Columnists

Put maritime on emissions radar

suez ship

This handout satellite image courtesy of Cnes 2021 released on March 25, 2021 by Airbus DS shows the Taiwan-owned MV 'Ever Given' (Evergreen) container ship, wedged diagonally across the canal, strangling world supply chains and costing the global economy billions. PHOTO | AFP

jenny

Summary

  • Ships don’t just turn sideways in a canal channel, which is why the Suez Canal has worked at the width it is for decades, even as ships have got larger.
  • Yet, at first, the media said it was wind that turned the ship, which, to put that in proportion, is a bit like saying wind knocked over the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi.

Ever Given, the mighty cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal last month, brought the drama of fictional sabotage stories to our real TV screens in 2021, as the skewed ship, wedged either end, blocked 10 percent of the world’s trade for just under a week.

The stories were flaky from the start on how the ship came to be at a near-perpendicular angle to its travel channel. It didn’t knock anything, it has steerage, and that ship is so heavy, it took all the trawlers that several countries could muster to right it.

Ships don’t just turn sideways in a canal channel, which is why the Suez Canal has worked at the width it is for decades, even as ships have got larger.

Yet, at first, the media said it was wind that turned the ship, which, to put that in proportion, is a bit like saying wind knocked over the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi.

Moreover, there was no abnormal hurricane that day, and much more powerful windy days have never before turned a mega-tanker, plus the Egyptian authorities additionally leapt in rapidly to say that the blockage was most certainly not caused by wind.

With the canal unpassable, Egypt didn’t have the time then to argue over what caused the block.

It anyway took six-and-a-half days to move that ship. But last week, it seized Ever Given and all but two of its crew, because the owners will not settle any compensation, not the £655m that Egypt says it cost to get the ship moved, and not, in fact, any amount at all, as in even a single dollar.

Now, a thought for those sailors. One or more of them knows how that ship turned, for sure. But their tale also brings home the perils for crew, which span a dozen bases.

For, Ever Given has certainly come as a reminder of the extraordinary lack of oversight, coverage, focus, information and regulation of the world’s largest industry.

As it is, the shipping industry is mammoth. Just look at even our own exports and imports as a proportion of GDP, then write in every kilogramme of every nation’s merchandise trade being either airborne or maritime shipped, and it becomes clear it is a gargantuan movement and industry.

Yet, shipping is almost entirely beyond and outside the law.

As one ShorList blogger recently put it: “According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: ‘No state may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.’ ... Rather than belonging to nowhere, international waters kind of belong to everywhere under the principle of freedom of the seas.”

But it’s a ‘kind of’ belonging to everywhere that goes badly, often. People can get murdered on a ship and there is no murder if the captain says there was no murder. That captain is the law.

And it makes for a hideous life for the crews, often from the Philippines, India or South Africa, stuck on ships for sometimes years, with no recourse for rape, theft, assault, and even when some of them just ‘disappear’ over the side.

But it’s also the source of Egypt’s struggle, with that one ship owner, with their wind-vulnerable mega-ship.

Indeed, our lawless shipping is a blind spot so huge, it continues to mystify me why it has become our exception on everything. Air travel has long been targeted on air miles and with pressure to take fewer flights and buy carbon compensation.

Yet shipping, which carries 90 percent of world trade, never gets even a mention for its gas guzzling, which is many times greater.

I have observed before that even a single average container ship uses enough fuel in a single day, to fuel all of the 8,000 cars a year sold in Kenya for nearly 400 miles of travel each. These ships are our last and principal oil sinks.

They also transport, apparently, huge flows of illegal immigrants and all the world’s illegal cargo, and, let’s just wonder, could even be paid to block channels now and then too. And we think maritime is off the radar? Why?