The dirtiest fuel
A New Scientist report highlights that the shipping industry is using the dirty, polluting fuel that's left behind by the cleaner fuels used on land.
With an estimated 100,000 vessels on the seas, the report’s statistic that just 16 of the world’s largest ships generate as much poisonous sulphur as all of the world’s cars has caused some alarm in the ecologically aware areas of global policy making.
Delivered by award-wining science writer Fred Pearce, the report illustrates the seriousness of the chemicals pumped out by large cargo ships, bringing the issue to the attention of the responsible shipping industry players that are keen to reduce their emissions as much as possible.
The report centres on the black smoke from the funnels of container ships, cruise liners and oil tankers, stating that while we already knew that the brown haze it leaves across ports and shipping lanes looks unpleasant, we were not aware that it’s also terribly poisonous, as it contains high levels of lung-clogging sulphur.
Pearce’s report centres round the fact that, for some unclear reason, the massive engines of these vessels are allowed to burn the dirtiest, most polluting high-sulphur fuel, whereas comparable fuel guzzlers on land, such as power stations, have to use comparatively far cleaner fuels.
The International Maritime Organisation, the IMO, a UN body that is in charge of policing the world’s shipping industry, has long been the main whipping boy for the complaints about the pollution of the world seas. The IMO has had a long-standing agreement with the 169 governments that are active in the organisation to be allowed to burn the so-called bunker fuel, the high-sulphur fuel that’s left over after all the cleaner fuel has been extracted and used on land.
This latest New Scientist report is calling into question this decision, with the aim of reducing the sulphur in shipping fuel from it’s current unacceptable levels of 4.5 per cent down to 3.5 per cent by 2012 and eventually a mere 0.5 per cent.
Although many major shipping industry players are keen to point out that they do not use fuel with such high levels as the report suggests, it’s certainly a strong-smelling issue that wont go away of its own accord.