Maritime Disruptions in Red Sea Drive Surge in Shipping Emissions

Extended Routes and Increased Speeds Compound Environmental Impact in Global Shipping

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In a recent report by Reuters, the persistent disruption of maritime traffic in the Red Sea is contributing to increased emissions from vessels forced to divert from the Suez Canal and undertake significantly longer routes to reach key global markets.

For shipping companies, these extended itineraries translate into higher freight rates, increased fuel and labor costs, and often result in additional expenses due to delays for importers who had contracted deliveries on specific dates.

The longer distances covered also result in elevated emissions during the voyage, with the exact degree of change in emissions dependent on the vessel’s age and the fuel combination utilized.

For an average container ship carrying 150,000 metric tons of cargo, the estimated total emissions per trip from Southern China to Rotterdam through the Suez Canal amount to around 41,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), as reported by Pier2Pier.com.

This emission figure rises to approximately 55,000 tons when navigating around the southern tip of Africa, equating to an additional 14,000 tons of CO2 per vessel taking the longer route to Europe.

According to the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG), over 20 container ships have departed from China to Rotterdam in the last 30 days, suggesting that the cumulative cost of increased emissions may have surged by several hundred thousand tons in the past month alone.

Increased Navigational Speeds

The aforementioned cost could potentially escalate further as several container ships have accelerated their navigation speed since the beginning of the year compared to the 2023 average, partially to make up for time lost on longer routes.

The average speed of large container ships in 2024 has surpassed 16 knots, according to LSEG, compared to an overall 2023 average of 15.19 knots, representing a roughly 5% increase in average navigation speeds this year.

Given that vessels emit more pollution when traveling at higher speeds, any sustained increase in shipping speeds throughout the year may result in additional emissions beyond those linked to longer itineraries. Consequently, any further increase in the number and types of vessels required to reroute through the southern tip of Africa instead of the Suez Canal could further amplify maritime transport emissions.

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