Three Ways the Maritime Industry Can Prevent Water Pollution


As the implementation of environmentally sustainable practices spreads across multiple industries, it’s no doubt the green revolution is here. From going paperless to replacing older-style vehicles with electric cars, sectors across the globe are jumping on the bandwagon.

In the past, the maritime industry hasn’t always been the focus of the world’s top environmental group. However, with a spotlight on the maritime sector’s close cousin, the transport industry, and the increasing popularity of more sustainable initiatives, it won’t be long until the spotlight is on world trade and the industry that supports it.

Essentially, there is enormous generational change facing the maritime sector. Within the lifetime of today’s new vessels and infrastructure, the industry must shift away from fossil fuels as well as implement more sustainable practices that limit water pollution. What’s more, the sector must make these changes in the face of financial and technical uncertainty, not to mention ensure legislative regulations are met.

So what is water pollution? And what steps can the maritime industry take to limit its impact on our oceans?

What is water pollution?

As the name suggests, water pollution is the contamination of our waterways, including lakes, rivers and creeks. Pollution ranges from toxic substances as harmful as an oil spill to something as simple as a discarded crisp packet. 

Whatever the source, water pollution is extremely harmful. Water is particularly vulnerable to pollution as it is able to dissolve more pollution than any other liquid on earth. Toxic substances from a variety of different sectors and industries, including farming and manufacturing, can devastate the quality of the water and cause undue harm to both humans and land animals alike, as well as marine ecosystems.

80 percent of marine pollution, also known as ocean pollution, comes from land, whether it is far inland or near the shore. From farms, factories and towns, streams and rivers transport pollutants such as chemicals, fertilisers and heavy metals into our bays and estuaries, where they are then transported out to sea. The wind also brings in marine waste, notably plastic, as does water from storm drains and sewage systems. 

Water pollution in the maritime sector

In the context of the maritime industry, water pollution usually refers to the contamination of our oceans and seas, and is a direct result of unsustainable practices within the sector. In recent years, many businesses and organisations operating within the sector have made gradual changes towards more sustainable processes both onshore and at sea. However, the maritime industry still relies heavily on oil, a high-carbon fossil fuel, and contributes roughly 3% of global emissions annually as a result. 

Subsequently, the sector is under increasing pressure to curb its greenhouse gas emissions as well as find other ways to decarbonise and go green. Although decarbonising the entire sector may sound like a mammoth effort, it is an important step in creating a more sustainable future. 

To achieve decarbonization and minimize water pollution, the maritime industry requires multiple levers to be pulled across the sector simultaneously. Stakeholders across the sector, including owners/operators and ship management companies, need to commit to more sustainable initiatives that will proactively reduce the environmental footprint of marine-centric operations without harming productivity or profitability. 

So what steps can the maritime industry take to reduce water pollution?

Reduce waste and recycle

From single-use plastics, packing material, cleaning material, and rags to paper products, food waste, paints, solvents, and chemicals, unnecessary waste, and garbage produced on board the maritime industry’s ships and vessels contributes hugely to water pollution at sea. As a result, proper handling of waste products and disposing of waste correctly is critical in preventing ocean pollution.

To maintain a pollution-free ocean and allow for a safe and healthy work environment at sea, the greatest possible effort should be placed into waste reduction and management. Seafarers working within the maritime industry should also actively participate in decreasing the amount of rubbish output on ships in order to proactively reduce waste. For example, this could include utilizing more environmentally sustainable marine water solutions and ditching single-use plastic for reusable bottles. 

Commit to zero carbon shipping

As the name suggests, the goal of zero carbon shipping is to lessen the sector’s environmental impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Zero carbon shipping mainly involves decarbonizing ship management services as well as other significant marine-centric operations such as shipping and the transportation of goods.

As the shipping industry carries more than 90% of all global trade every year, simply putting a stop to the sector is not the solution. The answer lies in the adoption of more environmentally friendly processes in the daily operations of the marine sector. This includes the implementation of green corridors, meaning the sector would take steps towards decarbonizing specific ports, vessels, and shipping routes, and green retrofitting, where a vessel is fitted with more modern, environmentally friendly infrastructure on board for the purpose of making it more sustainable and fuel efficient. 

More proactive maintenance

There is already a degree of proactive maintenance within the maritime sector. However, ensuring operations are as proactive and forward-thinking as possible can ensure port infrastructure and/or a vessel are running more efficiently and sustainably. The idea behind proactive maintenance is that any issues are resolved before the problem escalates and causes a disruption. In addition, modern proactive processes such as condition monitoring use data analytics to unearth insights and predict future trends, meaning businesses and organizations operating within the sector are able to make data-driven decisions that are better for the planet – without impacting productivity or profitability. 

Final Thoughts

As the implementation of environmentally sustainable practices spreads across multiple industries, there’s little doubt the green revolution is here. With a spotlight now well and truly on the transport industry and the increasing popularity of more sustainable initiatives across a broad range of sectors, it won’t be long until the spotlight is on world trade and the industry that supports it.

The marine industry is now facing significant generational change, one where the sector must transition away from fossil fuels as well as adopt more sustainable methods that will reduce water pollution – without harming profitability or productivity. The maritime industry must implement these changes despite technological and financial uncertainties, as well as ensure that all legal requirements and regulations are met.

In principle, the maritime sector should be able to prevent ocean pollution by relying on more sustainable methods in their daily operations and producing less waste. With numerous programs and processes already in place, as seen by the rising popularity of green retrofitting, the introduction of more sustainable fuels, and the industry’s effort to eliminate single-use plastic in the ocean, the sector is looking towards a greener, brighter future. 

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