Last month, the container ship Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea for 6 days, caused billions of dollars in damage to global trade. However, the impact of the giant ship on the world did not stop there. Due to the congestion created by the ship, an environmental pollution that can be seen from space occurred. The rate of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air, which threatens human health and marine life, has increased to five times the normal levels on the Mediterranean side of the canal.
Sulfur dioxide is used as fuel by some ship engines. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently trying to achieve this goal of limiting gas emissions due to its harmful effects on the environment and human health.
Due to the congestion of Ever Given between 23-29 March, more than 350 ships waited for 6 days and most of them anchored at the northern end of the canal in the Mediterranean.
Although their main engines were switched off, the ships were still operating with auxiliary power units and boilers in what is called “hospitality”. This has led to the accumulation of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere locally, as observed by the European Union’s Sentinel-5P satellite.
The spacecraft, managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), carries a sensitive spectrometer called Tropomi, which can detect a range of trace contaminants, including sulfur dioxide. “Ships actually emit more sulfur dioxide while cruising than they were in hotel mode. However, the signal in the Sentinel-5P satellite data sounded an alarm, as there are hundreds of ships on the channel at the same time,” the agency said.
The surge in sulfur dioxide quickly dissipated following the rescue of Ever Given. On the other hand, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a new regulation last year requiring ships to use cleaner fuel to reduce annual sulfur emissions by more than 70 percent.
Especially in the Suez Canal, which hosts 12 percent of global trade, it is expected that inspections on this issue will increase. A density similar to that of the canal can be seen in other narrow entrance / exit corridors such as Gibraltar, Çanakkale Strait and Istanbul Strait. Therefore, IMO announced that it will limit sulfur emissions in the Mediterranean to one-fifth of what is permitted in its new regulation.
Experts explained that sulfur dioxide in the air can cause cardiovascular and lung diseases. In addition, when sulfur combines with water in the atmosphere, it acidifies rain, damaging crops, forests and aquatic creatures.