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Report raises short sea shipping concerns

Date: 14/02/2011

The environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) released a report detailing the environmental challenges associated with short sea shipping.

"Short sea shipping has the potential to be greener than other types of freight transport. However, major threats related to expanded operations -- such as air pollution, ocean noise and strikes of marine mammals -- have yet to be thoroughly addressed; until they are, claims about its environmental superiority will ring hollow, said John Kaltenstein, who authored FOE’s report.

"Adopting the most environmentally advanced technologies is crucial to minimizing the negative impacts of short sea shipping, he added. Industry leaders should adopt best practices and use low-emissions fuel, plug into electric shore power at berth, conduct regular equipment maintenance, and slow ship speeds. Where industry leaders fail to act, policymakers should step in to protect the public.

Referencing a proposal to use a barge to shuttle containers between Oakland and the inland ports of West Sacramento and Stockton, the report said, "tugboats used to move container barges should possess environmentally advanced features, such as batteries and very low-polluting engines optimized to engage in short sea shipping." 

The U.S. Maritime Administration last year said the three ports would receive a $30 million TIGER grant to help develop the service. FOE said that money should be used to purchase cargo handling equipment "with state-of-the-art engines, emission control devices, and/or hybrid technology."

The report also said, "While some level of environmental review has occurred, it is imperative that a more thorough evaluation be completed before the project is started, as well as an analysis of MarAd’s national plan, which facilitates the development of these short sea shipping operations."

It suggests for coastal vessels "energy efficient designs, hybrid arrangements, the use of ultra-low-sulfur fuel, engines optimized for slower speeds, and speed restrictions should be evaluated to limit harmful air emissions from these types of operations. In addition, all types of vessels engaged in short sea shipping should use shore power while at berth."

FOE said, "Sonic pollution from increased short sea shipping will only exacerbate existing noise-induced problems for marine mammals, such as communications masking, habitat avoidance, and stress." It suggests the use of engines optimized for slower speeds and that speed limits should be considered.

"A rise in regional short sea shipping, especially coastal traffic, will increase the threat of ship strikes in California waters," the report said.

Noting that measures such as speed limits and modified traffic separation schemes have been adopted on the East Coast in order to reduce strikes of whales, particularly North Atlantic right whales, FOE said dynamic speed limits -- where ships are slowed when whales are detected -- should be strongly considered.

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