Business is booming.

Escalating crisis in Red Sea driving up carbon emissions

By Femi Akinola

Each year, almost 6,000 container ships travel the world’s oceans and deliver about $7 trillion worth of goods to ports around the world producing climate warming carbon dioxide (C02) emissions along the way.

The ships are used in transporting goods around the world and many journeys typically go through the Suez Canal in the Red Sea.

There are about 100,000 cargo ships at sea at a given time, including oil tankers and bulk carriers. The goods on board of these ships are packed into containers, and world’s largest vessel has a capacity of more than 24,000 containers.

However, with Houthi militants in Yemen attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, cargo ships are now taking a longer route around Africa. This journey from Shanghai in China to Hamburg in Germany, for example, produces 38% more carbon-dioxide, according to the analysis of tracking data by LSEG.

Each of the metal containers aboard ship can also be tracked individually as they travel to their destinations. The container tracking allows the companies they are buying or selling the goods to then calculate the carbon footprint of their supply chain and distribution, a key step for reducing their emissions.

According to Reuters analysis on tracking data for more than 6,000 rerouted containers shipped between December 15, 2023 and March 31, 2024, the data from shipment tracking company ShipsGo includes estimated C02 emissions for each of the containers. On average, each container traveling on its original route is associated with around 1.07 tons of Co2 released

On the other hand, data from rerouted shipments shows they actually emitted on average 1.35 tons of carbon-dioxide per container. That is 0.28 tons more for each container. At this rate, the extra emissions from one ship carrying 10,000 containers on a single reroute journey is massive. By comparison, a typical car emits about 4.6 tons of C02 per year.

Since the attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces began in Suez Canal last year, hundreds of ships, powered by heavy fuel oil, have been diverted around the Cape of Good Hope, adding hundreds of kilometres to each journey of cargo ships. Those extra kilometres are resulting in higher carbon emissions.

It is not uncommon for vessels to take longer than expected even on routine days, according to ShipsGo, but the delays and carbon emissions increased significantly after diversions due to the conflict in the RedSea.

In December, 2023, when cargo ships started rerouting, average transit times increased by around 50%, leading to a similar increase in carbon emissions.

The rerouting ”are not planned,” International Maritime Organization’s Chief, Arsenio Dominguez, told news conference last month, adding that the additional C02 release is ”not emitted because we want to.”

The tracking data for the more than 6,000 containers originally loaded between December 15, 2023, and March 31, 2024, when the first service suspension started according to ShipsGo, shows how the rerouting of cargo ships led to delays, as ships were further redirected with some shipments delayed for weeks. Maersk (MAERSKb.CO) has said the delays and backlogs will likely continue into the second half of the year.

Additional report by Reuters


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