In the latest annual transport survey carried out by law firm Norton, Rose Fulbright the question was asked “Which regulation has had the greatest impact on the shipping industry over the past decade?” The answers included competition law, trade sanctions and anti-bribery and corruption but it was environmental regulation which was seen as having had the greatest impact on shipping over the past decade with 49% of respondents giving it as their answer.
Environmental regulation can be a good thing and few would argue against deliberate pollution of the environment by hazardous chemicals and substances other than in a dire emergency. On the other hand disposal of food waste and even sewage is of questionable harm in the deep oceans and viewed dispassionately could even be beneficial providing nutrients for marine life and recycling essential trace elements.
However, compared to shore-based industries, shipping has fewer opportunities to control and contain the inevitable pollution that can occur. A power station on shore can easily accommodate large items of emission control equipment and in the event of a problem it can easily be shut down and its output to the grid made up by others. That is not an option available to a ship at sea.
Some would argue that exhaust emissions need to be considered as an inevitable side effect of human economic activity and while there may be some detrimental effect, overall the wealth created by trade and the food and raw materials transported to where they are needed most improves the quality of human life and raises living standards.
Most aspects of environmental protection are not likely to give any benefit to operators and will in fact result in extra costs for them to absorb. If they do have a complaint in connection with cleaning up shipping’s act, it is that all too often they are not getting the support they need from ports and terminals or from regulators happy to prosecute but not to provide facilities even where they are charged for.
As things stand, there is little chance that shipping can evade the environmental spotlight but it can take some solace from the fact that each new area of regulation leaves less to be regulated on further down the line.