Ship and Shipping Pollution

Atmospheric Ship Pollution


There are over 90,000 marine vessels that take care of up to 80% of world trade and transportation of goods around the world. Ships make use of fossil fuels for energy and they produce carbon dioxide that add significantly to climate change. More than three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to ocean-going ships.

Global Shipping rank as high as countries when it comes to greenhouse emissions, in fact if global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world.

Ships pollute the ocean in several ways. Other environmental impacts of shipping includes air pollution, water pollution, acoustic, and oil pollution.


These are some of the ways in which shipping affects the environment:

Ballast Water Discharges

Ships (Cruise ships, large tankers, bulk cargo carriers) use huge amounts of ballast water, ballast water is water held in ballast tanks and cargo holds of ships to provide stability and maneuverability during a voyage when a ship is not carrying cargo or not carrying enough cargo, or when more stability is required due to rough seas. Ballast water is often taken from coastal waters in a region after ships discharge wastewater or unload cargo, and is discharged at the next port of call.

 Ballast water usually contain a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. These biological materials often include non-native, invasive, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems along with serious human health problems.

Noise Pollution   

Noise Pollution in Shipping     

With the scientific and technological advancements in ship building in recent history, noise pollution by ships has increased. Ships produce noise that can travel long distances, and this disrupts the behavior of marine species who may rely on sound for their orientation, communication, and feeding. Ocean noise from commercial ships, oil and gas exploration, naval sonar exercises etc. is a threat to marine life, animals like whale have their communication with each other disrupted and this affects their ability to survive.

Wildlife Collisions   

   Wildlife Collisions  in the sea

Due to increased shipping traffic, the risks of marine mammal like whales and manatee being struck by ships has also increased. This collisions cause injury and death. Ships moving at very fast speed, have a high probability of having fatal collisions with these mammals.

A major victim of ship collisions is the endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which 400 or fewer remain; the greatest danger to the North Atlantic right whale is injury sustained from ship strikes

Atmospheric Pollution  

Vessel Damage Survey         

Gasses emitted from burning of hydrocarbon fuel by ships are a significant source of air pollution. Gases emitted by diesel engines that burn high sulfur content fuel oil, also known as bunker oil, produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, in addition to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons.

 Diesel exhaust has been identified as a likely human carcinogen and these emissions contribute to ozone layer depletion as well as adverse health effects on humans.

Oil Spills  

Oil Spill From Ship       

Although oil spills happen less frequently, but they have devastating effects. Crude oil is very toxic to marine life, and is very difficult to clean up and can last for years in the sediment and marine environment.

 Oil spills have negative impact on marine wildlife like developmental problems, susceptibility to disease, and abnormal reproductive cycles. For example when an oil spill happens, the oil can get stuck to the gills of fishes and feathers of sea birds, making movement and feeding extremely difficult- this can cause cancer, reproductive system failure, behavioral changes and death. Oil floats on the surface of water and prevents marine plants from getting sunlight to carry out photosynthesis.


Sewage waste on Ships

Wastewater from ships consists of Blackwater, greywater and bilge water. 255,000 US gallons of greywater and 30,000 US gallons of Blackwater are dumped into the sea every day by cruise ships.

Blackwater is sewage, wastewater from toilets and medical facilities, it often contains harmful bacteria, pathogens, viruses, intestinal parasites, and harmful nutrients and it can cause bacterial and viral contamination of fisheries and shellfish beds, and risks to public health.

Greywater is wastewater from the sinks, showers, galleys, laundry, and cleaning activities aboard a ship. It contains a variety of pollutants including detergents, oil and grease, metals, nutrients, food waste, medical and dental waste. Greywater can cause adverse environmental effects because of concentrations of nutrients in it.


Shipping is one of the main sources of pollution in the world, a study found that one giant container ship can emit the same amount of cancer causing chemicals as 50 million cars.

A US academic research showed that pollution from the worlds over 90000 ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year and costs up to 330 billion dollars a year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. Shipping is also responsible for 18 to 30% of all world’s nitrogen oxide and Sulphur oxide pollution.

Pollution caused by shipping is very significant and impacts many areas, atmospheric condition, human health and wildlife, measures have to be taken to reduce pollution caused by shipping to the barest minimum.

How much CO2 does shipping produce?

Ships are one of the biggest contributors of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Calculations by The International Maritime Organization (IMO) showed that ocean-going ships emitted up to 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas of 205 million cars. The shipping industry has grown by an average of 5 % per year in the last 3 decades and the IMO predicts that carbon dioxide emission from shipping could increase to 1.48 billion metric tons if measures are not put in place to reduce emissions.


