Last month’s Suez Canal blockade, caused by the grounding of the super tanker Ever Given, led to an increase in sulfur dioxide emissions, according to satellite data.
The pollutant is a greenhouse gas that is emitted by burning the type of fuel oil used in ship engines.
The Tropomi apparatus on the EU’s Sentinel-5P satellites revealed that the gas was being pumped out from boats in “Hotelling mode” that had been idling after getting caught in the traffic jam caused by Ever Given.
Boats are anchored here with the main engine switched off, but many of their generators and on-board boilers are still in operation.
The large number of ships stuck in one place – at the northern end of the Suez Canal in the Mediterranean – led to an increase in sulfur emissions in the region.
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The picture shows the increase in sulfur dioxide emissions between March 23 and 29, when the Suez Canal was blocked by Ever Given. Red areas are sulfur dioxide increases caused by ship “hotelling” while waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared
The mega-ship Ever Given blocked Egypt’s Suez Canal for almost a week and crippled world trade. It has now been “seized” by court order until the shipowners pay $ 900 million in compensation for lost trades, the canal authorities said on Tuesday
The Suez Canal is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world as it creates the shortest distance for ships from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic
Dr. Maryam Pourshamsi, an Earth observation specialist at Airbus Defense and Space, told BBC News: “When ships move while they’re actually cruising, they emit more sulfur dioxide than when they’re just hot.
“But it’s the fact that we’ve gathered so many ships together, all parked, that we can see that signal in the Sentinel-5P satellite data.”
In the Ever Given saga, the crucial marine artery was blocked for almost a week, and more than 350 ships were stuck behind the gigantic ship as a result.
Some chose to complete their voyages over other, much longer stretches around the Cape of Good Hope, while some ships waited for the boat to be released.
The ship was seized yesterday by the Egyptian authorities on judicial orders until the ship’s owners paid $ 900 million in compensation.
The MV Ever Given was seized yesterday for failing to pay $ 900 million in compensation. It hung diagonally, holding an estimated $ 9.6 billion worth of cargo every day
The Ever Given ship was trapped for six days before authorities finally managed to release it during a tug and dredger operation
What is sulfur dioxide?
Sulfur is a small molecule that is a gas at room temperature and contains one sulfur atom bonded to two oxygen atoms.
It is a greenhouse gas emitted by ships, volcanoes and industry.
The UK Government’s Health Protection Agency considers it a toxic and corrosive chemical.
In gaseous form, it is highly irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs when inhaled and, in high concentrations, can cause nausea, vomiting and corrosion of the respiratory tract.
It is a colorless gas with an irritating pungent odor, and it also dissolves easily in water.
As a result, sulfur dioxide is the chemical responsible for acid rain.
“One of the main uses of sulfur dioxide is as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of sulfuric acid,” said the HPA.
It is also used as a fumigant, food preservative, and as a bleaching agent.
“Sulfur dioxide has also been used to purify petroleum products.”
Ever Given is a Japanese-owned, Taiwan-operated Panama-flagged vessel that got stuck diagonally in the Canal on March 23.
A huge six-day effort by Egyptian personnel and international salvage specialists finally managed to displace them.
Maritime data company Lloyd’s List said the blockade has delayed an estimated $ 9.6 billion worth of cargo between Asia and Europe every day.
The canal is vital economically to Egypt, which, according to the Canal Authority, lost between $ 12 million and $ 15 million in revenue for each day the waterway was closed.
After the Ever Given was released, the data shows that sulfur levels soon returned to normal.
Recently, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) made efforts to contain the industry’s gruesome emissions record.
Some of the largest ships in the world have enormous engines that are four stories high and run on oil-based products that are more polluting than their road and air equivalents.
According to the European Commission, international shipping emits around 940 million tons of CO2 annually and is responsible for around 2.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
The IMO is working on ways to improve the maritime industry’s reputation as a polluting sector and last year introduced a new rule forcing ships to use cleaner fuel oils.
It hopes to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by 2050 compared to 2008.
The Mediterranean Sea, which is linked to the Red Sea by the Suez Canal, is one of the busiest shipping canals in the world.
A proposal is being considered that would further limit emissions in the Mediterranean basin and bring sulfur emissions down to a fifth of their new lower levels.
The ship blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week and was eventually made afloat again and moved
In the Ever Given saga, the central sea artery was blocked for almost a week, and more than 350 ships were stuck behind the gigantic ship as a result. Some chose to make their voyages over other, much longer distances, while some ships sat idle in the water, waiting for the boat to move
Why is the Suez Canal so important?
The approximately 120 miles long Suez Canal connects the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea and is the shortest shipping route between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
In front of the canal, shipping from Europe either had to go overland or circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope and the South Atlantic.
Construction of the canal officially begins in April 1859, much of the work financed by France.
It was opened to shipping to ships from all over the world on November 17, 1869, although the British government later wanted a force in the area to protect shipping interests after taking a 44 percent stake in the canal in 1875 .
The Suez Canal connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and is a shortcut from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic
From then on, while nominally owned by Egypt, the canal was operated by Great Britain and France until its nationalization in 1956.
With the nationalization by Nasser, Britain and France embarked on a failed and humiliating attempt to recapture the vital waterway.
The canal was briefly closed after the attempted invasion before it was closed for eight years in 1967 after the Six Day War with Israel.
Due to the instability in the region, the canal remained closed until 1975 – the longest closure of all time as the waterway was dismantled and some ships were sunk in the main canal.
In 2015, a new section of the canal was opened, which allows ships to cross the waterway in both directions at the same time. Future plans are for the two-lane system to span the entire network, doubling the current capacity of the channel.
The largest cargo ships pay more than £ 180,000 in tolls to cross the canal.
An average of 40-50 cargo ships use the canal every day in a journey of around 11 hours, as the speed along the waterway is limited to around 9 kt to prevent the banks of the canal from being washed away.
There are shelters along the canal for ships to pass if they suffer from a mechanical problem.
When the canal was first opened, the canal was approximately 26 feet deep and 72 feet wide at the bottom. The surface was between 200 and 300 feet wide for ships to pass.
In the 1960s, dredging the canal increased the depth to 40 feet and widened the waterway to accommodate larger ships.
Now the canal’s minimum depth is 66 feet, although it has been increased to 72 feet – allowing for even larger ships.