Black Trail is an agenda-setting investigation into the environmental impacts of the shipping industry — a sector that is all but untouchable as it receives eye-watering subsidies and stashes its profits in tax havens, all the while polluting with impunity.

This IJ4EU-supported collaboration brings together journalists from newsrooms and TV networks across Europe, including Expresso and SIC TV (Portugal), The Black Sea (Eastern Europe), Reporters United (Greece), VG (Norway) and RTS (Switzerland), with research and reporting support from Financed Uncovered (UK).  

The cross-border team focuses on how the shipping industry has “captured” the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that has, since 1948, been the only body charged with regulating the emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants produced by ships.

Although the shipping industry insists that it carries 90 percent of global freight yet is responsible for less than three percent of carbon dioxide emissions, the investigation exposes a darker — and deadlier — reality.

It shows how the sector has dodged the climate debate as it continues to burn the dirtiest of all transport fuels. Ship emissions are responsible for more than 50,000 deaths a year in Europe as particles like black carbon drive up cancer rates in Mediterranean port cities.

Meanwhile, the same emissions are contributing to climate change as they speed up the melting of Arctic icecaps.

Watch the feature-length documentary that resulted from the investigation:

Black Trail from BlackTrail film on Vimeo.

At the core of the project is a story of urgency. The journalists combined painstaking research with an obsessive quest to confront those who have the actual power to change climate policy. The team also strove to bring together clashing narratives by those in power and a new generation of activists who are willing to challenge the status quo.

Fieldwork for the project stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Aegean, via the Black Sea and the major transport hubs of Europe. 

Initially born out of a competition for ideas within the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network, the project resulted in two documentary films — one short and one feature-length — broadcast on TV and streamed online, plus several articles. 

Streaming rights for the hour-long documentary version of Black Trail were extended to other EIC network partners, including Mediapart in France and Infolibre in Spain. 

A feature-length version of ‘Black Trail’ premiered on April 15 at IJ4EU’s annual #UNCOVERED conference, while a 26-minute version aired on Portugal’s most-watched news show on April 30.

Illustration: Alexia Barakou

Published stories