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Fresh steps set to clear the air

October 25, 2015

Cargo costs

Cargo costs:  Vessels’ frequent activities and their emissions have become a main source of air pollution in the Pearl River Delta region.

Long-term log

Long-term log:  Vessel operators must keep records concerning fuel-switching operations for three years.

Confirmatory test

Confirmatory test:  Fuel-oil samples are collected for analysis at the Government Laboratory to ensure and verify fuel-switch compliance.

Economic incentive

Economic incentive:  Pollution Control Officer Teresa Fung said the Government takes a carrot-and-stick approach to ensure vessels switch fuel while at berth.

All ‘seeing’

All ‘seeing’:  Mobile remote sensing roadside equipment can pinpoint petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles with excessive emissions, even ‘invisible’ pollutants.

Deterrent effect

Deterrent effect:  Assistant Environmental Protection Officer Michael Lau says roadside pollutants levels have fallen significantly.

On July 1, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to require ocean going vessels to switch to cleaner fuels while at berth in the city – one of several measures aimed at clearing the air.


Vessel emissions are the No 1 source of Hong Kong’s air pollution. Vessels generally run on heavy fuel oil, with a sulphur content of up to 2.6%. Sulphur dioxide emissions from berthing vessels account for about 40% of all such emissions within Hong Kong waters.


The new regulations take their cue from European Union ports, and require vessels to switch to low sulphur marine fuel with a sulphur content of less than 0.5% - 80% less than heavy fuel oil. Overall, the lighter fuel has 60% to 70% fewer pollutant emissions, including those of respirable suspended particulates. Clearly, air quality is expected to improve, especially in areas next to container terminals.


Low sulphur fuel costs more, so the Government is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to ensure compliance. Under an incentive scheme, vessels that switch to the fuel can enjoy up to half off the normal light facilities and port dues at berth. Those that do not make the switch face steep penalties.


Environmental Protection Department Pollution Control Officer Teresa Fung explained the new rules. Vessels are not allowed to use non-compliant fuel to operate any specified machinery while at berth, except during the first and last hour.


Owners and operators must record the vessel’s arrival and departure time, and fuel-switching details, and keep the related documents for three years.


Ms Fung said the department will hold surprise vessel inspections, to check bunker delivery notes and records about fuel-switch operations. It will also collect fuel-oil samples for analysis at the Government Laboratory.


In the months since the new law’s implementation, the department has yet to find a violation. The steep penalties may be having a deterrent effect: Those found using non-compliant fuel during the prohibition period face a maximum penalty of a $200,000 fine and six months in prison. Failing to keep the required documents could attract a maximum penalty of $50,000 and three months in prison.


Ocean going vessel Chief Engineer Frank Lin said to complete the fuel-switching process, the crew must prepare before the vessel is securely anchored or moored at a berth. Good communication between them is necessary since any mistakes could result in a mechanical failure. Generally, though, the switch can be completed in 20 minutes.


Since there are nine coastal ports in the Pearl Delta Region, including Guangzhou, Yantian, Shekou and Chiwan, each with multiple container terminals – Hong Kong has nine - vessels’ frequent activities and their emissions have become a main source of regional air pollution. The Environmental Protection Department not only sets policy for air pollution control in Hong Kong, but keeps in close contact with Mainland authorities to co-operate and investigate ways to improve air quality region-wide.


Battling roadside pollution

The department is also taking steps to curb roadside pollution in our city, which has an even more direct impact on public health. Its exhaust-extinguishing arsenal now includes mobile remote sensing roadside equipment that can pinpoint petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles with excessive emissions, even ‘invisible’ pollutants.


Owners of such vehicles receive notices requiring them to make amends and take their vehicles to a designated centre to pass an emissions test within 12 working days. Those that do not will have their licences cancelled.


About 560,000 petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles had been tested in the 12 months starting from August 2014, the department’s Assistant Environmental Protection Officer Michael Lau said. About 3,800 notices had been delivered to owners, urging them to check and repair their vehicles’ worn out parts, while 200 vehicles not meeting the requirements had had their licences cancelled.


In the last year, remote-sensing equipment has played a significant role in curbing roadside air pollution. The levels of nitrogen oxides, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide at roadside had fallen 13%, 7% and 13%, respectively, Mr Lau said.


On land and sea, the Environmental Protection Department is dedicated to improving our air quality.

Regional Cooperation Plan on Building a Quality Living Area