Shipping represents 90% of global haulage. Though shipping is seen as the least polluting means of transportation, numerous ecological issues remain.

Oceans and seas have been considered key geopolitical challenges for centuries. As the increase in human activities and progress in technology have created a growing number of major risks for the environment, these areas had to be regulated through a common maritime law. Evolutions of this law were driven by increasing numbers of shipping-related accidents and shipping-related pollution.

An activity that causes pollution

Oil spills are juste one aspect of the pollutions.

Shipping is a human activity that causes pollution.

Accidental pollution, such as an oil spill, enjoys wide media coverage, as it is the most upsetting kind. The vast majority of pollution affecting marine environments is, however, more insidious:

  • degassing: deliberate discharge of tanks containing oily residue from vessel propulsion
  • ballast water discharge: stabilises a vessel during loading and unloading. Ballast water contains aquatic micro-organisms shipped from harbour to harbour. Some are invasive species with the potential to threaten endemic ecosystems. 
  • domestic pollution:  black or grey waters with a high concentration of pollutants; antifouling paint to maintain vessels and prevent corrosion, which contain biocides and release substances that harm aquatic species; waste from vessels and crews released into the ocean. 
  • atmospheric pollution: greenhouse gases in particular, which worsen climate change. 

A label to quantify and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by maritime transport

Surfrider Foundation Europe announced a plan to collaborate with ship-owners and main actors in the maritime sector to reduce harmful shipping-induced emissions and promote a European sustainable shipping label by 2025.

Businesses that are awarded this label would then be able to show their consumers that they have monitored and reduced their CO2 emissions caused by shipping from one end of the chain to the other. 

Lost containers

In total, it is estimated that 16,000 containers were abandoned at sea between 1994 and 2018.

A invisible and unknown pollution

Ships can lose containers in marine accidents or major security breaches. They may also suffer other losses, minor in terms of volume but just as frequent. These “functional” losses are due to cargo loading incidents or old containers.

To this day, quantifying lost containers remains difficult. There is no international method for states to monitor lost containers, making interoperability impossible between partial databases that are inconsistent in terms of units of measure (TEU /number of containers) as well as data collection processes. 

We have been leading studies on lost containers since 2014, to quantify them and identify their origins and impacts. The first study was conducted in 2014 and allowed 13,441 containers that had been lost from in 1994–2013 to be indexed, accounted for and tracked. The new Surfrider Foundation Europe survey for 2015–2018 resulted in the identification and tracking of 2,563 other lost containers. 


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