Did Suez ship blockage cause sulphur pollution? No, the culprit’s a volcano

Reports quoted Sentinel-5P satellite data to suggest the mega block resulted in the formation of a thick SO2 cloud in Mediterranean. It is now clear the sulphur pollution was caused by a volcano in Italy

A satellite image of the ash plume from Mount Etna in Italy on April 8. Image source: ESA Earth Observation

Volcanic eruption at Mount Etna in Italy and not the six-day blockage of Suez Canal in March resulted in sudden spike in sulphur dioxide (SO2) concentration in the air on the Mediterranean side of the canal, the BBC reported on Thursday (April 15).

Media reports a day before quoted data shared by European Union (EU)’s Sentinel-5P satellite to suggest the mega block caused by Japanese vessel ‘Ever Given’ has resulted in the formation of a thick SO2 cloud in the region.

The Sentinel-5P satellite had recorded plumes of the gas sweeping away from the volcano for thousands of kilometres. “One such plume even arced over the Suez canal during its blockage last month,” the British news website reported.


The primary assessment was that vessels, about 420 on both sides of the canal, waiting for the blockage to clear, were raising the concentration of the poisonous gas in the atmosphere locally. “This assessment has now been accepted as wrong and withdrawn,” the BBC reported.

Also read: Egypt seizes vessel that blocked Suez Canal, seeks $900 million compensation

However, analysts weren’t completely wrong in attributing SO2 release to ships because the highly poisonous gas is a byproduct of the heavy fuel oils burnt by ships’ engines.

Efforts are being made to cut down SO2 emissions from ships. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is making an effort in this direction, understanding very well the deadly effects the gas can have on environment and humans.

Sulphur emissions cause respiratory, cardiovascular and lung diseases. Sulphur dioxide combines with water in the atmosphere to cause acid rains, which damage crops and jungles.

Egypt recently seized “Ever Given”, the megaship that blocked Suez Canal in the last week of March. An Egyptian court has agreed to the canal authorities’ demand for a $900 million compensation from the Japanese owners of the vessel for the economic loss caused due to complete blockage of the world’s narrowest and busiest sea trade route.


Get breaking news and latest updates from India
and around the world on thefederal.com