Wednesday, February 15, 2012
slow cargo Crow
Hello everyone, Crow here. There's nothing more delightful than flying with a friend over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in February. The islands are beautiful but on our way south I was disturbed to see several very large container vessels and three or four even larger bulk carriers. Having spent some time in Halifax with susan I've had the leisure to see a lot of cargo ships (they're not at all pretty) as well as study the issue of international haulage. Interestingly enough, serious container shipping only got started in the 1960s
When you see a container ship for the first time the sheer size can be very surprising. The largest of them range up to 400 meters long (437 yards) and 59 meters (64 yards) wide, comparable to 4 football fields in length. Even now, one of the biggest concerns about building large container ships is how they will make it around the world. One fun fact I came across was that Maersk, an important Danish company, introduced a ship so large that they were unable to fill it to capacity due to the weight and the water displacement in the sea near the ports. Had they filled it to capacity, the ship would have hit the sea floor.
Until recently reducing CO2 and sulphur dioxide emissions from the world's fleet of almost 90,000 large ships hasn't been much of a priority for governments or ship owners. Part of the problem is that the industry has grown so rapidly, now carrying more than 90% of the world's trade by volume, and has tripled its tonnage since 1970. The shift of so much production from the US and Europe to China and south Asia has meant cargoes have to travel a lot further.
They do this by burning the world's cheapest, most polluting 'bunker' fuel. Marine heavy fuel oil, which is burned by all large ships, is the residue produced by oil refineries and is so thick that when cold it can be walked on. Just 15 of biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all of the world's cars combined. Unsurprisingly, the stuff is very cheap so demand for it has been soaring as more of these huge ships are built every year. So far most shipping companies have refused to do anything to alleviate the problem because it would cut into their profits and shipping has slipped under the radar of regulators (I know, regulators..)
Then there's the fact the damn things sink a whole lot more often than any news stories ever tell anyone. (How many times does a ship sink? Once. - sorry) According to wiki answers one hundred large ships sink each year, and out of that number ten of them are container vessels or super tankers more than 200 meters in length. Right now, as you read this there are five or six million shipping containers on enormous cargo ships sailing across the world's oceans and about every hour, on average one of them is falling overboard. It's estimated that ten thousand large containers are lost at sea every year. If you've ever wondered why your favorite brand of cereal isn't on your supermarket shelf this might be an answer. It's strange to imagine that corn grown in the midwest could be shipped in bulk to China where it's turned into cornflakes, boxed, and sent back by container ship just in time for your breakfast.
Anyway, I'm sure you get the idea and there's more to learn if you just want to do a simple search. There are some interesting developments aimed at creating wind-powered cargo vessels. A British company called B9 Shipping is planning to build a fleet of ships that use wind and renewable energy. It could become a movement.
All in all, my favorite story involves a small group of people who set off from Plymouth today on a 19th century sailing ketch called Irene on what may turn into an historic and worthwhile venture. Their project, called New Dawn Traders, will sail for five months carrying organic beer from Devon to France, olive oil from Spain to Brazil and then (all being well) will bring cocoa, coffee, Amazonian super-foods, and rum from South America and the Caribbean back to England. Another drawback about container ships is that many ports can't accommodate them so lots of small places have lost all chance of trade.
Lucy Gilliam, a member of Irene's crew said before they set sail, "People aren't really aware of the damage these huge cargo ships are doing to the planet," she said. "There needs to be a great story to get a popular movement going. People are inspired by tall ships. There's something magical in seeing a tall ship in a harbour or at sea."
I think so too. My friend and I will be keeping a lookout for them. Meanwhile, another friend, Horace the homing pigeon, has agreed to carry this letter back to susan. If the trade winds prevent me answering your comments myself I'm sure she will help. After all, I have promised to bring back something very special from my journey to the South Seas - some warm sand.
Salutations to all ♡