Fertilizer Shipping project

The first phase of the Fertilizer Shipping project will survey the best techniques and practices to load fertilizers at harbour and to clean cargo holds, and also investigate the true extent of the problem. The next phase will promote measures that reduce discharges throughout the Baltic Sea area, working together with stakeholders such as harbours, harbour operators, fertilizer manufacturers, and cities.

A new, possibly very significant source of nutrient discharges has been identified in Baltic Sea protection: the marine transportation of fertilizers. The risk of nutrient discharges is linked to the loading and unloading of fertilizers at harbour, and cleaning the holds of ships that carry fertilizers in the open sea.

Problems related to fertilizer loading include airborne fertilizer particles, fertilizer ending up in the sea either during the loading phase or with the harbour’s runoff waters, and other practices where dust particles from fertilizers are airborne to the environment. International agreements allow ships to discharge cargo hold cleaning water that contains nutrients within 12 nautical miles of the shore, as the water does not contain any harmful substances.

The first phase of the Fertilizer Shipping project will survey the best techniques and practices to load fertilizers at harbour and to clean cargo holds, and also investigate the true extent of the problem. The next phase will promote measures that reduce discharges throughout the Baltic Sea area, working together with stakeholders such as harbours, harbour operators, fertilizer manufacturers, and cities.

In Finland, harbours are also subject to environmental permit procedures, obliging them to estimate the impact of their operations, and, consequently, providing a great opportunity to influence fertilizer handling practices. The project will also seek to have an impact on international legislation on waters used for cleaning cargo holds.

Opportunity to reduce nutrients significantly

The nutrient discharge risks caused by fertilizer transportation have been highlighted by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission in 2018‒2019. According to even the most careful estimates of the organisation Coalition Clean Baltic, which is active in the Baltic Sea area, nutrient discharges from fertilizer transportation can amount to several tonnes annually.

According to a study by the association Kymijoen vesi ja ympäristö ry, in a single harbour, the annual nutrient discharges that enter the sea with runoff waters alone can amount to several tonnes of phosphorus and even hundreds of tonnes of nitrogen, equalling the annual wastewater treatment discharges of a large city. In addition to the runoff waters from the harbour grounds, nutrients end up in the sea directly as dust particles during loading, fertilizer falling directly to the water, and as a consequence of cargo hold cleaning in the open sea.

A fictitious example clarifying the scope of the project. The cargo of a freight vessel consists of 5,000 tonnes of fertilizer. This cargo of combination fertilizer contains 5% of phosphorus. The spoilage accepted by transportation contracts and created mostly in the various phases of loading the cargo is 0.5%. This calculation assumes that the spillage would be no more than one tenth of the accepted level. This would mean that 2.5 tonnes of fertilizer, containing 125 kg of phosphorus, end up in the sea. Once in the sea, this is enough phosphorus to generate 125 tonnes of algae. Illustration: Anne Haapanen

Cooperation also with Russian fertilizer manufacturers

The Fertilizer Shipping project will cover all of Finland and the Gulf of Finland, the entire Baltic Sea area, and, in particular, those fertilizer transit harbours where Russian stakeholders play an important role. Finland and Russia are the only countries of the Baltic Sea area with their own phosphorus reserves. The Russian companies are global scale fertilizer manufacturers, and their significance to the fertilizer transportation taking place in the Baltic Sea is great. Thanks to its earlier projects, the Foundation is very experienced in operating in Russia, and has good contacts to the key Russian stakeholders in the field.

Extensive cooperation, both in Finland and abroad, is a prerequisite for the success of the project. Kirsti Tarnanen-Sariola, Deputy Director of the Finnish Port Association, encourages cooperation: ”Fertilizer spoilage is a typical challenge where we need cooperation between the various stakeholders.” Juha Mutru, Managing Director of the Finnish Port Operators Association, continues: Port operators and cargo owners are aware of current practices, and this is why they are the very people with whom we should be discussing the solutions we need. In Finland, we can already find operators with practices and techniques that take the marine environment well into consideration.”