Sustainability as a Driving Factor for New-Age Ships

Sustainability is a term heard with increasing frequency these days in the maritime industry. There are numerous suggestions on how sustainability should be maintained in new ships, how old ships need to be revamped for better efficiency, and how the growth of global trade is going to be influenced by sustainability in the future.

All these factors make one aspect clear, which is, the construction and manufacture of ships is now increasingly oriented towards making them sustainable for the future. To understand why and how sustainability is driving the manufacture of new-age ships, it is important to understand the factors that have made it inevitable.

The scope of sustainability in shipping is vast, so much so that people don’t know where to start when taking up sustainable measures. However, to summarise sustainability in shipping, the essential idea is to undertake all measures necessary to balance human activities so that the ocean’s health and diversity is unaffected in the long term.

Let us now explore the scope of sustainability and the reasons why it has become a driving factor for ship manufacturers.

Why is the Maritime Industry concerned with Sustainability?

The shipping industry is the biggest transport industry in the world. 90% of goods are transported by ships across national and international routes. Consequently, the environmental impact of ships is proportionally high. 3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the world are attributed to ships, primarily because of the non-renewable fuels used for voyages.

The increase in awareness about the need for greener technology and a clean future has led to the implementation of a sulphur cap by the International Maritime Organization. Not only has this led to a significant reduction in environmental air pollution, but as the regulations get more and more stringent with the upcoming years, the energy-efficiency is expected to increase by nearly 30% as well, by 2025.

The blatant effects of global warming have prompted many maritime nations and organizations to implement environment-friendly policies at their own levels. In addition, several independent organizations, such as the Sustainability Shipping Initiative, are bringing companies under one roof to better disseminate the knowledge for sustainable shipping and promote a socially conscious marine sector.

A number of governments across the world are participating in these initiatives and working towards making ships sustainable at their ends. As increasing ship efficiency is one of the ways in which sustainability can be achieved, the Indian government is organizing workshops for maritime officials under IMO’s GloMEEP project to increase awareness about practical ways to increase ship efficiency.

However, there is still a lot of ambiguity about what exactly does sustainability in shipping involve. This lack of knowledge creates barriers to implementing sustainable measures. Let us see what some of the challenges are that prevent the spread of sustainability in the maritime sector.

Challenges Limiting the Spread of Sustainability

  • Lack of Information

The chief problem in implementing sustainable initiatives in the maritime industry is the lack of information about where and how to begin. The amount of information available is overwhelming, but it is not freely distributed, nor are the proper channels used for smooth distribution. This leads to each company implementing changes as they see fit, to improve design performance and keep emissions below the requisite limit.

There needs to be a clearer process flow about the steps to be taken for building sustainable ships and the various design, operational, and analytical ways in which it can be done.

Geert Schouten, Director of Shipbuilder says, “Today sustainability is an enormously broad term. If a shipowner switches from heavy fuel oil to LNG, is this sustainable? Yes, it is a better alternative, but it is not the ultimate step in terms of sustainability. The important part is that each stakeholder in a ship’s life cycle needs to define what his role is in terms of sustainability. Non-competitive sharing of knowledge and data will be the ground-breaker.”

  • Split Incentives

One of the reasons why ship builders are reluctant to implement sustainable features in their ships is because 70% of the fuel cost is covered by the cargo owner and not the ship owner. This results in loss of accountability, consequently limiting the efficiency measures.

  • High Capital Investment in New and Retrofit Activities

Investing in material resourcing and retrofitting equipment for improved sustainability involves high capital investment. As a result, there is reluctance among manufacturers to use sustainable resources for new and old ships. However, the lifecycle of the ship is 30 years, so this investment is amply repaid within the first few years.

The newer techniques of manufacturing and maintenance are proven to increase fuel efficiency, though they have a steep initial cost. For instance, biocide-free paints can improve the hydrodynamics of the ship. These paints are 5 times as expensive as the normal, anti-fouling paints. However, they are known to increase fuel efficiency by 9% which makes them a viable alternative.

The lack of knowledge that the ROI on using sustainable materials is higher in the long run makes high capital investment a barrier for shipping sustainability.

  • Lack of Analysis

The investments in sustainability measures are often done without considering the current performance efficiency of the ships. This prevents a significant increase in the total efficiency of the ship. Sustainability is a direct consequence of ship efficiency, as it involves low carbon shipping and air pollution control.

In turn, ship efficiency is dependent on several factors, right from the route traversed to the engine and propeller efficiency. It is important to analyse the ship’s current performance and compare it with the design performance expected, to achieve any level of efficiency. This analysis is in fact the starting point of any sustainable measure to be implemented.

Sustainability as a Driving Factor for Ships of the Future

It is evident that sustainability has become an integral part of the maritime industry, with global efforts being made to increase awareness about the same. However, to achieve the targets set for ships in making them sustainable, it is necessary to understand that there is no single-fix solution. Various technologies, including existing and future ones, need to be used together to create a sustainable entity.

Technological breakthroughs have to be augmented with human involvement for obtaining best results. A proactive approach needs to be taken up, instead of merely a compliance-based initiative.

Sustainability of the ship over its entire life cycle is ideally the target and the global maritime industry is making monumental steps in the direction. There is a growing awareness among ship chandlers and manufacturers about the environmental impact of our actions and the need to minimize damage as far as possible. All these factors have contributed to making sustainability a prime consideration in ship design and retrofit and this trend is expected to continue in the future.

What are your thoughts on sustainability in shipping? Drop a comment to let us know!

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