Rising levels of smokestack emissions from oceangoing ships will cause an estimated 87,000 deaths worldwide each year by 2012 — so more than heat wave deaths in French elderly people in 2003 while French young people protested much fewer deaths in the American invasion of Iraq but far less than the nearly 15,000,000 who die annually from cancer.

And it's almost one-third higher than the previously claimed 60,000 deaths but, like many things in pollution-related deaths, accurate numbers are hard to pin down.   You take some sample data and you extrapolate.

According to the new study, government action to reduce sulfur emissions from shipping fuel (the source of air pollution they link to the increased risk of illness and death) could reduce that toll.   Bonus:  At least in the US, the administration could invent a new category of 'saved lives' as a way of justifying increased government spending on alternative fuels for boats.

James Winebrake and colleagues note that most oceangoing ships burn fuels with a sulfur content that averages 2.4 percent and their smokestacks emit sulfur-containing particles, which have been linked to increased risks of lung and heart disease.  

A 2007 study by the researchers estimated that about 60,000 people died prematurely around the world due to shipping-related emissions in 2002. The new study estimates that the toll could rise to 87,000 by 2012, assuming that the global shipping industry rebounds from the current economic slump and no new regulation occurs. 

Policymakers now are considering limiting ships emissions by either restricting sulfur content in fuel or designating air pollution control areas to reduce air pollution near highly populated coastal areas. Requiring ships to use marine fuel with 0.5 percent sulfur within 200 nautical miles of shore would reduce premature deaths by about 41,200, the study concludes. Lower sulfur reductions could reduce deaths even further, they say, adding that designated emission control areas will also have a positive impact. 

It helps if you increase your previous death estimates from 60,000 to 87,000, because then you can subtract 41,200 a lot more easily.

Simulating geospatial emissions and then simulating increases in them for 2012 and then simulating estimated deaths based on 2002 numbers is no reason to add shipping to government control of banking, cars and health care, though it's certainly true that no snowflake in an avalanche takes the blame so reducing all emissions in an elegant, cost-effective fashion will be better for everyone.

Article: J. J. Winebrake, J. J. Corbett, E. H. Green, A. Lauer and V. Eyring, 'Mitigating the Health Impacts of Pollution from Oceangoing Shipping: An Assessment of Low-Sulfur Fuel Mandates', Environ. Sci. Technol., 2009, 43 (13), pp 4776–4782 DOI: 10.1021/es803224q