Recently I received a question from a ship owner operating a container liner service in Rotterdam, on what regulations are applicable in respect of noise made during port activities. Apparently one of the Masters had reported that authorities were measuring noise levels in the port and this worried the guys in the office. They must have heard how much I enjoy searching through the applicable laws and nowadays the internet is a great tool to use.
After the maritime industry has been confronted with rules on various topics dealing with pollution and environmental issues, new regulations on sound-pollution sound plausible. Of course the industry will closely monitor developments as they might result in mandatory investments and implementation of additional paperwork and certifications.
The question was simple, how much noise are we allowed to make with our vessel while in the port of Rotterdam? And of course I hoped to find a concrete answer, such as 100 dB but I found out that things are much more complicated.
The seaports, and especially the new developed areas are normally located away from residential areas. In the ports you will find industries, warehouses, stevedores, roads, railways and of course the ships. Near the big ports you might even find an airport nearby. All the activities such as production, loading, discharging, transport etc. produce noise, all kinds of noise.
People living near railway tracks, airports or busy roads are exposed to noises. To what extend they are exposed will vary from location. What is the activity of main noise producers around and what is the distance between these producers and the residential areas. Perhaps most important, what is considered an acceptable exposure to loud noise and how to define loud noise. How many families does the government consider an acceptable number to be exposed to loud noises.
These is no actual law that limits the amount of noise that factories or other port activities may produce. Especially for new developed port areas, such as ‘Maasvlakte 2’ in Rotterdam, the production of noise and other pollution was taken in consideration during the first steps of development at the drawing table.
Is there no regulation at all that protect the surrounding houses from exposure to noises? Yes there is, as the Dutch national government and local governments have implemented the European Guidelines, Directive 2002/49/EC dated 25 June 2002, relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise.
This binds the authorities to measure, calculate and monitor the noises produced and the effects of this noise to the health and wellbeing of the surrounding neighbours. All data is being processed in charts / maps of the area. Based on these data, the adjacent area of a port or industrial area is divided into zones, showing the probable nuisance. A separate detailed map is made to show the nuisance in the day hours between 07:00 and 19:00 hrs, and the nuisance between 19:00 and 07:00 hours. If the number of residents within a zone is considered to be too large for intense exposure, the authorities will have to take measures to protect them by placing sound-reflecting walls, green areas, dikes or other structures to reduce health risks and complaints.
Does this affect the development of ports? Yes it does. In 2004 when the port of Dordrecht tried to attract new business and more or less transform the port area from a conservative industrial area into a logistics oriented port area, the application was rejected based on the increase of noise for the surrounding areas. The zones would shift and the residents could not be protected from noises beyond the level that is considered acceptable. Apart from health damage, a change of activities might cause devaluation of houses.
The answer to the ship owner was that I could reassure them that they were measuring the effects of new industry at the Maasvlakte and to see if this matched their earlier calculations. Based on their findings, they can advise authorities to shift the zones or to take measures. I reassured them that they were not at risk of receiving a fine for producing noise customary to the activity.