Governing pollution from ships
20 February 2013
A new University research report has raised concerns about the effectiveness of current international regulations to control air pollution from ships. An associated report also looks at possible enforcement issues associated with suggested future controls on ships' carbon emissions.
Funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) the research was carried out by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC), an internationally-renowned research centre based at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences.
The research involved observation of ship inspections in the UK and Sweden and interviews with 50 industry stakeholders (ship operators, shipping industry representatives, regulators, inspectors, fuel experts, trade unionists, environmental NGOs and others).
Air pollution generated from ship emissions contributes to acidification and to pulmonary and coronary diseases, due to the sulphur compounds, nitrogen compounds, and fine particulate matter emitted when ships burn heavy fuel oil, a cheap refinery by-product.
Emission Control Areas (ECAs) were set up by the International Maritime Organisation (a UN agency) in the Baltic in 2006, in the North Sea/English Channel in 2007, and in North America in 2012. Restrictions were placed on the sulphur levels in fuel that ships would be permitted to burn in the ECAs.
Professor Michael Bloor, Professorial Fellow at SIRC, said: "It is clear that the large majority of ship operators are complying with regulations, but there is evidence that a minority of berthing ships in the UK and Sweden are burning non-compliant fuel.
"In many cases this is inadvertent, due to faulty changeover procedure when a vessel switches from high-sulphur to low-sulphur fuel. But there are other cases where conscious non-compliance seems to have occurred. Potential rewards of non-compliance (in lower fuel costs) are considerable" Professor Bloor added.
Recommendations designed to increase compliance, including the piloting of different fuel sampling/testing kits by the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency, are included in a final report (Bloor et al. 2013a) downloadable from the SIRC website.
Shipping is a far more carbon-efficient way to shift goods than road transport or aviation, but total ships' carbon emissions are similar to those of aviation and efforts to reduce ships' carbon emissions could materially assist in tackling climate change.
The research also investigated possible future regulations of carbon emissions and how they can be effectively enforced. In weighing the possible advantages and disadvantages of such measures as a global fuel levy or a ships' emissions trading scheme (ETS), a fuel levy would be more straight-forward to enforce than a global emissions trading scheme.
A separate final report on enforcement issues associated with the future regulation of ships' carbon emissions (Bloor et al 2013b) is also downloadable from the SIRC website: http://www.sirc.cf.ac.uk/SIRC_free_online_reports.aspx