Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping (2016)

Do you have 52 minutes? If so, the Sustainability Initiative Committee recommends the following documentary:

Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping (2016)

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the world saw unprecedented supply-chain issues with shortages of everything from toilet paper to microchips, you probably never gave much thought to how the goods you buy are transported. Nor how terrible those methods of transportation are to our fragile planet.

A container ship leaves the Vancouver Harbour.

Freightened is a documentary that focuses on the surprisingly secretive world of international shipping. Did you know that approximately 500 MILLION shipping containers are transported across the oceans each year? But more frightening, the shipping industry is barely regulated and most ships are operated under “flags of convenience” from countries with little or no environmental, employment, or tax regulations. Countries such as Panama, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and even Bolivia and Moldova (both of which are land-locked!) allow global shipping companies—the majority of which are privately run and owned such as Maersk, MSC, & COSCO—to make billions of dollars each year and keep the cost of the goods we buy so low.

Every year 150,000 tonnes of crude oil pollute our oceans due to shipwrecks or accidents at sea, and these typically involve freighters that are over 25 years old and minimally maintained. In addition, there are “invisible spills” which happen everyday that release over 1.8 million tonnes of toxic waste into our oceans annually. These “spills” are the result of cleaning ships’ engines, their holds and decks etc., and the chemicals used that are released into the sea.

A ship from the same company blocked the Suez Canal for over a week in March 2021.

Worse, one ship burns as much sulfur oxide and pollutes as much of the air as 50 million cars, and “the 20 largest ships burn more than the BILLION cars on the planet. And it’s not 20, but 60,000 ships that constantly roam the world’s oceans year-round.”  The shipping industry burns the cheapest and dirtiest fuel in the world with no oversight. Plus, the conditions for the crews on these ships are extremely dangerous, and they are poorly compensated for the daily risks they are exposed to.

As a result of this unregulated industry, and the amount of pollution it produces just so we may have the latest iPhone or fast-fashion item, it is estimated that by 2050, the majority of polar ice will be gone and ships will be able to traverse the Arctic Circle and Far North routes year-round. Great news for the shipping companies, but bad news for the rest of us and our planet.

Freightened is available on Amazon Prime, Kanopy Streaming, or to borrow on DVD from the Vancouver Public Library.