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Shipping news

The shipping industry has had an easy ride compared with the airline industry when it comes to emission controls. Ocean-going ships are fuelled by probably the dirtiest fuel on the planet, which generally has a 3.5 per cent sulphur content. Hong Kong is one of the busiest ports in the world, with some 410,560 arrivals and departures last year. This comes at a price for the city’s people, who in 2008 had about 16,500 tons of sulphur dioxide dumped on them. This figure rises to 142,000 tons if we include emissions outside Hong Kong waters but which also affect the territory. These figures were arrived at by an audit undertaken by the University of Science and Technology. Sulphur dioxide emissions from shipping accounts for 18-20 per cent of the total amount by weight in Hong Kong, but has a disproportionately higher effect than other sources such as power stations, because it is emitted at much lower levels. These findings are contained in a report by the Civic Exchange published yesterday entitled “A Price Worth Paying: the case for controlling marine emissions in the Pearl River Delta”. The report also contains a study by the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health on the health impact of the emissions by ocean-going vessels. Unsurprisingly they are not good. About 385 avoidable deaths a year in Hong Kong are caused by short-term emissions from shipping. But it is likely that long-term exposure of one year and upwards could result in four to 10 times the number of deaths. This appalling situation can be resolved relatively easily, the Civic Exchange says. Setting up an emissions control area of 100 kilometres around Hong Kong in which vessels used fuel with a 0.1 per cent sulphur content would cut the emissions by 91 per cent but would require co-operation with Pearl River Delta authorities. Using 0.1 per cent sulphur fuel in Hong Kong waters would reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 70 per cent. All it takes for this to come into effect is for the government to act. The last government was notorious for its inaction on environmental issues. The new government with its new line-up at the Environment Bureau seems poised for action. This is low-hanging fruit, so hopefully it will be grabbed soon.

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