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Thoughts on that article about 16 ships and their pollution

By • Nov 26th, 2009 • Category: General, Tankers

Earlier this week Fred Pearce wrote an article entitled ‘How 16 ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world’. You can read his article on the Mail Online

The article was posted online on Saturday 21st November and attracted 138 comments before the Mail closed the comments section on Tuesday 24th. I wonder why the comments board was closed? Does a comment made within the first 24 or 36 hours mean more than one posted several days later? There is a noticeable absence of comments from any maritime organisations on the site, and now that the comments section is closed, nor will there be. If this topic is important and the article is intended to be debated, let people respond: if this topic is simply sensationalism and headline grabbing, then shame on you Daily Mail.
Meantime, in a temporary departure from our normal posting of podcasts, here are some thoughts on the issue, to which we encourage you to leave your comments (whenever you like, we won’t be shutting the comments board)

So how accurate was the article?

Fred Pearce starts off by saying that ‘54 oil tankers are anchored off the coast of Britain, refusing to unload their fuel until prices have risen.‘ This is a total mis-representation as tanker owners do own or control the cargo they carry. It is the charterers (the oil company or trader) who dictates when and where a ship discharges her cargo.

Research by James Corbett of the University of Delaware is quoted in the article, ‘He calculates a worldwide death toll of about 64,000 a year‘ [from ship funnel fumes] and predicts ‘the global figure will rise to 87,000 deaths a year by 2012‘. Having asked around some of the maritime organisations based in London, it is clear that his results are contested. No great surprise there of course, but INTERTANKO (the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners) ask on what basis is this rise? Already from 2010 emission control areas will be limiting the use of heavy fuel in some coastal areas and world trade growth has slowed massively…

The article continues, ‘For decades, the IMO has rebuffed calls to clean up ship pollution… A year ago, the IMO belatedly decided to clean up its act.‘ This just isn’t correct… The IMO started its work on emissions control in 1997 for general emissions and in 2000 for CO2 emissions. MARPOL Annex VI came into force in 2005 and was immediately revised to bring it up to date with evolving technology. The revision comes into force 1/7/2010.

Next up… ‘Every year they are also belching out almost one billion tons of carbon dioxide‘. In order to get any meaning from this statement, it needs to be in context and therefore it is important to note that 1 billion tons of CO2 is less than 3% of total CO2 emissions. Yes this is a big number, but, shipping carries more than 90% of all world trade, providing a global lifeline for consumers. If any other transport mode were used to deliver 90% of the world trade that consumers demands, CO2 emissions would be at least 40 times higher.

Shipping companies are keeping their heads down.‘ Really? Does the author of the article honestly believe that? Many in the industry would point out that shipping companies are extremely fuel and energy conscious and that technical and operational work is being driven forward at the IMO with an energy efficiency index for new ships and energy efficiency management plans for existing ships. For example, here you can find a copy of the INTERTANKO GHG/CO2 emissions policy

For some more information on what is going on from within the industry, we also suggest looking at the Chamber of Shipping emissions paper – to which the Shipping Minister, Paul Clark MP said, ‘I welcome this paper and am delighted to see that the shipping industry is taking this vital issue seriously.’

The article from award winning science writer Fred Pearce appears to be his first to be published by the Mail: he can’t respond to the comments directly on the Mail’s website of course, but he is welcome to do so here…

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  • Alas, it was a heck of a headline, and perhaps a bit sensationalist at times. You nuance some of the figures well. In the end, however, I am of the opinion that shipping has dragged its heels on emissions, and why not? Shippers aren't willing to pay for the planet. They just want to get it there. And shipping has been able to stick to dirty bunker fuels because it's out of sight.

    It's a problem of the commons. It takes collective, regulatory action to change. And because shipping, again, is out of the public eye, and because IMO is riven by 169 competing agendas, it takes a tremendous force to bring about change. I think we see this force in headlines like “16 ships = all the world's cars”. I mean, nobody's happy that shipping can still use those nasty fuels, except the consumer. And nobody can counteract the power of the consumer except regulatory authority. So, I say scream away at IMO.

  • You're right about the out of sight comment: the shipping industry plays a vital role, but essentially does a pretty poor job of telling people how and/or why, and whilst there is lots of work going on (certainly in London) to move towards a 'collective voice', in the meantime, I think that those of us who follow the industry also need to point out when things are being said that are just simply inaccurate.
    So, yes, scream away, but let's make sure that the facts are there as well!

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  • INTERTANKO

    Actually, the IMO did indeed manage to reach agreement more than a year ago on measures to significantly reduce SOx and NOx and particulate matter emissions from ships. The IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 58) in October 2008 adopted a package of amendments to MARPOL Annex VI on air emissions, to seek a long-term and positive reduction of air emissions from ships – measures, which address regional and global concerns on sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, from both new and existing ships, in an integrated manner. For Emission Control Areas, the sulphur content will be 1.50% prior to 1 March 2010, 1.00% on and after 1 March 2010,
    0.10% on and after 1 January 2015. This will effectively mean using cleaner distillate fuels.

  • That's something, true. But I imagine it will take a fair bit more than an article and 138 comments to get to the next major improvement to MARPOL. And if the industry's minders dared to challenge its own members more, maybe it wouldn't require so much shouting in the press….

  • INTERTANKO

    The IMO is already well ahead with the next stage – the adoption of an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships, and the adoption of Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for existing ships. You're dead right that it is not easy to get things agreed by all participating countries at IMO, but it's done a lot quicker than it used to be. As for being challenging, we have spent much time and effort championing the use of distillate fuels instead of heavy fueloil – helping to produce the IMO measures above.

  • Yeah, I see your point. But you know I'm in PR; thereby, facts are just playthings. The important thing is the impression people have. And, wrong or right, I think Fred Pearce struck a nerve with people.

  • Indeed! He was able to strike a nerve with people on this topic because the industry is something of an easy target… I think that it is fantastic that organisations like Intertanko are engaging in this debate now though on an open and public basis. Debate like this will surely improve the quality of information out there, which should have a positive impact on the impression that people have of the industry.

  • Agreed. Even if they use a face-less and name-less avatar, I like that they're getting into it. It's what one would hope for, and perhaps expect. And maybe one day down the road shipping will be the industry everyone points at and says: “They used to be dirtier than you'd believe, and now they set the standard for clean and responsible operations”. It's perhaps a better goal than the zero emissions mantra…

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  • Interesting article…only goes to prove that our fuel/emissions device is worth while and should at least be investigated to test to show we can reduce fuel consumption to 25% on diesel and emissions reduction to 96% as we have already achieved.

  • michaelkusuplos

    Take a grain of truth and then start to spln. This what the artlicle is all about.

    We must remember that the general public has absolutely no idea at all as to how the products that they use daily get to the shelf.

  • Interesting article…only goes to prove that our fuel/emissions device is worth while and should at least be investigated to test to show we can reduce fuel consumption to 25% on diesel and emissions reduction to 96% as we have already achieved.

  • michaelkusuplos

    Take a grain of truth and then start to spln. This what the artlicle is all about.

    We must remember that the general public has absolutely no idea at all as to how the products that they use daily get to the shelf.

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