Progress in Sustainable Shipping
Missi Davis, October 2013

In a world where the focus on creating greener economies with sustainability of energy resources is high on the agendas of most governments and industries, the world of shipping is in the forefront of progressive thinking, and for a new generation of maritime academy undergraduates opportunities for sustainability have become a major area of study. However, as in all industries now facing these issues, to make a real impact with new sustainable technology, policies and practices will require strong leadership, a consensus on the need for change and governments that are fully committed to some tough political battles.

The Case for Action

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) is a practical four stage plan drawn up by a coalition of world shipping leaders that offers a new vision of the industry as both profitable and sustainable. The global shipping industry carries 90% of world trade and employs more than 2 million people. It is the vital link between disparate communities that drives trade, gives the developed world access to natural resources and allows the poorest nations to trade on the world market. The SSI Case for Action, published in 2011, addressed the key challenges for the future of shipping: the need for growth in free trade and work to be done with governments in anticipation of future challenges; the increasing expectation of the shipping industry to comply with regulations governing working conditions, fuel efficiency and environmental protection; and the problem of rising oil prices that push up costs, alongside the increasing pressure on shipping companies to comply with climate change policies that demand a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The report concluded that the increased drive for sustainable shipping has produced only a fragmented response, and that universal acceptance of the initiatives would benefit from the study of existing sustainable frameworks where examples of good practice could be applied to global shipping.

The cruise ship industry

Cruise ships have been under fire in the past for emitting three times as much carbon dioxide as jet airliners and polluting the seas with sewage, toxic chemicals and oily bilge water. However, the industry is changing for the better, taking steps to becoming less polluting and more sustainable, with work done on ship design, energy use, water treatment and fuel economy, and working to comply with regional environmental regulations. For example – referring to the strict regulations for traveling along the Alaska coastline – Iglu Cruise says: ‘The permit ensures that each ship meets regulations in regards to air and water pollution, the dumping of treated water and biodegradable food waste and other environmental impacts.’ Travelers concerned about their environmental impact can check the Friends of the Earth Cruise Report Card, which breaks down the green credentials of sixteen major cruise lines. The cruise ship industry has made great progress in the past decade. The major cruise lines have spent approximately $2 million per ship on upgrades to improve emissions and waste management, which has been cut on average by almost 50%.

Ballast water treatment

There has been significant progress in a range of water ballast treatment systems that use filtration combined with ultraviolet light treatment or electro-chlorination. In October 2013, GloBal TestNet, a new group of sixteen organizations involved in testing and certifying ballast water treatments, was set up at the 5th Global Ballast Water Management R&D Forum and Exhibition, held in Korea. GloBal TestNet will provide information exchange facilities and work towards increased standardization of test procedures. Beneficiaries will include both test facility clients and shipping companies using ballast water treatment technology in order to comply with the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention 2004). The BWM Convention aims to prevent the spread of alien aquatic organisms and will require all ships to comply with a standard ballast water management plan.

Kite and sail power

One way of reducing fuel consumption that has been used successfully on modern container ships is the use of an auxiliary power source – the SkySail, developed by the German company SkySails GmBh. The SkySail patented kite is attached to the ship by a towing rope, and there are automated launch, control and recovery systems. The idea is simple but effective and can produce the equivalent of 2MW main engine power by harnessing the power of the wind. The kites have a surface area of around 3,400 sq ft and are designed to be flown at altitudes of up to 1000 ft, where the stronger winds will translate into a higher thrust per square foot of sail than a conventional sail mounted on a mast. Fuel savings are estimated to be in the region of 10-35% per annum.

Another radical development in modern ship technology seems to nod towards the clipper ships of the late 19th century, while being a thoroughly modern answer to sustainability that uses carbon fiber construction and computer controls to harness the power of the wind. Unlike the traditional square rigger, the sails do not rotate; instead the yards are mounted on a rotating mast and the sails are retractable. These new systems are either under development as prototypes or still in the planning stage and will be combined with auxiliary natural gas engines. They are expected to reduce energy costs and emissions by up to 15%, although nothing has so far been built on the scale that would compete with conventional freighter designs.

Towards sustainable shipping 2040

In September 2013 the SSI issued its new report, A Case for More Action, which covers the obstacles experienced to date in progressing towards its ‘Vision for 2040’, the manifesto launched in 2011 that outlined the key challenges facing the modern shipping industry. The report discusses the further steps necessary to maintain the industry’s progress towards those goals that ensures the shipping industry can contribute to driving down global emissions of carbon dioxide with an efficient use of resources, and it emphasizes the need for transparency in the industry with the sharing of knowledge, expertise and innovation, which will reduce investment risk and stimulate more rapid change. The SSI also aims to create a modernized shipping industry that can provide rewarding careers in which the working environment is safe, healthy and secure.

Founding director of Forum for the Future Jonathan Porritt said: ‘The findings that have been reported and the tangible results that have been accomplished in the areas of ship financing, ship recycling, energy technology and sustainability benchmarking have taken us a way towards the targets in the SSi’s ‘Vision 2040’ manifesto.’

SSI Director Helle Gleie said:’ From new vessel types and new financial models to propulsion through kites and bacteria-based fuels, it is clear that the maritime sector is driving innovation, and our new tools and recommendations for future action will accelerate this even further.’