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What The UK Shipping Industry Can Do To Tackle Its Pollution Problem

  • by: Maxime Robert
  • On: 12, Mar 2019
2 min read

Roughly 3,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributed to emissions from the UK shipping industry. The pollution from shipping is linked to triggering cancer, heart disease, and asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Large cargo trawlers use a type of fuel with 3,500 times more sulphur in it than the diesel fuel used in cars, yet while that has come under heavy scrutiny from the government, the shipping industry has faced little pressure to change fuel source.

While it has been known for years that the shipping industry is a leading contributor to the world’s pollution levels, the true extent of the damage done by the toxins that are given off are only just being fully understood.

How The UK Shipping Industry Is Linked to Premature Deaths

Many industries are switching to cleaner fuels, with most of the major companies in the automotive sector manufacturing electric cars, aircraft manufacturers increasing research into the viability of electric planes, and even autonomous drones that can clean up ocean pollution caused by the shipping industry are being tested.

Yet the shipping industry itself remains slow to adopt widespread change. New legislation has been introduced to limit the amount of pollution that can be emitted from a ship, but critics are claiming this will do next to nothing to combat the massive amounts of pollutants that are being pumped into the air and ocean every day. Most ships still operate on crude oil, the cheapest, dirtiest fuel available.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has shown that Britain ranks fourth for the total number of people dying prematurely due to shipping fumes, behind China, Japan and India.

Shockingly, global deaths attributed to the shipping industry made up 16% of all premature deaths due to transport emissions, but in the UK this number rose to around 40%. Sulphur oxide levels from shipping pollution currently stand at around 2.5%, industry experts say this level must be cut to 0.1%. Sulphur oxide creates a higher amount of ‘ultrafine’ particles, which can penetrate deep into human tissue where they do the most damage. There are new rules coming into force from 2020 will limit sulphur oxide even outside protected zones, which should prevent more than half a million premature deaths around the world.

How The UK Shipping Industry Can Clean up Its Act

Much of the legislation surrounding shipping pollution comes from the ICCT or the International Maritime Organisation, leaving individual countries governments little power to create and enforce effective laws.

Experts in the industry are calling for international reform, giving more agency to individual governments. However, if change won’t come from international organisations, it may have to come from shipping companies themselves.

Understanding the damage done by sulphur oxide and other pollutants is the first step in moving away from traditional fuels and towards a safer, greener alternative.

Read more about alternative fuels for the marine industry, or learn how engineering is making the shipping industry safer.

VHR is increasingly working with industry leaders in the renewable energy sector, get in touch with us if you’re interested in renewable projects. If you’re looking to upscale or staff your team, VHR can help.

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