Cargo Ships Avoiding Cleaner Fuel By Choosing Dangerous Routes

Big cargo ships are some of the heaviest polluters on the planet. They might also be one of the most efficient forms of transporting goods — and a large reason why we Americans are able to purchase so much from so far away for comparatively little money.

In an effort to curb the harmful emissions spewed by these big ships along the heavily populated coastline of California, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) has required all ships coming within 24 nautical miles of the coast to use cleaner burning fuel. But rather than make the switch, many ships are simply choosing a more crowded naval route that runs through the heart of a Navy weapons testing ground.

Yet another case of unintended consequences. The CARB measure seeks to clean up the air along the coast near one of the worlds busiest ports, Los Angeles. All ships within 24 nautical miles of the California coast must use lower-sulfur marine distillates rather than heavy oil. Using the cleaner fuel would reduce emissions, but add $30,000 to a visit to the L.A. port. This cost is about 1% of the cost for a large container ship to cross the ocean, and directly bites into the profits of the vessels.

As such, many shipping companies are directing their vessels away from the Santa Barbara Channel, which cuts miles off of their log and thus saves money. This route happens to lack the in/out organization of the Santa Barbara Channel, making the possibility of a collision much more likely. This is also the location of the Navy’s Point Mugu Sea Range where they practice naval exercises.

Sounds like CARB needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink this law. Perhaps instead of charging ships per-mile, a flat fee for not using low-sulfur fuel that would negate any savings by taking the quicker route. It is a tough question to answer, and has a dramatic affect on many lives as well.

Source: New York Times | Image: Remi Kaupp


Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.