Why Wilhelmsen is leading the switch to a post-sulphur shipping industry.

Words: David Nikel

Tough new regulations on sulphur emissions have caused panic in the shipping industry. At the start of 2015, the level of sulphur permitted in Emissions Control Areas (ECAs) was reduced from 1% to just 0.1%.

Existing ECAs – sea areas in which strict controls exist to restrict airborne emissions from ships – include the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, most of the coastline of the United States and Canada, and much of the Caribbean.

All living things need sulphur. In fact, the average person consumes around 900mg of sulphur per day, mainly in the form of proteins. While this sulphur is not harmful, many sulphur derivates are.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) reacts with other chemicals in the air to form toxic particles that are known to cause difficulty in breathing and increased respiratory diseases. The high sulphur levels in the diesel fuel used on vessels are a major contributor.

“Wilhelmsen adopted a low sulphur policy as far back as 2004, a long time before ECAs were established,” explains Petter Jønvik, shipping and environment manager at WWASA.

“Our philosophy is to welcome new regulations as long as there is sense behind them, and a level playing field is important for the industry to make a huge positive impact on the environment.Sulphur emissions are an important issue to tackle but as it is a global problem, regulations should apply to all companies operating in any particular area. Regulations should benefit the environment, not provide a competitive advantage for any single company.”

While much of the industry is opposed to the changes, Wilhelmsen’s vision is to lead the conversation.

“We broadly welcome these regulations and have been an early adopter of many new solutions and technologies such as scrubbers. Too many rules are made by politicians that don’t understand how a vessel works, let alone the industry, so we want to take a lead in developing new legislation and helping the industry adapt,” adds Jønvik. 


Why it matters

The Human Impact:
While breathing difficulties are a known short-term effect of sulphur exposure, the long-term effects can be devastating. Neurological and behavioural changes, disturbance of blood circulation, heart damage, reproductive failure and damage to the immune system are just some of the potential effects. Animals too can suffer brain damage and complications of the nervous system. Mothers can even pass sulphur poisoning on to their children through their milk.

The Environmental Impact:
SO2 reacts with other substances in the air to form acids, which fall to Earth as rain, fog, snow or dry particles. Some may be carried by the wind over a long distance and deposited far from the point of origin. Acid rain affects forests, plantlife and can turn water acidic and will make it difficult to fish. There is an impact on the built environment too, as excessive sulphur accelerates the decay of building materials and paints.

Our Solutions:
Wilhelmsen consider both issues on on-going basis.
We have a continuous focus on our environmental footprint. Among the initiatives we have towards an even greener profile include, scrubber systems to clean ships exhaust fumes, better designed vessels with improved fuel efficiency, reporting systems to better detect optimal voyage performance. We are also contiously looking at
other fuel/energy sources.