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CNN: Ship emissions blamed for worsening pollution in Hong Kong

by Grigory Kravtsov, reporting for CNN:

Smog is a common sight in Hong Kong, with the amount of polluted days increasing by 28 percent to 303 so far this year.

Hong Kongers would be quick to point the finger at Chinese factories across the border. Yet, research is increasingly indicating that the problem is much more localized, coming from emissions produced by shipping.

What we know in Hong Kong is that up to 50% of pollution [locally produced] sources come from marine vessels,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Smog levels within the city of over 7 million reached hazardous levels earlier this week, with particles in one urban area, Sham Shui Po hitting a PM2.5, hitting 91.7 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Anything above 71 is classified as “very dangerous” according to the World Health Organization guidelines.

Maritime pollution in Hong Kong is blamed for the most sulfur dioxide-related deaths within the region. According to a recent report jointly compiled by the Civic Exchange and The University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong saw 385 deaths caused by the hazardous chemical, for which shipping is to blame.

The city lacks regulations in tackling maritime pollution, as there is no legislation or requirements for shipping companies to switch to cleaner fuel when entering Hong Kong waters.


Lack of Emissions Control Area in HK waters will continue to leave Hong Kong blanketed in smog

Less than a week after favourable weather cleared the skies of Hong Kong, the city is covered again in particles. It has become a common refrain for city officials to sing of their achievements in switching out diesel engines from the roads, and after that for Legco members to debate to no end as to how (un)successful their measures have been in improving the city’s air quality.

It is also commonly known, albeit with less attention paid, that cargo ships – especially ocean-going vessels – are a major contributor to pollutants as they move through the waters of Hong Kong. In addition to Hong Kong’s own Kwai Chung terminal, ships docking at Shenzhen’s Yantian and Shekou terminals pass through channels east and west of Hong Kong respectively, meaning Hong Kong bears the brunt of the emissions whichever way the prevailing winds blow.

Thus far, Hong Kong’s policymakers have only implemented a weak policy – incentivising ships docking at Kwai Chung to switch to cleaner fuels when moving in Hong Kong, transitioning into a compulsory requirement by Sep 2014. Meanwhile, there are already complaints that this would ‘hurt competitiveness’ of the Kwai Chung terminal in comparison with Shenzhen’s terminals (of which Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa, and the Wharf, are shareholders).

The situation can be greatly improved if Hong Kong officials can push for the implementation of an Emissions Control Area, which will effectively make the same clean fuel requirements for Shenzhen’s terminals. This may call for cross-border co-operation between policymakers in order for the policy to be strictly enforced, but if Hong Kong officials wish to display some real work done, there can be no better opportunity.

Clear The Air has prepared a brief document on this issue.

Hong Kong 2012 Emission Inventory

Download (PDF, 253KB)

ship fuel

From: []
Sent: 27 August, 2012 11:14
To: James Middleton
Subject: E(12/2120) IN BRIEF (Page 2)|HongKong Business|
Dear Mr Middleton,

Thank you for your message.  Ships operating in the North America Emission Control Area (ECA) must use fuel containing not more than 1% sulphur.  This would help reduce the ship emissions in the ECA, but not in our local waters.

2.        Oil companies in HK normally supply bunker fuels with a sulphur content not more than 2.8%, better than the 3.5% limit stipulated in MARPOL Annex VI.  We are not in a position to speak on behalf of oil companies as to whether they would supply bunker fuels of even much lower sulphur content.

Best regards,
Tony Y T Lee

Dear Mr Middleton,

We are processing your enquiry and would let you have our return as soon as possible.
Best rgds,
Tony Y T Lee

“James Middleton” <>

24/08/2012 06:24

To <>, “EPD HKG” <>
Subject E(12/2120) IN BRIEF (Page 2)|HongKong Business|

Dear EPD
Does HK offer low sulphur bunker fuel  in a like manner ?
If not, why not ?

Kind regards,
James Middleton
Sinopec plans low-sulfur fuel for ships

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp, the country’s largest fuel supplier, plans to supply low-sulfur shipping fuel at Chinese ports as ships sailing to the US and Canada are required to burn the cleaner fuel.

Sinopec, as China Petroleum is known, is arranging barges, tanks and pipelines to supply shipping fuel, or bunker, containing 1 percent sulfur, Zhou Yiqing, the vice manager of the bunker department at Sinopec Fuel Oil Sales Co, said in an interview by telephone. The company will start with “big” ports, he said, without elaborating.

Ships sailing in US and Canadian waters are required to use bunker fuel with a maximum sulfur content of 1 percent starting this month under air-pollution standards set out by the North American Emission Control Area. Vessels outside the controlled areas can use bunker with a maximum sulfur content of 3.5 percent.

