||Approximately 50,000 merchant ships trade internationally, carrying 90% of world trade goods and 50% of Canadian exports. Pacific coast ship traffic is increasing dramatically as trade increases with Asia.
Most commercial ships are fuelled by a cheap, thick brew of sulphur and sludge known as Bunker C fuel. It is literally what is left at the bottom of the barrel after distilling Crude oil and removing the fractions used in propane gas, naptha, gasoline for cars, and jet fuel. It is so thick that it has to be preheated before it will burn. Ships have enough space to do this before feeding the fuel into their large propelling and/or auxiliary engines.
Bunker C is heavily contaminated with various substances which cannot be removed so, when burned, it pollutes heavily. One large ship generates about 5,000 tonnes of Sulphur oxide (SOx) every year. The low grade fuel has up to 2000 times the sulphur content of normal diesel fuel used in North American and European automobiles. The resulting sulphur-heavy emissions are released along with high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), and nitrous oxides (NOx).
According to US academic research, emissions from the global cargo shipping fleet lead to 60,000 deaths in the US alone. Research done by the Danish government’s environmental agency estimates that every year there are 1000 premature deaths and health care costs of 5 billion pounds, mainly for treating cancers and heart problems caused by shipping emissions.
On March 26, 2010 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) designating specific portions of U.S., Canadian, and French waters as an Emission Control Area (ECA). In Canada, that area includes waters extending out 200 nautical miles off the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast.
ECA standards should become enforceable in August, 2012 and ships complying with them will reduce their emissions of NOx, SOx, and PM 2.5. By 2020, those annual reductions are expected to be in the order of 320,000 tonnes of NOx, 90,000 tonnes of PM 2.5, and 920,000 tonnes of SOx which is 23%, 74%, and 86% reduction, respectively, below the predicted levels without the ECA compliance. The Environmental Protection Agency of the U.S. estimates that the new ECA buffer zone will save 8,000 lives a year.
As with other coastal cities and towns that have acted on ship emission concerns, Port Alberni should require vessels to switch to low sulphur fuel while in Port. This would minimize negative health outcomes from ship emissions, especially during inversion weather conditions and especially for neighbourhoods that are only a few hundred meters away from the docks. Better monitoring for ship pollution could also be installed using fees collected from ships on behalf of Transport Canada.