Ships Docking in Just Two Israeli Ports Pollute the Air Like a Large Power Plant

Survey shows emission of hazardous gasses is much greater than previously thought

A general view of Haifa Port, June 9, 2019.
Rami Shllush

Ships docking in Haifa and Ashdod are causing an amount of air pollution equivalent to a large power plant using the “dirtiest” fuel of all, according to an assessment prepared for the Environmental Affairs Ministry.

Nationally, ships reaching these two ports are responsible for 6% to 15% of all emissions hazardous to health in Israel, said the assessment, which is part of a comprehensive survey compiled by Yogev Barak, Eyal Razi-Yanov and Oren Noam of the consulting and management company Aviv AMCG with Dr. Daniel Madar of the SP Interface company. The survey is based on analyzing the sources of various emissions at the two ports at all stages of the maritime vessels’ activity.

The survey assesses that the annual quantities of emissions from Haifa Port, as of 2018, totaled 11,000 tons of nitrous oxides and 9,000 tons of sulfur oxides. The amount of emissions from Ashdod Port last year were smaller by about a third.

Exposure to the two gases can increase morbidity and mortality due to damage to the heart and respiratory system.

About half of that pollution is emitted while docking inside the port and 30 percent is caused by sailing into the port and waiting.

The main reason shipping makes such a major contribution to emissions in Israel is because they use especially “dirty” fuel, mainly fuel oil (mazut).

The survey’s assessment is several times higher than the emissions inventory calculations by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs.

“Analysis and preliminary estimate of the chances that pollutants are transported to residential areas in the proximity of the ports indicates that there is a high probability that the pollution is having a significant effect on air quality,” wrote the authors.

Under the scenario of no further intervention to diminish the problem, the pollution from nitrous oxides is not expected to drop in the next 15 years, because of the glacial pace of replacing old, polluting ships with new, “cleaner” ones. Also, international standards allow new ships to emit high quantities of nitrous oxides.

Some countries have defined ports as areas where nitrous oxide emissions should be reduced, and bar ships that don’t meet the grade. The survey authors opine however that instating similar requirements in Israel would be difficult: it is a small player in the global shipping market and would have difficulty imposing emission requirements on ships from other countries. However, some means could be taken to assure that nitrous oxide emissions are sharply reduced, including technological steps such as engine conversion, to be able to charge from the port’s electricity grid instead of using dirty fossil fuels. Another possibility would be to distance especially polluting ships, requiring them to wait for docking at least 5 kilometers from the port.

Reducing sulfur oxide emissions is more likely, since international regulation already requires it. Israel cannot enforce this regulation because it is conditional on standards not yet approved by the relevant ministries, though they have been presented in the Knesset. The Justice Ministry commented that it is working with the Transportation Ministry to get the regulations approved.

The Transportation Ministry commented: “The Shipping and Ports Authority is promoting approval of the regulations so they can be enforced. These are international standards and most are already required in the international shipping industry and among manufacturers of engines for ships. A stringent low-sulfur fuel requirement will be applied internationally from January 1, 2020 and all ships coming to Israel will be required to meet it. It is important to stress that the substantial increase in the volume of ships, and adapting Israel’s ports to handling big ships, has significantly reduced emissions per cargo unit transported by sea.”

The Ministry of Environmental Affairs commented that the gaps in emission estimates stemmed from using different databases and assumptions regarding the time spent in port and fuel consumption. Despite the gaps, the ministry stated that both assessments reinforce the extent of the problem and call for closer monitoring of emissions in Ashdod and Haifa.

“The Ministry of Environmental Affairs does not monitor emissions in the area of the port and relies on inventory calculations,” said Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu, former chief scientist at the ministry and among the initiators of the survey. “The survey closes information gaps and suggests alternatives for reducing the pollution. In parallel, the ministry’s emissions inventory calculations have to be checked. It is important to point out that the environmental burden is not shared equally between the residents of Haifa and Ashdod and other geographical areas, so it bears paying special attention to these two cities, where morbidity rates are above the national average. The right thing to do is declare it an area with emissions monitoring, as is done elsewhere in the world.”