The quickest, easy and effective way to reduce emissions from ships is to reduce their speeds. Fuel consumption is directly proportional to the speed of the ship, the higher the speed of a ship the more fuel it burns and more fuel burnt means more emission. So slowing down even by just a little will save fuel and reduce emissions significantly.

 The IMO calculated that a speed reduction of just 10 percent across the global fleet by 2010 would result in a 23.3 percent reduction in emissions. Hapag-Lloyd found that slowing some of their ships by just five knots, or 20 percent, resulted in savings of around 50 percent on fuel costs. Restrictions on vessel speed would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, black carbon, nitrogen oxides, and nitrous oxide.


Cruise ship pollution has a great negative impact on marine life, these are some of the primary ways in which impact the marine environment and contribute to global pollution:

Ballast Water Pollution

Air Pollution

Noise pollution

Grey Water Pollution

Blackwater/ Sewage Pollution

Chemical Pollution

Oil Pollution/ Bilge Oil Pollution

Solid Waste Pollution

Destruction of Coral Reefs

Physical damages to marine life


Shipping is the most energy efficient form of transporting large cargo and is responsible for the transportation of up to 80% of the world’s goods but is a source of the world’s biggest air pollution. Ships still use large amounts of crude oil products which affects the environment adversely.

According to Transport and Environment, by the year 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry are expected to make up for 10% of the world’s emissions. Through the burning of hydrocarbon fuels for energy, greenhouse gasses that degrade air quality, affect human health negatively and contributes greatly to the effects of climate change.


Over the years there has been a steady growth in ship traffic around the world, between 1992 and 2002, there was a steady increase of 6 % per year; post 2002 the volume of ships grew larger, up to a 10% increase per year by 2011.

Shipping is one of the human activities that have a negative impact on the marine environment with these effect increasing as the volume of shipping traffic increases worldwide.

Effects of shipping on the ocean include air pollution, noise pollution, oil spills, spreading of invasive species, light pollution.


The shipping industry is one of the most important industries in the world, the maritime sector accounts for more than half of all world trade’s total volume. While dealing with taking care of high services demand, the shipping industry also faces environmental issues.

Over the years shipping companies have shown increased concern about keeping the oceans clean and safe by adopting several methods like using chemical resistant bunds and shipping containers to reduce the impact of shipping on water pollution. While steps have been taken to reduce shipping pollution in ocean, gas emission are still a problem; greenhouse gas emissions from ships contributes to the worsening climate change every year. Although an efficient mode of transport, the use of large amounts of crude oil products which are damaging to the environment- the volume of carbon monoxide emitted by ships increases at an alarming rate every year, According to Transport and Environment, by the year 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry are expected to make up for 10% of the world’s emissions.

Climate change has several impacts on maritime transport, especially on its efficiency and profitability

  • One of the impact of climate change on shipping is re-routing. Since ice continues to melt around the North Pole due to global warming, sea levels are rising, coastal erosion is worsening, and sedimentation patterns are changing, some ship channels are no longer safe. Since normal shipping routes are no longer safe or easy t travel, new courses have to be planned, this can be very inconvenient and affect productivity for both shippers and customers due to time and resources spent on planning new routes and increase in transit time will also affect customer deliveries.

  • There is an increased risk of port infrastructure damage, most port infrastructure is built at sea level, wind when the sea level rises drastically, the infrastructure will be submerged and destroyed; although that sea-level rise is quite steady and slow, its destructive nature is imminent.

  • Climate change also creates unplanned additional operating costs. unplanned costs like repairing or relocating facilities due to a storm surge, increased refrigeration costs because of rising temperature levels, extended periods of severe weather that lead to prolonged travels and less cost-effective shipping routes, extreme volume of rainfall that delay other essential tasks of shipping, such as the loading and unloading of cargo and shipment.

  • Climate change can also cause a decrease in demand for shipping services. Drought and intensified heat can make growing crops a more difficult and less sustainable venture. With fewer goods to transport, there will be less demand for the services of shipping companies. The profits generated by ports can reduce drastically as the number of available businesses also drop.


China is the country that causes the most pollution in the world- Unsurprisingly, the country with the most population in the world is also the country that contributes most to pollution, having an enormous export market which has caused its industry to grow into a pollution hotspot. More carbon dioxide is emitted in the five provinces with the most industries than in any other country in the world.

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