The transportation of products across the world by ships is an integral part of global trade and commerce. It is one of the most efficient and cost-effective means of transportation in large quantities over long distances. However, it has serious impacts on the environment. Furthermore, pollution is one of the key concerns associated with shipping.
Some important points to consider regarding ships and pollution are :
Air Pollution: Ships primarily emit air pollutants such as sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter. The burning of heavy fuel oils in ship engines contributes significantly to air pollution, especially in port areas and busy shipping lanes. Emissions from ships can have adverse effects on air quality and human health.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Shipping is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that shipping accounts for approximately 2-3% of global CO2 emissions. The industry has been making efforts to reduce its carbon footprint through technological advancements and adopting more fuel-efficient practices.
Ballast Water Pollution: Ballast water is taken on by ships to maintain stability and balance when they are not fully loaded with cargo. This water often contains various aquatic species. When released in different regions, invasive species can be introduced, disrupting local ecosystems and causing ecological damage.
Oil Spills Accidental oil spills from ships can have devastating effects on marine ecosystems and coastal regions. Although the frequency of large oil spills has decreased over the years due to stricter regulations and improved safety measures, the risk is still present.
Waste Disposal improper waste disposal practices on ships can lead to marine litter and pollution. Some ships may discharge garbage, plastics, or hazardous substances into the sea, causing harm to marine life.
Noise Pollution: Shipping activities generate underwater noise, which can negatively impact marine species, particularly those that rely on sound for communication and navigation.
Moreover, other negative impacts are often overlooked, such as the increased area on monoculture and exports, leading to higher levels of deforestation and soil erosion, as demonstrated in a study conducted in Mali that finds out the development of cotton farms for domestic sale as well for export. Letting the question: What are the environmental effects of shifting to export crops? For instance, they can be significantly harmful, as mentioned below:
“[…] has substantially increased the cultivated area and markedly reduced the fallow period. The profitability of cotton led farmers to greatly increase the area cultivated, extending into marginal land. There is evidence of farmers occupying and working the land above their real needs to forestall its use by others. The environmental effects are evident in land degradation and soil erosion owing to over-cultivation, insufficient fallow, and the use of marginal land against increasing aridity.
On the other hand, export crops can be more environmentally friendly than the domestic crops they replace. In Latin America and Africa, tree crops such as coffee and cocoa can help to prevent erosion. It is also important to mention, not only trade, yet on domestic political conditions. Dualistic land ownership, with large landowners wielding considerable political power displacing small farmers who benefit them, Them small farmers otherwise had no choice whether to move on to forests or lands with shallow and less fertile soils.”
Possible Solutions :
Regulations: The maritime industry has been addressing these environmental concerns through various international conventions and regulations set by the IMO. For instance, the IMO has introduced the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which aims to minimize pollution from ships and sets standards for emissions, ballast water management, and waste disposal.
Alternative Fuels and Technologies: The shipping industry is exploring and adopting cleaner alternatives to traditional fossil fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen fuel cells, and battery-electric propulsion. These technologies offer the potential to significantly reduce emissions and pollution from ships.
Slow Steaming: Some shipping companies have implemented the practice of “slow steaming,” which involves reducing a ship’s speed to decrease fuel consumption and emissions. This approach can also help mitigate environmental impacts.
Collaborative Efforts: Governments, shipping companies, and environmental organizations are working together to find innovative solutions to reduce pollution and minimize the environmental footprint of shipping activities.
Harris, J.M. (2004) ‘Trade and the Environment’. Medford, MA: Global Development And Environment Institute, Tufts University. – ‘’Trade and the Environment’’