Fuel change to cut port emissions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 September, 2010, 12:00am

People living in Kwai Chung could enjoy much cleaner air if an initiative by a Danish shipping company to use low-sulphur fuel is adopted by other shipping lines using the container port.

The Maersk Line has become the first shipping line to voluntarily use low-sulphur fuel instead of heavy fuel oil while at anchor and while berthed at Kwai Chung to load and unload cargo.

The change is also the first voluntary fuel switch by a shipping line at any port in Asia.

Tim Smith, Maersk Line chief executive for the North Asia region, said the move would cut the shipping line's sulphur dioxide emissions at Kwai Chung by 80 per cent. Low-sulphur fuel also had less particulates in it.

Smith said: 'Sulphur dioxide is the main contributor to acid rain. Particulates have a particular issue on public health.'

He said the scheme would cost Maersk about an extra US$1 million a year in fuel costs because low-sulphur fuel was about US$200 per tonne more expensive than higher sulphur fuel.

But there were no plans to pass this extra cost on to cargo owners unless the scheme was extended to other ports in the region or the shipping line also used low-sulphur fuel at sea, Smith said.

Maersk's move follows the signing of a pact between Civic Exchange and the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association, which represents most container shipping lines that use Hong Kong's port.

Under the charter, container lines with offices in Hong Kong will propose to their head offices that their ships switch to low-sulphur fuel while in Hong Kong.

Smith said the shipping lines had until October 15 to agree to change fuels and if they did, to voluntarily make the change from January 1, 2011. He said Maersk had decided to change immediately 'just to show a bit of an example' to other shipping lines.

Smith said 'it was looking positive' that 'a number of carriers would sign up'.

He added that about 850 Maersk container ships called at Kwai Chung each year. Between 40 and 50 container ships from all the shipping lines use Hong Kong's port daily.

Smith said only two major shipping lines, Geneva-based MSC and Israel's Zim Integrated Shipping Services, were not members of the shipping association.

If all these carriers were to use low-sulphur fuel at Kwai Chung it would dramatically improve air quality in the area.

A 2005 study by Civic Exchange and two universities showed vessels at Kwai Chung were responsible for about 36 per cent of the sulphur dioxide emissions measured at the Environment Protection Department's air quality stations.

Figures from the EPD also show that sulphur dioxide emissions from ships rose 16 per cent between 2001 and 2005.

Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said he welcomed Maersk's move which had been boosted with the support of the EPD and the shipping association 'and then Tim Smith came along. He's been the champion'.

Breathable air

Use of low-sulphur fuel by all container ships docking at Kwai Chung port would cut sulphur and particulate emissions in the area by about: 80%