Reduction in Maritime Air Pollution Proposed for V.I.

Proposed regulations plan to reduce air pollution from cruise ships and other large vessels that ply the waters around the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

When the regulations will be finalized is up in the air, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Elias Rodriquez said the proposal will be presented to the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Environment Protection Committee. The organization is an arm of the United Nations.

The proposal calls for the designation of these waters as an emission-control area. The designation would require any large ship operating in these areas to use much cleaner fuel or install better pollution-control technology.

According to the EPA press release issued Tuesday, tankers, container vessels and cruise ships are major sources of air pollution in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“The sulfur, soot and other harmful air pollutants from large ships reach from ports to inland communities,” said EPA regional administrator Judith Enck in a press release issued Tuesday.

“The designation will result in cleaner air for residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the millions of tourists who visit these beautiful islands.”

Michelle Paige, director of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment, but Rodriquez said that all the stakeholders, including the cruise ship industry and local governments, were involved in formulating the proposal.

The area of the proposed U.S. Caribbean emission-control area includes waters adjacent to coasts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The northern and southern boundaries of the proposed area would extend roughly 50 nautical miles and 40 nautical miles, respectively, from the main island of Puerto Rico.

The proposed emission-control area is bounded so that it does not extend into marine areas subject to the sovereignty or jurisdiction of any country other than the United States.

According to the EPA press release, exposure to air pollutants from large ships – nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter – can cause respiratory illnesses, such as lung disease, asthma, and heart disease. The asthma death rate in Puerto Rico is 2.5 times higher than the rate in the continental United States.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also have many highly sensitive ecosystems that are already vulnerable and are threatened by pollution.

Stricter requirements for ships operating in the waters of Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands will dramatically reduce nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter from them.

The ships will have to use cleaner fuel or install pollution control technologies to reduce air pollution. In addition, ships built after 2015 will have to meet more stringent standards for nitrogen oxides if they operate in the Caribbean emission-control area.

EPA estimates that by 2020, the requirements for the emission-control area will have reduced sulfur dioxides from ships by 96 percent, fine particles by 86 percent and nitrogen oxides by nearly 30 percent from the levels they would otherwise have been at without the designation.

The Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico moves approximately 11 million metric tons of goods on nearly 3,800 vessel trips annually. It is also a major destination for over one million cruise ship passengers. St Thomas is the largest cruise port in the Virgin Islands, with over two million cruise passengers and over 800 cruise ship arrivals a year.

In March 2010, the International Maritime Organization accepted the government’s proposal to designate waters off all North American coasts as an emission-control area.

The North American emission-control area, together with the eventual designation of the U.S. Caribbean waters, is a key part of a comprehensive EPA program to address harmful air pollution from large ships.

The International Maritime Organization is a U.N. agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. EPA is a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Maritime Organization.

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