Natural environment the big loser of Red Sea shipping crisis

2024/05/07 at 1:19 PM

A large increase in CO2 emissions from container ships and the accumulation of cargo in some Mediterranean ports, threatening further disruptions in logistics, are new consequences that have been faced or are growing. They are indirect results of the lack of free navigation in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal due to attacks on merchant ships by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The earlier ones, which are more or less tamed, are the increase in freight prices and the longer delivery time of goods.


It is worth adding that the higher greenhouse gas emissions are no longer indifferent to European business because starting this year, large enterprises are covered by the EU’s CSRD directive (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive), which obliges them to report their impact on the environment. Meanwhile, new analyses show that a longer route causes a more than five-fold increase in CO2 emissions per container shipped.

Higher CO2 emissions

In the first quarter of the current year, container ships travelling between Asia and the Mediterranean Sea contributed to a 63 per cent increase in CO2 emissions compared to the fourth quarter of last year. On the Asia – Northern European ports route, CO2 emissions increased by 23 per cent. Such data were presented by the Norwegian container transport analysis platform Xeneta.

The Xeneta and Marine Benchmark CEI Index measures CO2 emissions per tonne of transported cargo in 13 world’s largest ports. In the first quarter of the current year, this indicator reached 107.4 points, which is the highest level since the index began listing (in the first quarter of 2018). The highest level of emissions was recorded in container maritime transport from Asia to Mediterranean ports. Before the disruptions in the Red Sea, containers on this route travelled an average of 9,400 nautical miles in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter of the current year, while sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, they cover an additional 5,800 miles. These container ships also travel at higher speeds in an attempt to make up time due to the longer distances but this results in greater fuel burn. As a consequence of both events, higher levels of CO2 emissions were recorded by Xeneta. “We are all aware of the human and economic costs of war but these data show that there is also a price that the climate pays,” commented Emily Stausbøll, market analyst at Xeneta.

Additional CO2 emissions

Data published by Xeneta also reveals that disruptions in the Red Sea have prompted some shippers to use air freight. As major ocean carriers continue to choose to bypass the Red Sea, loads from Asia now arrive by sea at ports in the Persian Gulf like Jebel Ali. From there, some of them are transferred to aircraft that fly to Europe and North America. As a result, only in March of the current year, demand for air freight from Dubai Airport to European destinations increased by 190 per cent year-to-year.

“Air freight is not only more expensive than maritime freight, but it is also much less sustainable, therefore a shift to hybrid sea-air services through the Middle East will result in increased carbon dioxide emissions per tonne of cargo transported,” Stausbøll added. She also notes that shippers are increasingly using rail transport services from Asia via Russia to Europe. Although rail transport is less emissive (per unit of cargo) than air transport, it is more emissive than maritime transport, emphasises the Xeneta analyst.

Adding the distance from Earth to the Moon

The scale of the problem was vividly presented by Lars Jensen, founder of the Vespucci Maritime consulting company. Because major container lines have abandoned the Suez Canal route for voyages between Asia and Europe and prefer the safer journey around the Cape of Good Hope, their container ships are covering a total additional distance of approximately 6.5 million kilometres each week.

“This additional sailing distance is greater than the distance to the Moon,” Jensen wrote in a LinkedIn post. Another Danish consulting firm, Sea-Intelligence, earlier this year, suggested that due to the Red Sea shipping crisis, shippers would likely have to report a more than five-fold increase in CO2 emissions per container shipped.

Artificial piston

The Financial Times notes that the redirection of ships around Southern Africa is causing congestion in some Mediterranean transhipment ports and delays in the further shipment of goods. This adds new problems to the problem that has arisen as a result of introducing the EU FuelEU Maritime regulation since the current year. Already last year, experts and representatives of EU ports pointed out that the introduced fees for CO2 emissions from ships will encourage many container shipping owners to unload in Mediterranean ports but outside the EU, at the expense of EU ports.

This happened but with a significant correction. For instance, the Tanger Med Port in Morocco is already using almost 100 per cent of its (increased in recent years) transhipment capacity. However, Spanish ports in Malaga, Barcelona and Algeciras are also considered “critical” in this respect. For example, the Port of Barcelona recorded an increase in container volume by 17 per cent in February year-to-year. The Port of Malaga is now a regular stop for freight transport on the main Asia-Europe-America routes. Carlos Rubio, President of the Port Authority of Malaga, announced that he expected the number of ocean container ships to even double by the end of April.

Maersk warned customers in its update that to alleviate pressure from high stockyard density at these ports, it is “taking steps including several diversions, diversions and route adjustments”.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.