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Maritime transport : The ecological cost of Christmas

Did you know that 9 times out of 10, the purchases you make online are transported by sea? This is where your Christmas purchases may come from, since not all of them are made in Europe. Harmful for the climate and marine ecosystems, maritime transport represents one of the dark sides of these end-of-year holidays.

This over-consumption has a negative impact on the environment. The issue of shipping is all the more crucial during this festive period, when entire crowds rush to the stores or online to buy in mass. Multimedia devices, toys, textiles are all products that cross the seas to our shelves, at a ridiculous price for us but very high for the ocean. 

Maritime transport, a considerable source of pollution for the Ocean    

Today, if manufacturers and distributors pay more and more attention to the ecological footprint of the manufacture and packaging of products, their transport conditions are however almost never taken into account. Yet the stakes are high.   

Shipping contributes to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. According to UNCTAD, in 2022 shipping emitted 847 million tons of CO2. This figure increased by 4.7% between 2021 and 2022.        

There are also more insidious ones that form the vast majority of pollution affecting the marine environment :

            – Degassing: this is the intentional discharge of tanks containing hydrocarbon residues from the ship’s propulsion.  

            – Ballast water spills: used to balance a vessel during loading and unloading, this water contains aquatic micro-organisms transported from port to port, some of which are invasive species that can threaten the balance of endemic ecosystems.  

            – Domestic pollution: this corresponds to black or grey water loaded with pollutants; “antifouling” paints used for the maintenance of the vessel and the fight against corrosion, in particular thanks to the biocides they contain, which release substances that are harmful to aquatic species; waste produced by vessels and their crews that are discharged at sea.  

The fight against pollution is a priority for Surfrider Foundation. Committed to the protection of the marine environment since 1990, we have developed expertise in the field of maritime transport, particularly on the issue of pollution from ships. Surfrider has taken on the role of advocate and expert on the environmental impacts of ships, such as air pollution, oil pollution and waste management.  

Increasing number of accidents and pollution linked to maritime transport   

The increase in accidents and pollution related to maritime transport has forced the evolution of legislation in this sector. Unfortunately, it still generates multiple negative impacts on the Ocean: introduction of invasive species, collision with cetaceans, loss of containers or oil spills.   

Since 2014, Surfrider Foundation has been conducting studies on container loss in order to quantify them and identify their impacts and origins. The first result had made it possible to list, count and trace 13,441 containers lost at sea between 1994 and 2013.   

The new census conducted by Surfrider for the period between the years of 2015 to 2018 concludes the identification and traceability of the loss of 2,563 additional containers. Of these hundreds lost each year, only 2.6% are recovered.   

Read also: the report of Surfrider on container losses at sea 

Global shipping must meet the challenge of ecological transition. By using this mode of transport of goods, brands participate in the harmful effects of maritime transport on the environment and pollution of the ocean. It is their responsibility to choose ship owners that respect environmental and social standards.  

Green Marine Europe: an environmental label for responsible shipping  

The Green Marine Europe label has a simple objective: to improve the environmental performance of the shipping industry in a concrete and measurable way. The label’s primary aim is to go beyond existing regulations, in order to encourage shipowners to make a greater commitment. To receive certification, candidates must measure their environmental performance annually, submit to an external audit, agree to publish their individual results and commit to a process of continuous improvement.  

A recent example of a company that has engaged with us is Wine Forces, a wine producing company, which has been introducing organic wines since 2012. The company has agreed to sustainability programs in its supply chains. Wine Forces wants to choose carriers with the Green Marine Europe label to preserve nature and vineyards, by using a more eco-friendly mode of transport.