Shipping is the least environmentally damaging form of commercial transport and, compared with land based industry, is a comparatively minor contributor to pollution from human activities.
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The shipping industry is a small contributor to the total volume of atmospheric emissions compared to road vehicles and air transport (see graph below) as well as public utilities such as power stations, and atmospheric pollution from ships has reduced in the last decade.
Diagram showing the IMO's plan for ship improvements from 2013-2050
Graph to show variation of Sulphur emissions between emission controlled areas and outside emission controlled areas
Graph to show the Oil consumed per hour by a ship on average and how this has varied over time
The amount of oil spilled by ships varies from year to year and figures for a particular year can be distorted by a single large incident. However, in general terms, shipping has shown a marked downward trend in the amount of oil spilled each year.
As in all transport sectors, lives are sadly lost as a result of accidents at sea. Disappointingly, there has been a rise in fatal accidents in the last two years, although the loss of life in shipping is in fact relatively modest, and the overall trend is one of reduction in the number of fatalities, which is all the more impressive in view of the growth in the number of ships in the world fleet.
Relatively few ships actually sink at sea. The vast majority of the following "losses" simply refer to ships which are damaged and "written off" by the hull insurers as being beyond economical repair - described by underwriters as "total constructive losses".
Shipping’s ability to offer economic and efficient long distance transport puts it at the centre of the world economy.