Shipping industry turning the tide for clean air

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 12:00am

I refer to the April 10 articles headlined 'Ship pollution 'hidden' danger in HK' and 'Vessels 'raising risk of cancer''.

One inaccuracy must be put right. The International Maritime Organisation, a UN body, adopted Annex VI, Prevention of Air Pollution by Ships, to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships in September 1997. This annex comes into force 12 months after ratification by 15 states, whose merchant ships make up at least 50 per cent of the world's fleet.

Seven years on, we are still awaiting ratification. Thirteen states have ratified so far, and we expect the annex to come into force sometime in 2005. Still, the industry has not, in the words of Bluewater Network's Russell Long, undermined all efforts to curtail emissions, but has actively encouraged states to ratify the annex as soon as possible.

Once the annex is in force, stricter standards can be introduced. The industry, actively promoting clean air, has been working on amendments - which must wait for the annex.

It is also significant that the industry lobbied for a much lower fuel sulphur content than that actually agreed in the annex. Owners would like lower sulphur content in fuel oils; high sulphur creates wear. It is also significant that the industry has been fitting engines designed to meet the NOx (nitrogen oxides) emission standards of the annex since January 2000. And the industry has been working on methods to restrict greenhouse gases, something that even governments have not managed to solve for land-based industries.

The article is correct in that the industry wants global standards. Our ships trade globally, and pick up fuel in different ports. Unless there is one common standard, then the fuel will not generally be available.

'Plugging in' ships to shore power does not solve air pollution when the power that is supplied is generated by a far greater polluting source than modern ship generators. Shipping is the most environmentally friendly way of transporting goods. Mr Long admits this on his website, and we should not ignore his grasping at straws when adding in cranes, trucks and other dock operations in guessing that particulate matter emissions in the dock area must be higher than estimated. Perhaps it is easy to suggest 'taxing' foreign ships, but maybe shore emission standards (sewage, garbage, oil, and air) should first be brought up to those of shipping.

This industry is highly regulated and firmly conscious of its environmental presence.

ARTHUR BOWRING, Hong Kong Shipowners Association

Elitist schools

The Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) for schools was meant to promote social mobility: parents who can afford the fees may apply for entry for their children, regardless of their home area.

Yet there is growing concern among less well-off families. Because the scheme aims to prevent excessive interference by the government, fees, curriculum and admission are determined by the schools. And fees may be raised where subsidies are deemed insufficient. Many families cannot afford the fees and this gives rise to issues of elitism.

The scheme encourages schools to compete in order to fight for subsidies by admitting more students. So schools become market-oriented. For want of a good financial basis, admission may be based on a student's family background.

Students who cannot afford to attend DSS schools are deprived of entry even if they are academically superb, while those who can afford it have a better chance of a bright career.

CARMEN CHOW, student, University of Hong Kong

Free and responsible

There is a sector in the media that acts as if freedom of the media is the paramount freedom.

This assertion of absolute media freedom tramples upon other equally legitimate public interests such as the right to honest and reliable reporting on affairs and policies, and analyses of public issues.

Constitutional protection of freedom of speech does not extend to all kinds of utterances. There is a limit - to protect the public from the lascivious and the salacious, from foul and profane language, from slander and vituperation, and from words and expressions that inflict injury.

Freedom of expression by the media is therefore not absolute. It implies obligations and responsibilities, especially where it may conflict with other freedoms and violate another's human rights.

The progress of a youthful democracy depends on a literate, knowledgeable and fair-minded citizenry whose access to the broadest range of information is complemented by responsible, decent and quality reporting.

Freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.

Dr MARGARET CHU, One Country Two Systems Research Institute

A dictionary helps

No one suggested 'a dictionary possesses all the knowledge in the world' ('What's our source?', April 11). It would be simplistic to suggest that.

Letter-writers access a dictionary to find out what others have said about democracy and how one may expand upon definitions to decide the best form of governance for Hong Kong.

While William Mak may believe that 'Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has been pontificating politics from the Bible', his opinion is not shared by all Hongkongers. To progress, we need to learn from historical events.


Ironies in Iraq

Regarding 'Handover will go ahead as planned, says Bush' (April 5), can we take seriously any article that quotes President George W. Bush - unchallenged and without any hint of irony - calling Moqtada al-Sadr 'a person that is deciding that rather than allowing democracy to flourish, he's going to exercise force'?

This and subsequent articles reported that 'despite' the latest Iraqi uprising, the generous Mr Bush would 'not be deterred' in his quest to 'bring democracy' to Iraq. But the low point was on April 8, when a headline attributed to his aides the messianic proclamation 'We shall overcome.'

As the occupation 'pacifies' Iraq with F16s and helicopter gunships, these articles would appear hilarious, but for the massive suffering and violence for which they provide cover.


Terror: who won?

It is not as if the Spanish people raised the white flag to the terrorists ('Terrorists swayed voters', April 9).

The Spaniards had long opposed the war in Iraq (over 90 per cent), as I earlier said. However, there are many issues in an election. But I am puzzled by the allegation that the Popular Party (PP) was 'comfortably ahead' before the attacks. A report I read said the Socialists were slightly ahead at that point. No one can prove which party was going to win (or lose) based on something that did not happen. But it is a fact that the PP lost very few votes. The Socialists gained a lot more votes from those who decided late to vote. Yes, on a technical level, the attacks did have an influence. If I accept that, can others accept that the election was not a defeat to terrorism?

Regarding Afghanistan, it was widely reported that covert US operations supported the Taleban in the hope that it would bring stability to the region. US motives included the construction of a gas pipeline. After the 9/11 attacks, the US decided to oust the Taleban.

SEAN NIEM, Mid-Levels

Sri Lankan election

Peter Kammerer is all at sea trying to legitimise his assertion that 'law and order has collapsed' in Sri Lanka ('A vote for justice', April 2), an article based on some acts of torture extracted from a report. Nothing in the article supports this sweeping statement. The election was trouble-free. How 'an election deadlock will destroy social and political order' is a mystery. The quoted poll wrongly suggested a deadlock.