Pollution Caused By The Shipping Industry Versus Engineering Essay

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Through the past decades there has been vast technological development in all transportation sectors, but although so much has been achieved in matters of growth and speed, little has been done in respect to pollution around the planet.

Pollution, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is "the introduction of contaminants into an environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem" i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution in the marine industry, more specifically, is the pollution of air and water by shipping which also directly affects coastal areas. In other transportation industries, pollution varies from air to soil and in the future maybe even radioactive pollution will come into play.

Sustainability is a concept which deals with mankind's impact, through development, on the environment. Sustainable development is "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on Environment and Development).

This small research is concerned with analyzing how sustainable development has been and will be implemented into the shipping industry, comparing it at the same time with other forms of pollution from other sectors. The point of this comparison is to get a broader view on how pollution production is spread throughout all modes of transportation, and how that can be minimized in total.

Shipping Pollution

The oceans are one of humanity's greatest resources as they cover more than 70% of the earth's surface. It is thus in our interest to preserve them as best as possible so that they can continue to offer their vast amount of wealth for as long as possible. For the time being however, oceans are being heavily polluted by various sources. Less than 20% of that pollution is contributed by shipping as more than 80% is produced by land based activities, and the biggest polluters are:

Habitat destruction and alteration

Over fishing

Pollution from sewage and chemicals

Increasing eutrophication

Changes to hydrology and sediment flow

Global Climate Change

We will only look at shipping pollution however so that it can be compared on an equal level to other modes of transport. Pollution from shipping can generally be split into four main categories, each affecting the environment in a different way:

Exhaust Emissions

Shipping emissions have been increasing over the past few years due to the flood of new ships into the market from Asia. According to the Air Pollution from Ships document, emissions of air pollutants in the seas around Europe were estimated to be 2.6 million tons of SO2 and 3.6 million tons of NO2 in 2000. These numbers are expected to go up by 42% for SOx and 60% for NOx until 2020 and a striking figure is that they will surpass the land based sources in all 25 member states combined. These numbers can be better seen in figures 1, 2 on the next page.

The main types of problems caused by exhaust emissions are four:

Particle formation: SOx and NOx can be converted into sulphate and nitrate particles which are tiny. Exposure to these fine particles (PM) is associated with increased mortality and morbidity. According to the European Environment Agency, up to 45% of Europe's urban population are exposed to high levels of PM, exceeding EU standards. It has been estimated that due to these fine particles about 100,000 people die every year in Europe alone.

Ground level ozone: NOx also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, which damages ventilation as well as human health. It is estimated that 75% of urban population in Southern Europe and 40% in the northern part, lived in cities where the ozone levels exceeded the EU target value of 120 mg/m3 for more than 20 days. Shipping contributes to a huge amount of these levels and this does not only affect crops and health but also puts a threat on the Mediterranean region's tourist industry.

Acidification: In 2000, the depositions of SOx and NOx exceeded the critical loads for acidifying substances on more than 20% of sensitive forest ecosystem in the 25 member states of Europe. Shipping is to blame for more than 50% in most of the coastal areas along Northern Europe's coastlines.

Eutrophication: NOx leads to eutrophication, which affects biodiversity both on land and in coastal waters. In 2000 NOx depositions exceeded the critical loads for eutrophication on 60% of the forest ecosystem of the 25 member states and in the Mediterranean especially, ship emissions contribute more than 50% of that critical load.

By understanding what kind of damage ship emissions cause to their surrounding environment scientists and engineers have proceeded in cooperation with various organisations to form regulations, over time, trying to prevent further harm. As shipping is international, efforts have always been made to construct a global set of rules, but there has been partial failure as many countries deny entering such an alliance. Therefore each region over the world has slightly different regulations, all governed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

In 1997 an agreement was reached on an air-pollution annex to the IMO's MARPOL Convention - Annex VI, which came into force in 2005. As mentioned in the "Air Pollution from Ships" document, the Annex includes a global cap of 4.5% on the sulphur context of fuel oil and contains provisions allowing for special emission control areas (ECAs) to be established with stricter control on emissions. If the ships fuel contains more than 1.5% sulphur then some kind of gas cleaning system must be used or some other way of ensuring low emissions. NOx emission caps are also in use, but they are not very restrictive. Also, during a revision of the Annex it was stated that by 2020 the sulphur content will be capped at 0.5% in marine fuels and to get there the global cap will go down to 3.5 % as from 2012. NOx emissions were also catered for and it was agreed that by 2016 emissions will be reduced 80%. This revision will go into effect from March this year.

