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When is shipping a problem?

Shipping poses a threat to marine ecosystems through both accidental and illegal oil spills, waste water dumping and air pollution. We’re working with all stakeholders involved to promote regulations and other solutions that will ensure pollution and sewage-free Baltic Sea now, and in the future. Shipping is often an environmentally friendly way of transporting goods and people but can also constitute a threat to marine ecosystems in several ways and carry a risk of both accidental and illegal pollution of the sea.

The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest seas in the world and shipping traffic is predicted to more than double in the next 20 years.

Oil Spills

The Baltic Sea experiences on average one major shipping accident per year resulting in an oil spill larger than 100 tonnes. Forecasts indicate that oil transports in the Baltic Sea will increase substantially, which also increases the risk of major accidents. Oil spills can have devastating impacts on nature and wildlife. Birds are particularly vulnerable to oil slicks as even small amounts of oil can seriously harm bird populations, especially if oil spills occur in important bird areas during migration or breeding periods.

To ensure that oil discharges are detected, better surveillance is needed. Thanks to improved technical equipment, oil discharges are now more likely to be detected and current trends show that the number of oil spills in the Baltic Sea is decreasing.

Air pollution

Ship transport is also a significant source of air pollution. Emissions of Sulphur dioxides from shipping, due to combustion of marine fuels with high Sulphur content, contribute to air pollution in the form of Sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, harming the environment through acidification as well as human health, particularly around coastal areas and ports. Nitrogen oxides emissions from ships, like Sulphur emissions, cause acid depositions that can be detrimental to the natural environment and, most importantly, contribute to eutrophication.


Improvement in port facilities makes a big difference. Equally important is that the ports around the Baltic Sea have adequate reception facilities to handle wastewater from passenger ships. Application of a ‘no special fee system’ is believed to be among the most efficient measures to ensure that wastewater is not discharged into the Baltic Sea. Cruise ships annually carry some 3.5 million passengers around the Baltic Sea. The wastewater produced in these vessels is estimated to include some 74 tonnes of nitrogen and 18 tonnes of phosphorus.

In addition to excess nutrients, shipborne wastewater also carries bacteria, viruses and other pathogens and leftover food. Even with the requirements agreed in 2010 by the International Maritime Organisation to ban the wastewater discharge from ferries and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea, a considerable part of this wastewater is still being discharged, as long as many of the major ports around the Baltic Sea still lack adequate sewage reception facilities to receive the large amounts of ship waste generated.

A sewage free Baltic Sea – After challenging negotiations, WWF is delighted that the long-awaited ban of the discharge of sewage from passenger ships in the Baltic Sea has finally been agreed – something WWF has been working on for many years.

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Last modified 07/04/20

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