The February 18, 2016 issue of Nature featured an article on the human and environmental costs of shipping. A litany of facts about the pollution inherent in global shipping is included: low-grade marine fuel has 3,500 times more sulfur than road diesel, one-third of the airborne pollutants in Hong Kong are derived from large ships when in port, and scrapping obsolete ships pollutes both the sea and the soil. The article also calls out the shipping industry for expanding harbors to accommodate mega ships and destroying coastal ecosystems at the same time. The January 15, 2016 issue of Science included a cautionary article about the environmental devastation sure to follow if Nicaragua's plans for a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific comes to pass.
Congestion and pollution in ports has increased, in part due to larger cargo ships which require massive use of trucks and trains to transport goods inland. Dredging to accommodate these vessels disrupts environments
Not every scientific article is negative about the environmental affect of ships, but the subject is definitely gaining exposure. The future may demand green shipping – marine transport with minimal effect on the environment.
Two dilemmas face the shipping industry: (1) shipping is an energy efficient method to transport cargo over long distances, and (2) any solution would need to be applied globally. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a regulator of international shipping, has made some inroads into these problems. Ocean release of oils, sewage and other harmful substances have been restricted since the 1980s; air pollution limits for shipping, adopted in 1997, became effective in 2005.
Now, the IMO is turning its sights to energy efficiency. A 2013 plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions has been put into effect and currently the organization has set up four emission-control areas: the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Caribbean, and the coastal areas of Canada and the US. In these regions ships are required to minimize their emissions. However, the world's largest ports are not included: Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Busan, for example.
Green shipping will involve three major changes in business as usual:
Follow strict ship scrapping guidelines
The IMO adopted guidelines in 2009 at the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, but currently only Norway, Congo and France have agreed to follow them. The majority of ship scrapping occurs in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Emissions regulations acceptance
A cleaner worldwide standard for sulfur would make a difference; it is possible to cut 97% of the pollution from marine fuel by reducing the sulfur content of fuel. Fuel costs are going down, so this is within reach. Alternatively, scrubbers could clean exhausts to remove the sulfur. But, they can cost as much as $2 million for one vessel. More strict emission standards could increase the demand for scrubbers and, perhaps, drive that cost down.
Port management improvement
With awareness of the problem, port management could move to take environmental concerns into account when planning projects.
Movement within the shipping industry has already begun. In November, the United Arab Shipping Company won the “Green Shipping” award at the Maritime Standards Awards. Their eco-friendly container ship, the M.V. Barzan, capable of carrying 18,800 TEUs, transited the Suez Canal in January with 60% fewer emissions than the 13,500 TEU vessels delivered only three years ago, as reported in Marine Log. The UASC has contracted for another 10 new vessels characterized as “green.”
One aspect of the Dubai Green Initiative involves outfitting tugs with the ability to operate with both MDO and LNG fuel. LNG fuel reduces NOx by 85% and CO2 by 25%.
Maritime Executive reported in October that the European Union has a goal of reducing emissions by over 40% in 2030. Norway recently launched the Green Coastal Shipping Program with an aim to produce the most environmentally-friendly vessels in the world. They intend to employ LNG and batteries as energy sources for a fleet of offshore vessels including tankers, cargo, container, bulk, passenger ships, tugs, etc. Pilot projects are now underway.
The Port of San Diego uses PortVision to automate the reporting of maximum vessel speeds for vessels transiting from 20 nm to the sea buoy. The Vessel Speed Reduction program is a voluntary program designed to recognize those operators who reduce emissions by slowing to 12 knots when transiting near the Port. For more details on the VSR program, click here.