BEIJING Emissions from ocean-going ships are
responsible for about 60,000 deaths a year from heart and
lung-related cancers, according to research published on
Wednesday that calls for tougher fuel standards.
Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, three of the world's
five busiest ports, were likely to suffer disproportionate
impacts from ship-related emissions, said the study, published
in Environmental Science and Technology, a journal of the
American Chemical Society.
"For a long time there's been this perception that ship
emissions are out there in the ocean and they don't really
affect anyone on land and I think this study shows that this is
clearly false," said David Marshall, senior counsel at the
Boston-based Clean Air Task Force, which co-commissioned the
"They do matter and they do need to be controlled."
Scientists said the fact that shipping takes place on the
high seas -- away from populations who can readily see impacts
of emissions -- was part of the reason the industry's fuel
standards lagged those of the auto industry.
But sulfur emissions from international shipping represent
about 8 percent of sulfur emissions from all fossil fuels, said
James Corbett, one of the authors of the study.
Most ships run on bunker fuel, which is cheaper than
distillate, but also more polluting. Corbett said it was also
getting dirtier over time as distillate fuels become cleaner,
since the sulfur driven out of distillates ends up in the
residuals used by ships.
"The international treaty process at the IMO (International
Maritime Organization) has been a slow process by which
consensus is reached, rather than a process by which a
regulatory authority can set standards that an industry must
agree to," he said.
"So this study, we think, is important to help
policy-makers determine the appropriate path forward as they
consider new regulations for shipping," said Corbett, who is at
the University of Delaware's College of Marine and Earth
The number of premature deaths from ship emissions could
rise by 40 percent in the next five years because of increases
in shipping activity, Corbett said, adding the number did not
account for additional health impacts such as bronchitis and
Switching to distillates would mitigate the mortality rate
from ship emissions, but would also likely come at huge cost to
Other options include cleaning up exhaust gases before they
are released using scrubbers, which act as a filter in
smokestacks that captures particulates, Corbett said.
COSCO Group, China's largest shipping conglomerate, said
there were other measures that could be taken to reduce
"At COSCO we do our best to reduce emissions, especially we
are reducing them in newbuilds," said COSCO president Wei
"In existing ships, we reduce engine use as we approach the
shore and stop the engines altogether in ports. We use the
shore power supply, and thereby cut emissions," he said.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby, editing by David