Conflicting views show diverging ideas of shipping’s future

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

05 October 2018


The last week or so has seen an interesting mix of statements and announcements from across the industry about the future direction of shipping, particularly with regard to its environmental performance.

While there has been some common ground, one or two have shown a more hard-headed and pragmatic view of shipping’s ability to meet the expectations of regulators and outsiders.

Among the announcements this week were the forming of the CSA 2020 organisation where 20 leading shipowners have come together to promote the beneficial aspect of scrubbers and the vision of the future presented by the Global Maritime Forum which was signed by 34 CEOs of shipping related companies including a number of leading ship operators.

There have been pronouncements too from older more established shipping organisations notably Intercargo where the outgoing chairman was quite critical of some regulatory aspects and highlighted that some issues that industry insiders will know as having been subject of complaints from operators for close on half as century.

The formation of CSA 2020 comes at a time when scrubber uptake seems to be accelerating to a point where it may even exceed the best expectations of some of the makers. Even so there are still voices that question the long-term viability of scrubber technology. In the latest Sea Asia Report published at the end of September, Intertanko’s Dragos Rauta expressed the view that as far as scrubbers are concerned, they will last for no more than 10 years 'because the high acidity of the wash-water is a challenge for the integrity of the installation. There will still be some impact on the environment that will not go unnoticed.' Thus, the shipping industry still needs to find that one solution which will be viable and sustainable, to comply with the 2020 sulphur cap.

Rauta’s view seems to be a restatement of the Intertanko position of a decade ago when the first SECAs were being established and the organisation was saying that residual fuels should be outlawed. The number of tanker operators that have installed or ordered scrubbers as well as those that are founders of CSA 2020 would suggest that not all tanker owners agree with that view. And since China has come out and said that it sees no reason to ban scrubber operations, then the argument against them on that score seems to have lost substance.

There is no doubt that the washwater from scrubbers can present an environmental problem but that does not mean it is an issue that cannot be solved. The washwater must already be treated to remove oil contaminants which should also remove most of the particulate matter and that should leave just the PH value to contend with. This is not an impossible task to achieve even if it may add slightly to the complexity of a scrubber and the need for a neutralising agent in addition to high levels of dilution with seawater. Only time will tell if the cost of such makes continued use of scrubbers profitable.

Scrubbers and indeed any of the alternative fuels now available will not solve the issue of CO2 emissions that the GMF and the IMO see as the long-term goal but expecting the industry itself or the IMO to provide the funding necessary to developing technology is most likely a non-starter.

Which brings us back to the Intercargo criticisms. Port reception facilities and PSC transparency and corruption were central to the criticisms and they are well timed reminders that the IMO’s attempts to regulate the environmental impact of shipping all too often do not receive the support of IMO member states in meeting the commitments made by the shipowning and operating communities. On the contrary some ports, nations and authorities seek to treat ships as cash cows to be milked mercilessly under the guise of improving the environment with little or none of that income being used to address the problem.

That does not bode well for the future since both port reception facilities and PSC are hardly the most technologically demanding things to put in motion. Both are the result of regulation following technology whereas today it seems that more and more technology must follow regulation but if the technology cannot evolve then the regulation itself must change.

It is interesting to note that while both the CSA 2020 and the GMF initiatives have the environment at heart, only two signatures appear on both lists and the combined total of less than 40 ship operators represents just a fraction of the operating community and world fleet even if they are considered as industry leaders. Even more noticeable is the fact that with a very few exceptions, the shipowners concerned are by and large western organisations and the growing influence of China and other Asian countries in shipping is mostly absent.