Ten years on and little change

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 06 January 2020


A little bit of crystal ball gazing is usual at this time of year but sometimes it can be equally enlightening to look back at what was being said and predicted at dates in the past.

Ten years ago I was editing the now defunct magazine Fairplay Solutions and over the holiday period I came across the December 2009 issue in my library. Flicking through it, I was taken by a number of similarities and thought how little things have changed in the intervening decade.

Past future

For a start, both December 2009 and December 2019 had witnessed A COP climate meeting that were widely acknowledged by the environmentalist movement to have been monumental failures. Yet in both the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 and the Madrid COP25 in 2019, the shipping industry was actually doing its best to prove that it is greener and more forward looking than its detractors would have us believe.

In 2019, it was the IV+CS presenting a vision of future technology and calling for a fund to be set up to develop the means of meeting the IMO’s decarbonisation ambitions. Ten years ago, the shipping industry’s attempt was a more physical one with Eidesvik’s dual-fuelled Viking Lady paying a visit to the port of Copenhagen. Just ten years ago a ship other than an LNG carrier running on LNG was something of a novelty but Viking Lady had an even more innovative feature having been retrofitted with a fuel cell.

Her fuel cell ran on LNG rather than the liquid hydrogen that is being touted for future vessels. The power of the fuel cell was only 320kW – enough to cover the base load of the ship in port but not for propulsion – but it was only considered as a prototype with scaled-up version of up to 4Mw being promised in the not too distant future.

Another similarity with today was the fact that the next year would see a reduction in permitted sulphur levels in fuels. In 2010, the change would come in July and would see levels in SECAs cut from 1.5% to 1%. The 2020 change is more severe and sees the global level cut to 0.5%. In both cases, there was disagreement about how best to meet the new rules. Then as now the argument is whether the rules should be met by using compliant fuels of by employing scrubbers.

In 2010 there were many fewer scrubber makers than there are now and after a few years of development, the makers were just beginning to come together. In October 2009, the fledgling Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association had held its first AGM and launched a code of conduct aimed at proving the integrity of makers and promoting scrubbing technology as a means of meeting emission standards.

Returning to the discussions around COP15, there was a lot of talk of the shipping industry having to accept that some form of bunker levy would be the way forward. My argument against such an idea then was that taxation in any form is a poor means of controlling emissions. Ships will always use as much fuel as they need to meet their commercial obligations so taxation has no effect. More to the point, very few taxes raised are ever used to address the issue that have been applied to control. Any money raised would not be used to mitigate the damage caused by emission but would only disappear in to government coffers.

In 2019, the idea of a levy was once again raised but this time, the funds raised would be used to help develop new technology. Although some owners have embraced the idea, many more are less enamoured with anything that would increase their costs for no obvious immediate return.

Highlighting how things always seem to take longer than expected, 2009 was supposed to be the year that the ballast water treatment convention would come into effect but that has actually been delayed for almost a decade. Also delayed but for even longer, 2010 was planned to see the European Galileo satellite navigation system becoming live. As it happens 2019 has come and gone and Galileo is still not operational.

It would be completely wrong to say that shipping has not advanced technologically or in other ways over the last decade. In November 2009, CMA CGM took delivery of its new flagship, the 13,300teu CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, from Daewoo Shipbuilding’s Geoje yard. Conisdered an environmentally friendly ship for the time, the vessel is eclipsed by CMA CGM’s latest flagship the 23,000teu dual-fuel CMA CGM Jacques Saadé launched in September 2019 and due for delivery in April 2010.

Polar expedition cruise ships were also making the news in 2009 but whereas the new generation from 2019 feature an amazing array of innovations from dual-fuel to battery power, the ship making headlines in 2009 was Oceanwide Expeditions’ rebuilt vintage Dutch-flagged expedition vessel Plancius. on 14 November. The Vlissingen, Netherlands-based company had been offering expedition-style cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic regions with chartered Russian vessels since 1996. To increase the level of comfort on board, it decided to rebuild and convert a ship into a 110-passenger vessel. Plancius was built in 1975 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy and sailed under the name Tydeman until June 2004. Oceanwide bought it in December 2006 and it had been undergoing a three-year reconstruction.

One technology that was absent from the 2009/10 news was batteries. No doubt they were being worked on then but it would be some years before any prototypes would be used. Today just a decade later, battery technology has advanced far faster than fuel cells appear to have done.

As we move into 2020, we should recognise that a lot of organisations are pushing for improved efficiency and reduced emissions by 2030 and therefore in advance of the IMO’s ambitious plans. How successful that may be is something we will not know until some future point. It may be that the targets will be met but experience suggests that they will not. How far we get towards them will be intriguing to see nearer the time.

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