Opinion: Shipping-Related Emissions Increasingly Pollute African Ports

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Written by Dana Sanchez

As freight volumes increase in African ports, health risks from shipping emissions are one of the challenges facing African port operators and the communities living around them, according to a report in IndependentOnline.

African port operators must look beyond the terminal gates to ensure future sustainability of their operations and the local economy, including the health risks that come with needed port expansions, says Karl Socikwa, CEO of South Africa’s Transnet Port Terminals.

Transnet Port Terminals is a freight transportation company owned by the South African government. It operates as a corporation, moving cargo on and off ships. Most Southern African import and export commodities are handled through South Africa’s seven ports: Richards Bay, Durban, Saldanha, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Port of Ngqura.

Trade between African countries is expected to increase by 715 percent over the next 35 years, according to the International Transport Forum Transport Outlook 2015. International freight transport volumes are expected to grow by 200 percent by 2050, Socikwa said in a guest column in IndependentOnline.

Growth in trade between African countries will have a significant impact on the environment with shipping-related emissions in ports predicted to increase accordingly if shipping companies, port authorities, freight companies and terminal operators continue doing business as usual.

Terminal operators need to work more closely with city managers to find solutions. “The danger is real,” Socikwa said. “Increased emissions have the potential to severely impact the lives of people around port cities.”

He estimated that shipping-related emissions in port cities are responsible for about 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths annually around the world.

“Any future terminal investment in Africa has to take these factors into account, especially as most of the major ports on the continent are in close proximity to city centres and residential areas,” he said. “The harbours of Cape Town, Durban, Maputo, Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, Luanda and Abidjan are all good examples.”

In South Africa, ports are undergoing terminal modernization that will help reduce emissions. Transnet says it has invested billions of rand upgrading the sector with modern equipment that is more energy efficient and more productive. Socikwa said this reduces the time that vessels spend in port which in turn reduces emissions.

He’s calling on other port and shipping players to do their part.

“It is vital that shipping companies also do their part to continue to reduce the emissions through the introduction of new, more energy-efficient vessels or the retrofitting of older vessels,” he said. “However, noise pollution remains a very real consideration too as the cumulative effect of more trade will be that the terminals have a greater impact on the air quality, noise levels and traffic congestion in the port cities in which they are situated.”

There are no cheap or easy solutions. Building new ports is one of them, Socikwa said. Kenya is building the port of Lamu north of Mombasa. Nigeria is building the Ibaka deep-sea port. South Africa has Ngqura and there are plans for a second port in Durban.

As some of the biggest power users in any port city, terminal operators can make a difference, Socikwa said. Decisions on buying new equipment should be guided by how energy efficient the machinery is.