As it can be seen therefore, the regulations regarding air pollution in the shipping industry have started to become a very serious matter and thousands of ships are being fitted with extra equipment to produce fewer emissions. Gas engines, alternative power sources and other intuitive methods are slowly being used in ships in an effort to comply with rules.

Ballast Water

The introduction of invasive marine species into new environments by ships' ballast water attached to ships' hulls and via other vectors has been identified as one of the four greatest threats to the world's oceans. Ballast water is water carried by ships to ensure stability, trim and structural integrity when travelling without cargo. In their abstract, Coskun, Cigizoglu and Maktav mention that shipping moves over 80% of the world's commodities and transfers approximately 3-5 billion tones of ballast water internationally each year. A similar volume may also be transferred domestically within countries and regions each year. Ballast water is absolutely essential to the safe and efficient operation of modern shipping, providing balance and stability to unladen ships.

In their ballast water, however, ships carry various harmful organisms. Meinesz believes that "one of the worst cases of a single invasive species causing harm to an ecosystem can be attributed to a seemingly harmless jellyfish. Mnemiopsis Leidyi, a species of comb jellyfish that inhabits estuaries from the United States to the Valdes peninsula in Argentina along the Atlantic coast, has caused notable damage in the Black Sea. It was first introduced in 1982, and thought to have been transported to the Black Sea in a ship's ballast water." While introducing foreign species into new environments, ballast and bilge discharge from ships can spread human pathogens and other harmful diseases and toxins potentially causing health issues for humans and marine life alike.  The bacterium causing cholera is currently under research in the marine environment and the chance of it being able to attach to marine organisms inside ballast water. Discharging ballast into water close to the coast can have a toxic effect on marine plants, animals and microorganisms and can cause alterations in their growth pattern, resulting health problems or even death and birth abnormalities for local populations.

Oil Spills

The most common type of pollution, when thinking of a ship, is an oil spill. 45% of oil pollution in the world's oceans is operational discharges from the tanker and generally 72% of oil pollution caused by shipping is deliberate and illegal, as mentioned in the oil pollution monitoring article. Only 28% is caused by tanker accidents. Human error is the biggest factor in most cases of an oil spillage as carelessness, usage of old ships or crew which is inadequately trained only lead to mistakes during the voyage.

While being toxic to marine life, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the components in crude oil, are very difficult to clean up, and last for years in the sediment and marine environment.  Marine species constantly exposed to PAHs can exhibit developmental problems, susceptibility to disease, and abnormal reproductive cycles.

There have been a number of serious oil spillages caused by oil tanker accidents in the last 4 decades. The Torrey Canyon was the first of the big Supertankers, capable of carrying a cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil. On March 18, 1967, owing to a navigational error, the Torrey Canyon struck Pollard's Rock in the Seven Stones reef and caused major environmental damage on the Cornish and French coasts. This was the first major oil spill and no plans had been prepared beforehand to deal with it. The ship broke apart after being stranded on the reef for several days. Around 120 miles of Cornish coast and 80 kilometres of France were contaminated and around 15,000 sea birds killed along with huge numbers of marine organisms before the 270 square mile slick dispersed. Further damage was caused by the heavy use of detergents to break up the slick.

The disaster led to many changes in international regulations, for example the Civil Liability Convention (CLC) of 1969, which imposed strict liability on ship owners without the need to prove negligence, and the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

In 1978, The Amoco Cadiz was wrecked following engine failure on the coast of Brittany, releasing 223,000 tonnes of oil into the sea. Thousands of migrating seabirds were killed when they landed on the oily waters, and many French oyster fisheries and beaches were completely ruined.

The Exxon Valdez was accidentally steered into a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989. Emergency equipment did not arrive quickly, and this allowed the 37 million litres of spilled oil to form a slick covering 6,700 square kilometres. The delay in providing equipment, both by the oil company, Exxon, and by the State of Alaska, was unforgivable, and caused the needless death of thousands of animals, including 350,000 sea otters.

