Shipping Industry, Ports and Pollution

(Image used for representational purposes only)

Cargo handling operations in ports and harbours lead to environment pollution. Handling of dry bulk cargo including grain, coal, iron ore and china clay, are major contributors that cause the production of dust.

Handling of liquid bulk may require discharge through pipelines, which provides the potential for leaks, emissions and spillages. Sources of atmospheric pollution can stem from cargo vapour emissions. This may result in the suffocation of marine life in the vicinity.

Minor accidents in these regions can have a significant impact on the dense residential colonies sandwiched between industrial units, considering that the potential for a major fire is immense, given the large quantities of petroleum products stored in tank farms dotting the area.

Cargo Handling

Release of cargoes into the marine environment may have direct environmental effects, as in the case of the loss of toxic substances, or indirect effects, such as the loss of non-toxic organic-rich substances, which may result in oxygen depletion on their breakdown.

There are vast amounts of dry bulk cargoes shipped around the world and the dust generation from the physical handling of these cargoes is harmful to the environment.

Concern is often due to its highly visible nature. Some dry bulk cargoes have high concentrations of organic material and/or nutrients, such as fertilisers and animal feed, with high biological oxygen demands, large spillages of these may cause localised nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion.

It was found in the recent past that the air quality both in and outside the ports deteriorated considerably. Port authorities had been directed to formulate a comprehensive plan and implement it expeditiously to curb pollution.

Affects Human, Animal and Plant Life

The environmental hazards of harmful substances include damage to living resources (toxicity), bioaccumulation, hazard to human health (oral intake, inhalation and skin contact) and reduction of amenities. The severity of the pollution of the marine environment, air, soil or groundwater will depend upon the nature of the substance and the amount and concentration released into the port environment.

In 2011, the Madras High Court in India, directed the Union Shipping Ministry not to dump and handle dusty cargo like coal and iron ore at the Chennai port. A report by Community Environmental Monitoring revealed that the residents of North Chennai were living in a condition similar to that of the victims of the Bhopal disaster.


The presence of over fourteen highly toxic chemicals in the air samples, all of which can adversely affect the eyes, eleven target the skin, central nervous system, and the respiratory system, four target the liver and kidneys, three target the blood, two target the peripheral nervous system, reproductive system, and the gastrointestinal system and one affects the cardio vascular system.

One of them, benzene, is a known human and animal carcinogen, which also causes the rare childhood cancer Leukemia or blood cancer.

Control and Checks

  1. Pollution control measures, due to which the degree of air and water pollution in the core operational area of the port and its civil township in a sustained manner, is primordial.
  2. Mobile mist canons for dust suppression should be procured by the port trust and around drive to plant saplings in the port area should be initiated.
  3. Truck tyres washing systems should be installed inside the port as the trucks carrying ores often leave dust on the road.
  4. To stop dust particles from spreading, the port authorities should take up projects to expand ultra-violet net-barricade cover within the restricted port area. The 2-km stretch of the port boundary can be brought under the net cover to stop air pollution caused by the handling of ores.
  5. Installation of automatic fogging system in areas where mineral ores are being stockpiled and can curb pollution to a great extent.
  6. Mechanical sweeping water sprinkling systems at the manual stockyard and building tanks at strategic places in the port to scientifically store polluted water.

Need of the Hour

Environmental hazards are an inevitable consequence of industrial advancement and economic development involving the trade of industrial produce. Increasing economic development, coupled with a rapidly growing population, is putting a strain on the environment, infrastructure, and the country’s natural resources.

Fine particles or microscopic dust from coal, iron ore, and unfiltered diesel engines are rated as some of the most lethal forms or air pollution caused by industry.

Shipping terminals and ports across the world should setup effective environment-monitoring cells with personnel having expertise on pollution control. Environment scientists should also be recruited to strengthen these cells. Ambient air and water standards monitoring by the cell on a daily basis can reduce air pollution to a certain degree.

Sea News Feature, July 13