Thoughts on that article about 16 ships and their pollutionBy james tweed • 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…