Message to shipping is, use clean fuel and save lives
The only way Hong Kong is going to get all port users to burn cleaner fuel while in port is to make it a regulatory requirement.
“Cruise lines and other ocean-going vessels will kill 188 people in Hong Kong unless they switch immediately to cleaner fuel while at berth.”
How about that for telling it like it is. But as stark as the quote is, it unfortunately is not what was said by Hong Kong environment protection outfit Clean Air Network, or CAN. Not exactly, anyway.
The real comment was: “If cruise lines and other ocean-going vessels were to switch immediately to using fuel with 0.5 per cent sulphur content, the number of resulting deaths from marine vessel emissions in Hong Kong would drop from 385 to 197.”
Still, the message couldn't be clearer: More people will die if shipping does not clean up its act.
The green group released a statement as the first passengers disembarked from Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Millennium at the new Kai Tak cruise terminal in Hong Kong at the weekend.
It was all very exciting with lions dancing all over the place and puzzled passengers wondering how the heck they were going to get from the isolated terminal way down the old airport runway to where they sell Prada, Louis Vuitton and other overpriced and pretentious rubbish.
But at least the visitors were alive, even with heavy fuel oil turning the ship’s engines. Although, in terms of ship emissions in the territory, cruise liners emit a fraction of the total, so the industry need not lose any sleep over its culpability in the deaths of those 188 Hong Kong residents.
Of course, it isn’t really a joking matter. Whether you believe the numbers or not, ship emissions are a serious public health problem, especially in a busy port hub such as Hong Kong, which is situated adjacent to an even bigger maritime hub in Shenzhen.
The fact is thousands of vessels ply their trade between the mainland and Hong Kong every day – container ships, river trade vessels, barges and tugs, fishing trawlers – each leaving behind toxic emissions that CAN believes will kill those 385 people every year.
Ship emissions are a hot topic in Hong Kong at the moment, with many container lines having agreed for a second year to voluntarily switch to low sulphur fuel while alongside. The problem is that it costs each line more than US$1 million a year to do so and the carriers have warned that if the “Fair Winds Charter” is not legislated, there is no guarantee that the clean fuel measures will be continued.
During his inaugural policy address last month, Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying announced plans for tighter regulation on ship emissions, but the wheels of legislatures turn slowly.
In terms of the public consciousness, container shipping is not really on the public radar. The industry has not done enough to drive home the message that more than 90 percent of all goods being transported around the world travel by ship. It also happens to be the most energy-efficient means of transport, and the most efficient way to dispose of heavy sludge oil produced during the refining process is to burn it in ship engines.
But maybe now that giant cuddly white passenger ships will be tying up in full view of people on both sides of the harbour there will be greater public interest in emissions and why they need to be curbed.