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Tens of thousands of cargo ships must switch to less-polluting fuel

Christian Fernsby |
Tens of thousands of cargo ships will have to start using less polluting fuels in January.

Topics: CARGO    SHIP    FUEL   

The International Maritime Organization decided in 2016 that the sulphur levels in fuels for ships would have to fall to 0.5% in 2020, compared to 3.5% currently.

The idea is to reduce the emission of highly toxic sulphur dioxide -- a health hazard also responsible for causing acid rain -- by the nearly 80,000 cargo ships which ply the seas delivering raw materials and merchandise.

The shipping industry is critical to the global economy but the pollution it generates is estimated to cause 400,000 premature deaths and 14 million cases of asthma among children per year, according to a 2018 article in the magazine Nature.

Shipowners have several options to meet the new regulations.

One is to continue with heavy fuel oil but install scrubbers that remove sulphur from the exhaust fumes. But these can be expensive, and some models dump the water used to clean the exhaust into the ocean, a practice that some say could get them banned, too.

A second option is for shipowners to convert their vessels to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), a fuel which is much less polluting. So far few have chosen this option as LNG fuelling infrastructure doesn't exist in all ports.

The easiest option for many is to switch to new fuels with low sulphur content or marine diesel oil.


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