Ship pollution risks “underestimated”

European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution, the Guardian reported. The criticism follows research showing that one huge container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer- and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars. Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all greenhouse-gas emissions.


“Just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760 million cars,” the British newspaper said. The figure was based on confidential data from “maritime industry insiders” and calculated on engine size and typical fuel quality. Low-grade fuel oil used by ships has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in American and European cars.


The United States recently imposed a strict 370-kilometre low-emission shipping zone along its entire coast as an anti-pollution measure. That move followed academic research showing that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the United States alone, at an annual health-care cost of up to $330 billion. A new study by Denmark’s environmental agency suggests that shipping emissions cost the Danish health service almost US$7.5 billion a year.


The United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation and the European Union are under pressure to strengthen laws governing ship emissions. In the past 20 years, Europe has dramatically cleaned up sulphur and nitrogen emissions from land-based transport. Despite having some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, however, it has resisted imposing tight laws on the shipping industry.

With China’s emergence as the world’s manufacturing capital, shipping emissions have escalated in the past 15 years.

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