Do Ships or Cars Pollute More?

Do Ships or Cars Pollute More?

Ships and Pollution


Ships are responsible for the transport of 90% of the world’s consumer goods including computers, cars, shoes, clothes, and toys. At first glance this may seem harmless, but did you know 4% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions are from the world’s shipping fleet?


Facts and Figures on Shipping


  • The world’s biggest container ships have 109,000 horsepower engines weighing 2,300 tons.
  • Each ship expects to operate 24 hours a day for about 280 days a year
  • l There are 90,000 ocean-going cargo ships: Pollution for 90,000 cargo ships in the world leads to 60,000 deaths in a year in the US alone
  • Shipping is responsible for 18-30% of all the world’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 9% of the global sulfur oxide (SOx) pollution.
  • One large ship can generate about 5,000 tons of sulfur oxide (SOx) pollution in a year
  • 70% of all ship emissions are within 400 km of land.
  • 85% of all ship pollution is in the northern hemisphere.
  • Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping at 2.7% of the global man-made emissions in 2007
  • Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by as much as 2 to 3 times by 2050 if no action is taken
  • Ships generate 15 to 30 percent of the world’s smog-forming emissions.
  • Bunker fuel burned by ships is 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used by trucks and buses.
  • A single ship coming into harbor produces the smog-forming emissions of 350,000 new cars.
  • Ship engines are far dirtier than on-road engines due to lack of regulation.
  • One giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars
  • 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as the world’s 760 million cars
  • The health costs of heart and lung diseases due to ship pollution amount to up to $330 billion in a year
  • More than one in 10 children has asthma in the world’s biggest port cities.



Sub-standard ships, as well as poor shipping practices are the ones who contribute in ocean pollution. We also need to understand what causes the damage from shipping. Here are the reasons:

  • Release of oil and chemicals from accidental spills and operational discharges
  • Transfer of invasive species alien to the habitats – through ballast water and ship hulls
  • Sewage and garbage dumping
  • Air pollution produced by emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide
  • Other forms of damage from dropping of anchors, noise and wave disturbance, and collisions with whales and other animals.



Shipping pollution also has its effect on human health:

  • Ship exhaust is full of harmful air toxins that may cause cancer, respiratory illnesses and premature death.
  • Air pollution from shipping often harms low-income families who live near ports.
  • More children are vulnerable to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Research shows that more than one in 10 children have asthma in the world’s major port cities.


But in this situation, it’s the environment which is hurting the most. Here are the effects on climate change:


  • Ships burn tons of fuel in an hour. As a result, large volumes of global warming gases and other elements that contribute to climate change are produced.
  • According to research, the black soot from the ship smokestacks settle on polar ice sheets and contribute to melting.



What can the industry do to cut down pollution from shipping?


  1. Use low sulfur fuels: It’s the simplest way to reduce pollutants from ships. They also make the ship’s engine run smoothly and with less operating problems and maintenance costs. Using low sulfur fuel also reduces other pollutant emissions.
  2. Use scrubbers: Scrubbers are a possible alternative to low-sulfur fuels because they could cut sulfur emissions by 99% and reduce other pollutant emissions.
  3. Internal engine modifications: Water injection and exhaust gas recirculation are techniques that prevent NOx production during the combustion process. These modifications can abate NOx emissions by 30-50%.
  4. Alternative energy sources: Right now, experts are studying if wind, solar power, biofuels and fuel cells can be used as alternative sources to operate ships and eventually reduce pollution.


What’s your stand on shipping pollution? Talk to us by leaving a comment below!




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