The Chinese capital issued its highest red fog alert for a second day on Wednesday, keeping highways closed in and around the city which is already under a smog alert after weeks of choking winter pollution.

China's weather bureau warned of visibility of less than 50 meters in some areas, leading many airports to cancel flights, Reuters reports.

More than 2,000 tourists were stranded on a cruise ship for two extra days near the port of Tianjin, as smog prevented the ship from docking until Monday, the Beijing Evening News reported.

Poor visibility prompted three major northern ports to suspend the loading of ships on Tuesday, maritime safety agencies said.

Pollution alerts are common in northern China, especially during bitterly cold winters when energy demand, much of it met by coal, soars. Beijing's smog alert is at the second-highest orange only, raising questions from some living in the city.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said it hadn't issued a smog red alert because of discrepancies in the forecasts for different parts of Beijing.

China is in the third year of a war on pollution aimed at reversing the damage done to its skies, soil and water after decades of untrammeled economic growth. But measures taken so far have had little or no effect.

Heavily polluted Hebei province, which surrounds most of Beijing, said on Tuesday it had ordered all polluting firms in Tangshan, China's biggest steel-producing city to the east of Beijing, to shut down.

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