The benefits of reducing air pollution due to restrictions on maritime fuels

Air pollution remains one of the most sensitive and painful environmental issues. According to a study published by the World Health Organization and the OECD (2010) environmental air pollution was responsible for about 500000 premature deaths in Europe.

An epidemiological study published in Corbett et al 2007 by C. Wang, J. J.  Corbett    titled  “The  costs  and  benefits  of  reducing  SO2  emissions  from  ships  in  The  US  West  Coastal  Waters” (  pointed out that  around 60000 premature deaths occurring near the coasts of Europe, East Asia and South Asia could be attributed to an increase in emissions exposure from maritime transport.

by Thanos S. Chonthrogiannis

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One of the most important reports that manages air pollution management in Europe is the EU directive (2016/2284/EU) which defines the emission ceilings of its member countries for air pollution.

In addition, this directive defines and complies with the objectives-limits on the specific issue that member countries should respect throughout the period 2020-2030. Furthermore, the emission control strategies in the various sectors of economic activity such as industry, agricultural sector, road transport, etc. are also defined in this directive.

Ship pumping ballast water
Photo by US Coast Guard, licensed Public Domain

Although international maritime navigation is an important pollutant emission in ambient air it is not included in the EU above directive. Indicatively of the “pollutant intensity” of shipping is the fact that while shipping in its entirety consumes 3% of global energy, shipping is responsible for 12% of pollutants in SOx/NOx-suspended particles. It essentially causes an environmental charge to almost four times the size of the energy it uses.

The benefits of the restrictions of pollutants in shipping fuel

According to the study   prepared  by  the  EU, namely    ECAMED:  A  Technical  Feasibility  Study  for  the  Implementation  of  an  Emission  Control  Area  (ECA)  in  the  Mediterranean  Sea  (11/01/2019),  with  the  imposition  of restrictions  on marine fuel (essentially restrictions on emissions of SOx-oxides of Sulphur type) , there will be about 4100 fewer premature deaths per year from 2030 onwards in the countries of the Mediterranean Sea basin.

Based on this study, the World Maritime Organisation requires that the maximum Sulphur content in marine fuels be drastically reduced (from 3.5% to 0.5%) starting next year.

But issuing such a requirement does not mean anything to the participating shipping companies since they will not have any consequences in not applying the requirement of the World Shipping Organization. In our opinion, the most effective policy will be the adoption by all the states of the planet bordering by the sea to adopt and implement in practice a decision similar to the decision taken by other Northern European countries, transforming the Channel (English), the North Sea and the Baltic Sea into an ECA-Emissions  Control  Area.

The Proper Policy

The Emission Control Areas (ECAs) or Sulfur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) are sea areas in which stricter controls were established to minimize airborne emissions from ships as defined by Annex VI of the 1997 MARPOL Protocol.

Parties to the MARPOL 73/78 convention on marine pollution
Photo by Jrockey, licensed Public Domain

As of 2011 there were specific number of existing ECAs worldwide: The North Sea, the English Channel, the North America ECA (including most of the US and Canadian coasts), the US Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. On the other hand, possible future ECAs are Mexico coasts, Japan coasts and Mediterranean Coasts.

The use of marine fuels with a Sulphur content greater than 0.1% is prohibited within ECA.

The implementation of ECAs worldwide is an innovative decision to protect the environment despite the initial strong reactions of the world shipping community for a possible increase in the fares of ships and thus an increase in the prices of goods transported.

The ECAs led to environmental protection and functioned as a forced change in the direction of development and research in alternative marine fuels, while until now they have succeeded in improving the environmental footprint of shipping.

The pioneering prospect for the Mediterranean Sea

In December 2019 the 22 Mediterranean countries  and  according  to the Convention  for  the  Protection  of  the  Marine  Environment  and  the  Coastal  Region  of  the  Mediterranean   (simply  referred  as  the  Barcelona  Convention)  will  meet  to    decide  whether its members will  initiate the transformation of the Mediterranean Sea into an ECA zone,  according to the standards of other countries including Northern Europe.

Italy, France, Spain (EU) have already made public their common decision to promote this prospect for the Mediterranean Sea. The EU and the Commission should push all other member countries to agree on this prospect and should push Greece that is a leader in global shipping, because the interests affected are much greater in this member country, to co-sign this pioneering perspective.

All shipowners should understand that by implementing the decision to transform the Mediterranean Sea into ECA they will achieve long-term savings in their operating costs while obtaining a comparative economic advantage.

On the other hand, the Mediterranean Sea states will need to invest in the necessary infrastructures so that the transition to the new era is done in a smooth manner with the minimum economic cost in each case both for the market and for the societies of these states.

The EU cannot vaccination around the world that the European economy is based on innovation and environmentally sustainable development, and on the other hand its member countries do not consent to this truly pioneering decision that will help in addition to Mediterranean Sea and its peoples and the whole planet.

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