Toxic air pollution from ships causes 60,000 deaths a year – but the government has brushed off calls for a cleaner port

Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing yesterday rejected lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan’s calls for green shipping onshore power facilities, claiming, wrongly, that only a “few” ships in the world were fitted with such technology.

“Currently there are few ocean going vessels in the world equipped with OPS facilities for connecting to the OPS systems at the terminals,” Wong told lawmakers in response to Chan’s request that ship-to-shore technology could replace ship diesel generators when berthed and reduce fatal air pollution in the Tsuen Wan area.

While the government says “few” ships have shore-power technology, just two firms, Wartsila and Cavotec, have together fitted 750 ships with “cold iron” technology, around 14% of the global container ship fleet

But Wong’s statement appeared to be fake news, given accepted facts about onshore power technology.

One Swiss system maker Cavotec says its onshore power connection systems are installed on over 650 container ships – that’s 12% of all container ships in the world.

And Finnish firm Wärtsilä offers an easy “plug and play” container-based solution enabling ships to visit OPS ports – ships merely stack the container on deck and can link to shore-based systems to reduce their emissions. Wärtsilä says it has sold around 100 such systems already. There are dozens of other manufacturers active in the space, including ABB (Hitachi), Siemens, Scheider Electric and Danfoss.

Ship emissions cause around 60,000 deaths globally per year, and many leading ports around the world have implemented onshore power systems to tackle this, including Guangzhou, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Vancouver, Seattle, Gothenburg, Rotterdam and Los Angeles.

Indeed, the Port of Los Angeles began work on OPS – or “cold ironing”, to use the naval term – in 2004, responding to Californian air pollution directives that limited ship diesel power while at berth. By 2020, the Port of Los Angeles had 79 Alternative Marine Power vaults, more than any other port in the world.

According to Chan Han-pan, who is lawmaker for New Territories West, air and water pollution in the district is worsening, with sewage and smoke from container ships exacerbating the problem. Figures seen by Transit Jam show that pollution from a 10-hour cruise ship stay can be reduced from 1.5 tonnes of NOx to virtually nothing by using shore power technology.

Environment Bureau has not yet responded to questions on whether the Environment Secretary deliberately misled LegCo or whether Wong was simply using old information.

LNG beats shore power: cruise terminal boss

Cruise terminal boss Jeff Bent says shore power is old news: the best technology today is LNG-fuelled shipping

But Kai Tak Cruise terminal boss Jeff Bent told Transit Jam that onshore power was old news, and while Secretary Wong had given the “wrong answer” about onshore power technology not being available, the government was right to dismiss it.

“The issue with shore power, it seems to be the only thing politicans have ever heard of, they think it’s the best thing but it’s really not. Better is available – we shouldn’t be chasing a 1G technology and making big investments in this,” he says.

“Shore power is fantastic in two places – the Pacific Northwest and Norway,” says Bent. “And the reason is all of their electric power comes from renewables. So in that case it really is zero emissions when the ship is at berth and plugged in. But if the grid is powered by fossil fuels you’re just moving it from one area to another. And carbon emissions don’t know borders.”

The latest technology, the “3G” as Bent says, is LNG-powered ships – 50% of cruise ships on order today will be LNG-powered he says, calling on the government to properly regulate LNG bunkering. Such technology and regulation of a cryogenic fuel would also place Hong Kong well to use “4G” technology, green hydrogen-fuelled shipping, as it develops, although Bent says this is “decades” away.

Chan’s call for onshore power was part of a package of requests for his district, including a review of container ship sewage practices and a clampdown on illegal fuel sellers who ply the coastline, emitting unregulated VOCs and contributing to haze.

Responding to the claims of illegal gang fuelling, the Environmental Secretary said there was no problem. “The Marine Department did not find any illegal fuelling activity at the Tsuen Wan Dangerous Goods Anchorage (TWDGA) in the past few years,” he told LegCo.

Leave a Reply