Shipping line using cleaner fuel to help ease dirty air near Port

Saturday, March 17, 2007 – 12:00 AM

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times staff reporter

Global container-shipping company APL has operations at Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5. The company is converting its vessels to a cleaner-burning fuel that APL says could reduce emissions of toxic diesel particles from APL ships while in port by 75 percent.

Mammoth cargo freighters idling at the Port of Seattle helped turn the air in surrounding neighborhoods into some of the most unhealthy air in the state.

But at least one major shipping company is trying to lessen its share of the problem.

APL, a Singapore-based shipping line with operations at Terminal 5, on Friday said it has begun voluntarily using much cleaner diesel fuel to power its ships’ auxiliary engines. Those engines, which run even while a ship is docked, power electrical systems.

The decision makes APL the first shipping line in the Northwest to begin using the cleaner fuel, according to Port officials. And it comes at a time of growing pressure on ports up and down the West Coast to curb their air pollution.

Toxic soot spewed by diesel engines in trucks, trains and ships is a major source of unhealthy air in the state. Large ocean-going ships burn some of the dirtiest fuel and are among the least regulated when it comes to air quality.

Neighborhoods near the ports, including part of West Seattle and downtown, have some of the unhealthiest air, according to a 2006 Seattle Times analysis of federal air-quality data. That’s probably due in part to Port operations, including trains, trucks and diesel equipment that move cargo boxes.

APL’s decision follows new California regulations requiring all cargo ships to burn the cleaner diesel in auxiliary engines when near the California coast and in port.

By contrast, Northwest ports have opted for a voluntary approach, trying to persuade port-using businesses to clean up their fuels and engine emissions.

The ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C., are also negotiating a common set of measures to shrink pollution in anticipation of a sustained growth in shipping traffic.

Northwest ports want to avoid the kind of air-pollution problems at California ports, which triggered a citizen lawsuit and stricter state regulations, said Dennis McLerran, director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

“We’re looking for ways that … reduce the impact of the ports, rather than have it spin out of control,” said McLerran, whose agency enforces federal clean-air regulations in the central Puget Sound region.

John Bowe, president of APL Americas, said voluntary steps like those announced Friday could help answer environmental concerns and avoid potentially burdensome regulations.

“It doesn’t do any good to have regulations that will have companies stop coming to Seattle,” he said, as he stood on the bridge of the 904-foot APL Coral, idling within view of West Seattle homes. It’s the first Seattle-bound APL ship to use the cleaner fuel.

Fred Felleman, a consultant for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said he was encouraged by the announcement.

“I think that’s a really a very positive step in the right direction,” said Felleman, who has pressured the Port of Seattle to address pollution. But he wondered who would make sure APL lives up to its promise.

The shipping company also still uses much dirtier fuels to drive its fleet’s main engines.

The company in 2006 accounted for 6 percent of the cargo-vessel traffic at the Port of Seattle. But McLerran said he hopes other shipping lines will follow APL’s lead.

While it’s just a fraction of the overall ship traffic, it should cut emissions of toxic diesel particles from APL ships while in port by roughly 3.5 tons a year — a 75 percent reduction, according to APL. While in Seattle, the ships will burn roughly 250,000 gallons of the cleaner fuel in a year, said Dave Olsen, APL’s manager of engineers.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

~ by fredfelleman on March 17, 2007.

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