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Environmental crisis- what is shipping doing?
Korina Koutraki

The problem of environmental pollution, and especially the maritime industry’s role, has been through a lot of consideration lately. Shipping has been accused of doing very little to limit oxides’ emissions and European governments are not believed to take effective action. The most developed of the European countries are thought to have adopted a “lack of urgency” attitude, and the developing economies seem to even block the measures already taken with their actions. But, even though these accusations could be partly true, the matter needs to be examined thoroughly.

As far as European national governments are concerned, up to these days most of them favour the method of emissions trading. This method dictates that each business is apportioned with a “permit to pollute” and is free to sell a potential remaining right to pollute if it does not use its whole permit to other companies. Thus, anti-pollution measures seem to result in profit for the firms. But this method is not always proven coherent. The price of permits can fall so low so as to give a “perverse incentive”. On top of that, shipping is tough to be policed, and without doubt, some companies will cheat. The UK government has therefore stated that “international shipping must not simply be treated with regional emissions regimes but as a separate entity, and assessed on a global basis, probably through the IMO”. Furthermore, shipping emissions are very hard to be accurately calculated. Currently it seems that they are underestimated. The UK government also planned to initiate a new arrangement where ships would pay port dues in line with their environmental performance, but the plan was dismissed as it would put UK ports at a competitive disadvantage.

Despite all the above, the action of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has resulted in significant progress on the reduction of oxides emissions. For example, for emission control areas, the IMO has already set the level of sulphur content at 1.5% (it should be noted here that non-European ports allow fuels with sulphur content of up to 4.5%). But the IMO’s action doesn’t stop there as new regulations even further limit emissions both into the sea and into the air. These regulations are already approved by the European Commission and hopefully they will see nitrous and sulphur oxides significantly reduced by 2020. What is more, the IMO is currently cooperating with the European Commission to develop a new policy in order to reduce shipping CO2 emissions, and it is also working on an energy efficiency design index (EEDI) on which the construction of new vessels will be based. The EEDI will hopefully make it possible to construct ships that need less fuel and therefore release less CO2. The organisation’s approach to the problem and the new technologies that will be developed are likely to generate very practical and effective results.

The national governments, the Commission and the IMO cannot be expected to provide answers to the environmental crisis though if the shipping industry itself doesn’t decide to cooperate. These days, the industry is divided in two. There still are some ship owners who carry on with their polluting tactics but quite a few do understand their environmental responsibilities and have already recognized their duty to lead the way to a greener future.

Albeit the anti-pollution measures taken by politicians, there are many marine organisations that prefer to initiate the fight against pollution with newly introduced methods, without waiting for national or international regulations to be established. One of the greatest examples is the Evergreen Marine Corporation, one of the 4 largest shipping companies of its kind. In Evergreen Group they believe that the industry should be responsible for finding new techniques that diminish the impact of shipping on the environment. The company initiated its action back in 2005, when it featured some innovative design characteristics in ten new container vessels, seeking to protect the marine environment. Since then, the company has been upgrading and improving older vessels too, overlooking the considerable costs for acquiring and fitting the new technology, which includes fuel systems adjusted to use low sulphur oil, main engines and generators that emit low amounts of NOx, and purifiers to reduce the building-up of oil sludge. Another example is the Wilhelmsen Maritime Services (WMS), the technical management division of Wilh Wilhemsen, the Norway-based ship owner. The WMS is cooperating with several technology firms these days, trying to develop a fuel ionisation process that will reduce all emissions.

On the other hand, those shipping industries that prolong the alteration of the old, polluting shipping methods will soon have to meet the imminent deadlines for technology changes that will be forced on every vessel. Except for fitting new technologies, ship owners will have to ensure that they are tested and properly used.


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