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Pollution at sea
The Erika tanker gave boats a bad name back in 1999 when it crumbled and sunk releasing thousands of tonnes of oil into the water, but not all maritime pollution is bad: ships at sea release SO2 which in some ways reduces the effect of global warming.
A Total loss, this week, for Europe's largest oil refiner as a Paris appeals court holds the company responsible for the 1999 oil tanker accident saying that it should have done more to vet the vessels sea worthiness. The Erika tanker sank due to severe weather and corrosion. Total has already been found guilty in 2008 for the damage caused when the Erika, an ageing oil tanker it had chartered, broke apart and sank in a winter storm off the coast of Brittany. The court confirmed the criminal responsibility of Total, which was fined 375,000 euros in the first case.
The ruling also upheld the legal notion that damage to the general environment is on a par with economic harm to individuals or corporations for which companies must pay compensation.
Aging and corrosion is not only a problem when it comes to transporting oil by ship, decay in some of the pipes put in place decades ago are also causing splurges and spills.
Last august, an oil pipeline ruptured underneath the Crau natural reserve, it let out some four thousand cubic metres of crude oil. The part of the pipeline that cracked was more than thirty years old. Companies maintaining the pipes sent robots down to check for any damage but after the Crau accident French authorities decided that this routine check-up needed to be carried out more often.
Meanwhile while shipping has gotten a bad name in relation to oil spills, shipping has a cooling effect on the atmosphere and offsets to some extent the warming caused by various greenhouse gases. When ships sail the fuel they burn is not the best quality and so it emits sulphur dioxide, which produces a sort of haze of shade that reduces the effects of other greenhouse gases.
“Sulphate is a compound that directly cools the atmosphere. The particles reflect the rays of the sun by creating a haze, making skies cloudier. So yes it has a cooling affect by masking the warming of green house gases such as carbon dioxide, which are generated by human activity” explains Jean SCAIRE, a researcher at CNRS Science Laboratory of Climate and Environment.
On the other hand sulphur emissions can be lethal for humans. It is estimated that around 64,000 people a year die worldwide from lung and heart disease caused by SO2. And that's not the only negative impact: “It can also affect the acidity of rain. Like what happened in the 1970s. We should not forget boat emissions are not only sulphate but a lot of other components, notably carbon dioxide which has a very negative effect on health,” continues Jean Scaire.
This July ships will be forced to cut down on the sulphur dioxide emissions but the International Maritime Organisation has little intention of forcing the shipping industry to reduce the output of these other gases such as CO2.
From boats pollution to a boat that wants to save the planet. A 60 foot catamaran is currently crossing the pacific ocean. Plastiki, as it is known, is a boat that hopes to beat pollution by showing sustainable solutions and highlighting the horror being done to the world’s waters by plastic waste.
Solar panels at the stern allow the crew to heat water, or to use the vessel's technical equipment, like GPS or computers. Wind turbines and an electricity-generating exercise bike make up any shortfall. The project's the brainchild of British explorer David de Rothschild.
A member of the famous Rothschild banking family of England, he's also the head of Adventure Ecology, an expedition group that raises awareness about climate change.
The Plastiki has a six person crew. Some are seasoned sailors, but there are also scientists aboard whose mission is to bring back fresh data about the health of the Pacific Ocean.