Slower Ship Speeds Found to Benefit Environment and Human Health

A new joint report from two Brussels based environmental NGOs has found that slower ship speeds would massively reduce the damage shipping is causing to human health, nature and the climate.

Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment have published the report ahead of the start of the latest round of UN ship climate negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London.

The 6th session of the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee International Working Group on greenhouse gas emissions is taking place from November 11th to 15th.

The meeting will consider proposals for short-term measures to tackle the climate impact of shipping.

In a statement Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment outlined that the positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from slowing shipping speeds is already well-known.

However, less attention has been given to the positive effects of slower speeds to nature and human health.

According to the report a 20% reduction in ship speed would reduce underwater noise pollution by 66%, and the chance of a fatal collision between a ship and a whale by a massive 78%.

Both noise and whale strikes are having a serious impact on the health of the marine environment.

Reducing the speed at which ships travel means reducing fuel burn.

In addition to reductions in GHG emissions, reducing fuel burn also results in reducing emissions of black carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxides which are all important air pollutants.

SOx and NOx emissions have serious implications for human health, while black carbon is a concern in the Arctic where it is responsible for accelerating global heating.

According to John Maggs from Seas at Risk, ‘Speed reduction is the closest thing to a silver bullet the IMO will ever see. Delegates attending this week’s IMO climate negotiations have on the table proposals to reduce ship speed that would not just make a big dent in shipping’s climate impact but would massively reduce air pollution, underwater noise pollution, and the incidence of fatal collisions between whales and ships, all issues that the IMO must also deal with.’

A previous report by Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment outlined the overall cost reduction benefits for the shipping sector from the reduced fuel usage associated with ‘slow steaming’ when offset against the cost of the additional days spent at sea.

‘Killing four birds with one stone is pretty good, but when you add in that it saves shipowners money on their fuel bill, it really is a no-brainer’, said Faig Abbasov from Transport & Environment.

(Image: Henrie de Fox via







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