Reply from Tony Lee

From: []

Sent: Monday, June 27, 2011 17:54
To: James Middleton
Subject: E(11/1515) : Port Strategy – A new dawn

Dear Mr Middleton,

Thank you for your messages of 23 and 26 June.   The consolidated reply of EPD and the Marine Department (MD) is as follows.

1. What is the actual fuel sulphur cap here?
Ans. According to Regulation 29(1) of the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution) Regulation, the sulphur content of any fuel oil used on board ships in Hong Kong is not to exceed 4.5% m/m.

2.  How is this enforced for incoming vessels which refueled elsewhere?
Ans. According to Regulations 33(4) and 34 of the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution) Regulation, all incoming ships of 400 gross tonnage or above and engaged in international voyage shall carry Bunker Delivery Notes (BDN) with the associated representative sample of the fuel on board.  The BDN and the representative sample are subject to inspection by Government Surveyors.

3.  What samples are taken to ensure the ships are conforming to “grey smoke emissions instead of black smoke”?
Ans. MD is currently using Ringelmann Chart for the identification of black smoke.  If a ship emits smoke of or darker than Shade 2 for continuous 3 minutes, the emission is regarded as black smoke.

4.  Since these Charter member shipping lines have opted to switch to ULSD only at berth and not whilst sailing within Hong Kong waters what has Government done to seek their compliance whilst underway rather than just at berth?
Ans. The Fair Winds Charter signatories have committed themselves to switching their vessels to 0.5% sulphur fuel when at berth.  While sailing underway within HK waters, these vessels must meet the sulphur limit requirement stipulated under MARPOL Annex VI.  As mentioned, since China has not designated its waters (including that of Hong Kong) as an Emission Control Area, there is no vehicle for Hong Kong to “require” operators to use fuels of more stringent specifications.

5.  What is the sulphur content of bunker fuel supplied for refueling in Hong Kong?
Ans. It must be below 4.5% and is usually in the range of 3.5% – 4.0%.  You may contact the local suppliers in the attached document for details or access the MD’s website on the link provided for that document.

6.  Hong Kong is supposed to be an independent territory for 50 years from 1997 is it not?  We make our own laws do we not ?  The EPD intends to designate Low Emission Zones for traffic on Nathan Road, Causeway Bay and Central so that only Euro 5 diesels / hybrids will be allowed to enter those areas.  I see no difference with doing the same for HK waters – either meet the relevant standards or do not enter our waters or be fined if you do.
Using “China did not do it” is a lame duck reply more worthy of Donald Tsang than a body supposed to be looking after the air quality here , in this 50 year independent SAR.
Ans.  Under MARPOL Annex VI, there are general requirements on the sulphur content of any fuel oil used on board ships.  There is also a mechanism for member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to apply for designating its waters as an Emission Control Area (ECA), within which the requirements are more stringent than the general requirements.  This mechanism is not mandated for all member States to designate its waters, in whole or in part, as an ECA.  As a matter of fact, Hong Kong is an associate member of IMO, not a full member (member state) and thus cannot file an application for ECA designation by Hong Kong itself.

Best regards,
Tony YT Lee

Encl. PDF : oilsupreg

Reply from EPD

From: []
Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2011 17:26
To: James Middleton
Subject: E(11/1515) : Port Strategy – A new dawn

Dear Mr Middleton,

Thank you for your message regarding the maritime air pollution in Hong Kong.

To control emissions from marine vessels, Hong Kong has been diligently implementing the requirements of MARPOL Annex VI, which caps the fuel sulphur content of ships and controls their emissions when operating within Hong Kong waters.  All marine vessels operating within the waters of Hong Kong are subject to the requirements, including the fuel sulphur cap.

There are now two Emission Control Areas (ECAs) in operation, one in the Baltic Sea and the other in the North Sea.  Another one covering the waters of 200 nm off the coasts of North America will come into force in August 2011.  China has not yet designated its waters, including the waters of Hong Kong, as an ECA under the framework of MARPOL Annex VI.  Therefore, the Mainland and Hong Kong cannot “enforce” any ECA requirement on vessels within our waters.

As for the Fair Winds Charter, the Government welcomes the ship liners’ voluntary green move.  The move provides an opportunity for us to collect data and assess the environmental benefits and implications (for cost and operation) arising from fuel switch at berth.   The findings will help us chart the way forward.

Thank you for pointing out the significance of reducing emissions from marine vessels.  Hong Kong will keep closely watching worldwide development of maritime emission control policy, technology and measures and will explore the feasibility of introducing them into Hong Kong where opportune.

Best regards,
Tony Y T Lee
Senior Environmental Protection Officer
Air Policy Group
Environmental Protection Department