The tanker Braer broke up off Shetland having run aground, and in February 1996, the Sea Empress spilled around 70,000 tonnes of crude oil off the Pembroke shire coast in Wales. The Prestige, which sunk off the Spanish coast in 2002, is also one of the most destructive oil spills ever.

Oil-covered seas look calm, but if a bird land in a slick, the oil coats its feathers, affects its buoyancy and the insulating power of its feathers and makes it unable to fly away. An animal killed by oil may then be eaten by fish or birds, which in turn are poisoned by the oil. These oil spills have a catastrophic effect on the marine environment as a whole.

Cruise Ships

Cruise ships carrying several thousand passengers and crew have been compared to "floating cities," and the volume of wastes that they produce is comparably large, consisting of sewage; wastewater from sinks, showers, and galleys (greywater); hazardous wastes; solid waste; oily bilge water; ballast water; and air pollution. Cruise ships generate an astonishing amount of pollution: "up to 25,000 gallons of sewage from toilets and 143,000 gallons of sewage from sinks, galleys and showers each day", according to Oceana, an organisation created to minimize cruise ships' pollution. The waste streams generated by cruise ships are governed by a number of international protocols (especially MARPOL) and U.S. domestic laws, regulations and standards, but there is no single law or rule. Some cruise ship waste streams appear to be well regulated, such as solid wastes (garbage and plastics) and bilge water. But there is overlap of some areas, and there are gaps in others. Some, such as greywater and ballast water, are not regulated (except in the Great Lakes), and concern is increasing about the impacts of these discharges on public health and the environment. In other areas, regulations apply, but critics argue that they are not strict enough to address the problem - for example, with respect to standards for sewage discharges. Environmental advocates have raised concerns about the adequacy of existing laws for managing these wastes, and they contend that enforcement is weak.

Other Transportation Industries' Pollution

& Comparison with Shipping

Aviation Industry

Aircraft pollution at the moment is less than 3% of the total manmade environmental pollution but increased air travel will change that over the next few years.  One jet plane emits as much pollution as 7,000 cars over the same time period.  Unlike cars, aeroplanes emit their pollutants into the higher atmosphere and may, as a result, damage the stratospheric ozone layer. "Emissions from aircraft are difficult to quantify once they are airborne; once they exceed 1000 metres from the ground the effects of high altitude winds disperse the emissions. Below 1000 metres, the exhaust gases are principally oxides of nitrogen, nonmethane volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide", as stated in a www.ealing.gov.uk article. Despite that fact it is also known that 70% of engine aircraft emissions are CO2 and that is where the greatest reductions have to happen in order to get cleaner skies.

Due to the rise of cheap airlines, interest in air-travel has risen and people have started using aeroplanes more frequently, not only for vacation, but family, business and educational trips have become normal. This has caused organisations, such as Friends of the Earth, to start pushing a high tax on air travel. The passengers and the firms would have to pay more to travel and obviously this is has not gone down well by any of the two parties.

Of course, engineers are constantly addressing the pollution issues and some solutions to the problem include use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen or biofuel, lighter materials used on aircrafts or even new extreme designs, i.e. flying saucers as suggested on various websites. A study done by Sovde and his team shows a more realistic view; "A further increase in air traffic is assumed to take place after 2020, and by 2050 new high speed civil transport aircraft (so-called supersonic aircraft) are suggested to be developed to meet the demands for faster transport. While subsonic aircraft will have cruising altitudes up to about 12 km, supersonic aircraft will fly up to altitudes of almost 20 km."

Ships and aeroplanes are very different in regards to the public they aim to serve, however the pollution they emit is measurable and thus comparable. According to P. Shield, since ship manufacturing has moved to Asia, shipping levels have reached an all time high. New UN reports show that shipping produces 1.12 billion tonnes of CO2 per year which is double the amount aviation does. The report also shows that shipping emissions will go up 30% by 2020 widening the gap even further. The shipping industry however is aimed at transferring bulk amounts of low £/ton items whereas aeroplanes are mostly aimed at transporting people or high £/ton items. This means that research and funding have been huge in aviation compared to shipping where human lives are not always at stake. If those funding figures change in the future then surely shipping can catch up and in an ecofriendly manner.

