Nov 15, 2017, 6:07:00 AM

Topics: Maritime, Emissions, Vessel