REPORT CLEARS SHIPPING AS TOP POLLUTION SOURCE UN STUDY LAYS BLAME ONSHORE

REPORT CLEARS SHIPPING AS TOP POLLUTION SOURCE UN STUDY LAYS BLAME ONSHORE

The merchant shipping industry has been cleared in a United Nations-sponsored report released Monday of being a significant contributor to the growing problem of marine pollution.

However, Alisdair McIntyre, one of the members of the Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, which prepared the report, warned: ''There is a good reason to fear a significant deterioration in the marine environment in the next decade unless strong, coordinated national and international action is taken now."The 104-page report, "The State of the Marine Environment," claimed that while the open sea is still relatively clean, the most serious detrimental impact to the world's oceans comes not from the shipping industry but from land-based sources. These include rampant coastal development, the disposal at sea of raw sewage and the run-off from land of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

The study was sponsored by a number of international agencies, including the United Nations Environment Program.

Mr. McIntyre stated that the impact of shipping on the marine environment has been kept well under control by international conventions agreed by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations' marine safety and pollution division.

However, no such international agreements or guidelines exist on coastal development, he pointed out.

The scientists involved in the report believe oil pollution from ships, despite the worldwide attention it attracts, is much less dangerous to the marine environment than is generally believed.

In general, contamination from ships is confined to shipping lanes, where it is so quickly dispersed that the effects are very low, Mr. McIntyre claimed.

The report also claimed it could no longer accept earlier views that there was no demonstrable causal link between human disease and bathing in contaminated seawater. It pointed to recent studies in the United States and the Mediterranean that clearly showed such a link, including one study showing that a polio virus survived in seawater for 17 months.

Meanwhile, the IMO's marine environment protection committee laid the groundwork at a meeting here last week for establishing an international oil spill response network.

The U.S.-backed initiative would make the IMO's London headquarters the hub of the network, which would maintain an inventory of anti-pollution equipment ready for deployment worldwide and a list of pollution experts who could be called upon in an emergency.

The proposals will be studied further in May, before being put forward for adoption at another IMO meeting in November.