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Air quality in shipping ports: Why is it important?

Seaports around the world have been asked to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and contribute to efforts against global warming.
Ports operating in coastal areas are significantly causing air pollution that exposes the public to serious health problems and environmental threats, authorities said.

Around72 percent of the earth’s surface or the equivalent of 363 million square kilometers (140 sqm2) is covered by oceans.

Data show that about 40 percent or almost 2.4 billion people live within 100 kilometers of the nearest coast. In a 2017 report by the United Nations (UN), over a third or 37 percent of the global population live in coastal communities. Nearly 10 percent, or more than 600 million people, live in coastal areas below 10 meters above sea level.

Another UN report found that 70 percent of marine-related emissions occur within 400 kilometers of the coast. Given these statistical data, the proximity to the world’s oceans put the human population in areas already affected by marine-related emissions also at risk due to the rise of sea levels caused by global warming.

It is imperative that measures to improve the quality of air in ports be given top priority, according to experts.

Air pollution in coastal areas

Ports around the world expose workers and residents to serious health problems and environmental issues. Emissions in ports come from a variety of sources, regardless of whether these are directly or indirectly connected to port operations.

The presence of several transport modalities such as ships, cargo trucks, cranes, lifters, tractors, other cargo handling equipment, other vehicles used in port, rail locomotives, power plants that generate energy for the area, and other harbor crafts contribute to maritime-related emissions.

These emissions include greenhouse gases such as sulfur oxides (SOx), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and particulate matter (PM) at different levels.

Pollution during cargo handling

Cargo handling in ports and harbors also cause emissions. During handling of dry bulk cargoes such as iron ore, grain, and coal, dust particles escape into the atmosphere. Cargo vapor emissions (from liquid bulks) may also cause atmospheric pollution. While dust is generally harmless, its high visibility nature caused by the sheer volume of cargoes that pass from port to port is a main concern to residents in adjacent communities.

Serious health concerns

Particulate matters are known to contribute to the increase in respiratory illnesses including pneumonia, bronchitis, and other chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases. It is also identified as a cause of premature deaths.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization’s (WHO) agency specializing in cancer cases, published the results of its study indicating that 87,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths in 2012 could be attributed to PM emission in shipping.

This is particularly evident in diesel PM that has high toxicity and is considered a carcinogen. The deaths were recorded in coastlines of Asia and Europe where there is both high PM concentration and high population density.

Measures to improve air quality

Various sectors and organizations, including the government and regulatory agencies, have introduced several initiatives to improve air quality in port areas. The European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO) published a 2018 environmental report listing its top ten environmental priorities as a result of the annual check of ESPO’s port members, which include benchmarks on performance.

It presented the report at the Greenport Congress held in Valencia in October 2017. Consistently topping the ESPO list since 2013 is air quality. Concern for air quality of communities in port cities and urban areas have been increasing, it noted.

ESPO reported that 73 percent of its member ports are certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), or the Port Environmental Review System (PERS) under various standards.

The report also stated that high voltage shore-side electricity for ships at berth is available in 24 percent of the ports.

About 30 percent have existing refueling points for LNG and another 24 percent is developing infrastructure facilities also for LNG. These are aimed to minimize GHG emissions from other fuel types.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) published the Government’s Clean Air Strategy, requiring all major English ports to develop their respective air quality plans by next year.

The British Ports Association (BPA) said that while it commends the government for recognizing that the one-size-fits all solution will not work by requiring independent strategies, it should also recognize that ports have no direct control on emissions from nearby sources.

Mark Simmons, Policy Manager at BPA, said that although the deadline set by the government is tight, majority of bigger ports are already taking actions which include monitoring sources of pollutants and emissions and ultimately crafting action plans.

The IMO pushes the implementation of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which requires the shipping industry to become more energy efficient.

Annex VI on air emissions is the mandatory measure on global energy efficiency standard adopted by MARPOL VI contracting parties. The measure adds to Marpol VI Chapter 4 entitled “Regulations on Energy Efficiency for Ships.” This mandates the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships and the Ship Energy Efficiency Plan (SEEMP) for all ships.

These regulations cover all merchant ships weighing 400 gross tons and above regardless of their ownership or whichever flag they carry. MARPOL Annex VI limits the allowable level of pollutants in ships’ fuel such as SO2and NO2. It also bans ozone-depleting substances.

Action taken by the Philippines

The Office of the Overseas Shipping Service (OSS) of Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) reported that in early 2018, the Philippines acceded to the IMO instrument. It brought to 90 the total number of ratifications of MARPOL Annex VI. This already represents nearly 97 percent of the global merchant shipping tonnage.

The OSS expressed hope that with the passage of a bill to implement MARPOL VI, the Philippines would be able to effectively comply with the regulations.

Other initiatives of the agency relative to implementation of Marpol VI include capacity building activities for maritime regulators and establishing a database on maritime fuel consumption and CO2 emission.
Source: Manila Times

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