Locomotive Industry

Diesel powered locomotives emit a number of pollutants which air quality regulators and health officials are concerned about. As mentioned by the NESCAUM report, pollutants include"...fine particulate matter (PM2.5), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and compounds designated as hazardous air pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)." In the same report it is mentioned that the locomotive industry has been quite overlooked at the moment concerning enforcement of standards and thus thousands of trains around the world continue to emit large amounts of pollution. Locomotives are under-regulated relative to other mobile sources of air pollution and this can be realised when looking at a new study by M. Chester. He recently looked at 11 modes of transport and compared them from every aspect throughout their lifetime to conclude that depending on the area, a train can contribute to emissions as much as a mid-sized aircraft.

In the study mentioned above there was high consideration of empty seats when producing the data, for example an off peak bus emitted 8 times more per person than at rush hour. This implies that trains are not always filled to their capacity and thus they pollute more due to their inactivity. This is not entirely true, however, as locomotives actually produce 930,000 tons of NOx and 32,000 tons of particulate pollution in a year (2006). Compared to ships in Europe which produce 3.6 million tons of NOx per year (2000), and even more nowadays, this seems a small number, but by considering the difference in carrying capacity and use, someone can easily see how the train industry is currently failing to deliver an eco-friendly solution. The EPA has determined that if stricter measures are not taken then by 2030 trains will be responsible for 18% of NOx and 33% of particulate pollution emissions in the whole transportation industry.

It is thus up to the government to set higher standards in the locomotive industry and up to the engineering faculty to find sustainable solutions to the problem of diesel powered trains.


"Driving a car is the most air polluting act an average citizen commits", as stated by www.nutramed.com. Road transport accounts for 22% of total UK emissions of CO2, the major contributor to climate change. The EU has accepted voluntary agreements with motor manufacturers that aim to reduce average CO2 emissions from cars so that they can colour code each car depending on the pollution it produces. Since 2001 the Annual Vehicle Duty (VED) has decided that new cars' rates should be determined by the fuel they burn and their CO2 emissions. A small revision was done in 2002 but nothing dramatic changed, the only thing to be kept was that governments started the Powering Future Vehicles Strategy as seen in "Car Standards"

Air pollutants, as mentioned before cause various problems to the environment, affecting both human health and the surrounding atmosphere. Depending, therefore, on the type of fuel used different ratios of pollutants come out of the engine. On a global scale, cars emit about 300 million tonnes of toxic exhaust gases into the atmosphere each year.

Diesel: Diesel fuels have significantly lower CO2 emissions compared to petrol, due to the higher efficiency of the engines. However, they emit more NOx and particulates than newer petrol cars. Diesel is therefore worse when looking at local pollutants whereas better for global warming.

Petrol: On the other hand, petrol cars produce less local air pollution with low NOx and particulate emissions. Various new petrol technologies are now entering the market and offer significant improvement in fuel efficiency. Fuel enhancers such as additives will help keep the air cleaner.

Having looked at the types of fuels, it can be said that whatever kind of carbon based fuel we continue to use just harms the environment. Electric cars should be the future with renewables providing the necessary electricity. For the time being however, better traffic management would keep many cars off the road and stop polluting and also better and cleaner fuels are a thing of the present so they will help the situation the planet is in, even in the slightest manner.


Trucks, contrary to cars, all use diesel engines to move about. Diesel oil for road traffic is far better and more refined than heavy fuel oil and thus comparing the two is like comparing David with Goliath. On average, a ship lets out about 30-50 times more sulphur per ton-kilometre that a truck as can be seen on table 3 below. The briefing "air pollution from ships", however, mentions that diesel would become even cleaner in 2005 and the difference would be 150-300 times. The comparison is greatly in the truck's favour as even as ships get fuel with 1% sulphur, trucks already have a sulphur content of 50 ppm (parts per million) as set by the EU. If legislation has continued normally, diesel oil for road traffic should have a content of 10ppm whereas heavy fuel oil 2.7%, meaning 27,000 ppm.

Looking at NOx emission, ships release double as much per ton-kilometre as the latest truck models and that is improving in favour of trucks. Marine fuel oil when burnt also releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are carcinogenic and harmful to the environment. When compared to diesel, thus, the PAH emissions from a ship are 30 times higher per unit. This means that comparing a marine engine to a truck's diesel engine gives us that a ship is about 40 times more powerful than the truck but it pollutes like 1200 trucks in the same time.


Pollution Prevention


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