Maritime Route Diversion Sparks Carbon Surge

Analysis reveals significant emissions spike as vessels reroute around Africa amidst regional tensions.

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The recent diversion of over 100 container ships away from their conventional Asia-to-Europe route through the Suez Canal, instead navigating around the southern tip of Africa, has triggered a notable surge in carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, as per analysis conducted by Sea-Intelligence, a prominent data analytics company specializing in maritime industry insights.

The escalation of hostilities initiated by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea region since November, as a retaliatory measure against Israel’s military actions in Gaza, has compelled vessels globally to alter their course, thereby elongating their journeys.

Sea-Intelligence’s findings reveal a substantial uptick in emissions, measuring at 31% and 66% for voyages from Asia bound for North European and Mediterranean ports, respectively, due to the extended distances covered by rerouted vessels.

Further corroborating this, an independent study conducted by Pier2Pier.com, a leading industry platform, and reported by Reuters, underscores the escalating emissions scenario. It indicates that for an average container vessel transporting 150,000 tonnes (t) of cargo from southern China to Rotterdam, the shift from traversing the Suez Canal (resulting in 41,000t of CO₂ equivalent – tCO₂e) to circumnavigating the southern tip of Africa (escalating to 55,000tCO₂e) translates to a significant 34% surge in emissions.

Analysts at Sea-Intelligence caution that any attempts by vessels to compensate for the increased distance by augmenting their speed would only exacerbate emissions. According to their fuel consumption model, a mere 1-knot increment in speed, from 16 to 17 knots, would amplify emissions by 14%.

In response to the evolving circumstances, where shipping lines are hastily integrating additional capacity to accommodate the prolonged voyages, they are resorting to deploying smaller, albeit less fuel-efficient vessels. This tactical adjustment is expected to result in a staggering 141% surge in emissions on a TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) basis for these smaller vessels, compared to conventional ultra-large container vessels.

The ramifications of these alterations in maritime routes and vessel deployment strategies underscore the urgent imperative for industry stakeholders to address the burgeoning environmental footprint precipitated by geopolitical disruptions and operational exigencies.

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