Air Pollution? Sail Solution!

iStock_000000819572XSmallWhen thinking of pollution caused by ships, the first thing that comes to mind are incidents like the recent COSCO Busan allision and oil spill in San Francisco Bay that has been comprehensively covered by our friends over at

But today’s Wall Street Journal covers the dangers from another form of pollution with a front page article by Bruce Stanley entitled Danger at Sea: Ships Draw Fire for Rising Role in Air Pollution. (subscription required)

The corpuscles of the global economy, ships carry more than 90% of the world’s merchandise by volume, and the tonnage of cargo sent by ships has tripled since 1970. Yet the fuel propelling them is cheap and dirty and produces an especially noxious exhaust.

Ships release more sulfur dioxide, a sooty pollutant associated with acid rain, than all of the world’s cars, trucks and buses combined, according to a March study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. That study also found that ships produced an estimated 27% of the world’s smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions in 2005. Only six countries in the world emitted more greenhouse gases — which trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the globe — than was produced collectively in 2001 by all ships larger than 100 tons, according to the study and United Nations statistics.


What is the effect of these toxic emissions? According to a study by the American Chemical Society published in their Environmental Science and Technology journal, 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths occur annually. There have also been increased reports of children suffering from asthma in heavy traffic ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The article does a good job of laying out the challenges ship owners and operators face with the lack of uniform regulations across various jurisdictions. As we have seen many times before, consensus is not easily achieved in matters involving the environment.

The article ends with what seems like a great solution for the future: returning to the age of sail! SkySails of Hamburg, Germany is marketing “towing kite propulsion systems” which might be great news for all of those traditional sailors in the tall ships fleet! ;-)


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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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