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Ship pollution still high despite pact

Sulphur dioxide pollution has dropped slightly since the signing of the Fair Winds Charter, but the industry is still the city’s No 2 emitter, seminar told
Keith Wallis
Nov 13, 2011

The Fair Winds Charter, a voluntary fuel-switching scheme introduced by shipping lines nearly a year ago, had improved local air quality, but the shipping sector was still the second-biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide in Hong Kong, environmental officials told a seminar yesterday.

Despite the impact of ship pollution on public health, campaigners and government officials at the Civil Exchange event said it could take months if not years before tighter local and international legal controls on ship emissions were in place.

Joanne Ooi, chief executive of the Clean Air Network, said people were not aware that exhaust from ships was “affecting a huge swathe of the public in some of the poorest districts” of the city.

She was commenting after Simon Ng Ka-wing, visiting scholar at the Institute for the Environment at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said there were several hot spots for marine sulphur-dioxide emissions.

Ng, who is leading a team working on a government study on ship emissions, said Kwai Chung and main shipping routes, including the East Lamma Channel, to Shenzhen’s Yantian and Shekou ports had high sulphur-dioxide concentrations. He said 79 per cent of the sulphur-dioxide emissions from ships in Hong Kong came from oceangoing vessels, while 21 per cent came from fast ferries serving Macau and Pearl River Delta cities and river-trade ships.

Tony Lee Yu-tao, senior environmental protection officer with the Environmental Protection Department, said a “preliminary assessment reveals a slight improvement” in air quality since 18 shipping lines switched to using low-sulphur diesel in while berthed in Hong Kong.

This improvement was achieved even though the number of oceangoing ships arriving at the Kwai Chung container terminal had increased, Lee said. There are about 300 ships, including oceangoing and river-trade vessels, ferries and government vessels, at any one time in Hong Kong.

The carriers, which include the Tung family-controlled Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), Cosco Container Lines, an offshoot of the mainland’s largest shipping company, and Danish giant Maersk, agreed to use low-sulphur diesel for two years from last January when they signed the Fair Winds Charter.

Teddy Fung, managing director of OOCL’s Hong Kong branch, said switching to low-sulphur diesel had increased the firm’s fuel bill by US$1.4 million. Other container lines that signed the charter and switched fuels faced a similar increase, giving a cost advantage to firms that did not sign the charter.

Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said the maritime sector was second only to the power sector in the amount of sulphur dioxide that was pumped into the city’s atmosphere.

Yau confirmed talks had started with mainland authorities to establish a control area for ship emissions in the Pearl River Delta, which was one of the key objectives by the shipping lines when they signed the charter.

But Lee said the creation of an emissions-control area was a long-term goal that would require Beijing’s approval and submission to the International Maritime Bureau.

Instead, Mike Kilburn, Civic Exchange’s head of environmental strategy, suggested a low-emission zone could be set up more quickly.

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