Heavy swell

Shipping - Heavy swell

Global trade would be unthinkable without shipping. Around 90 percent of all consumer goods are transported by sea. But the industry has been in crisis for years – many shipping companies have fallen by the wayside amid tough competition on the world’s oceans.

The ‚MOL Triumph‘ was launched in March 2017, mooring in the Port of Hamburg on her maiden voyage two months later. With a 20,170 container capacity, she was the first vessel to break the 20,000 mark. By the time she reached Hamburg, the ‚Madrid Maersk‘ with her 20,568 container capacity had already knocked her off her number one position. A few weeks later, the ‚OOCL Hong Kong‘ went into service – with space for 21,100 containers. Vessel capacities have increased over 1,200 percent since 1968 and the global fleet is expanding all the time. But the industry’s air of prosperity is deceptive. The 2008 financial crisis has proved tough for shipping companies to this day. More and more vessels were are being ordered but the volume of transported goods has not increased to the expected extent, meaning that there has been an oversupply on the world’s oceans for years. Transport costs shrank considerably and even major traditional companies couldn’t cope with the pressure on prices. The latest famous victim – Rickmers Holding – filed for insolvency in mid-2017. But while container shipping is in crisis, business is booming in the cruise industry. Worldwide, the number of cruise ship passengers has risen from around 15 million to 26 million since 2007. The result is more and more ocean giants, getting bigger all the time. But, in spite of their different trajectories, container and cruise ships have one major thing in common: Ever since the 1970s, ocean-going vessels have been powered by heavy oil. When oil prices shot up for the first time, the residue from crude oil production seemed to be a cheap alternative for all vessel types – until now. But the emissions produced by this alternative are huge. Transport experts at the NABU association for nature conservation have calculated that the 15 biggest ocean vessels emit about as much nitrogen oxide as a billion or so cars worldwide. The shipping industry has now engaged in a radical rethink process – not least because of ever harsher legislation. Many shipping companies also see stricter environmental standards as an opportunity to overcome the crisis in the container industry once and for all.

The demand for heavy oil remains high – even now. One of the most important bodies pushing for more environmentally friendly solutions is the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Whereas vehicle fuel on Europe’s roads can only have a maximum sulphur content of 0.001 percent, up to 3.5 percent is permitted for heavy oil. The result: extreme emission levels: Shipping now accounts for 15 percent of global nitrogen oxide emissions and 13 percent of global sulphur oxide emissions. And the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimates that the global fleet pumps a billion tons of CO2 into the air every year, accounting for about three percent of global emissions. According to a recognized study by US Professor James Corbett, around 60,000 people die every year from the results of air pollution caused by shipping. Growing trend. So far, no bans have been imposed on heavy oil. But there are laws that will make heavy oil operation almost impossible in future. The IMO has classified parts of the North American coastline and all of the North Sea and Baltic Sea as Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs). Since 2015, the sulphur content of fuel can only be a maximum of 0.1 percent in those areas. An even more significant decision: A upper limit of 0.5 percent will apply worldwide from 2020. A limit that is 500 times higher than on the streets of Europe – but still forcing shipping companies to develop alternatives. Ports are providing further incentives. The World Ports Climate Initiative (WPCI) adopted the Environmental Ship Index (ESI) in 2008. Vessels registered there receive points for environmental sustainability. The more reductions they make, the higher the discount on demurrage charges at participating ports. Model for success. Launched by six European ports, the initiative has spread to over 60 other ports. Over 5,500 vessels are registered on the ESI. “This is a really big deal, because it’s a voluntary initiative and supplements IMO regulations,” says Jan von Häfen, head of the German IMO delegation.

Reduced consumption used as an incentive

Shipping - Heavy swell

In May this year, TÜV Rheinland was approved as a testing and certification body for monitoring CO2 emissions from maritime transport. “As a neutral entity, we can confirm accurate records of greenhouse gas emissions by ocean-going vessels,” says Peter Maczey, Head of Environmental and Climate Protection at TÜV Rheinland. “We can now also provide our customers with support in terms of future IMO regulations,” continues the expert. But shipping companies have realized one major thing: Alternative technologies reduce consumption – with a huge potential for savings. After all, fuel is one of the major items on the bill for running a ship.

Alternative shipping fuels are on the rise. Greener, more energy efficient propulsion systems are becoming more and more interesting. Even autonomous shipping with electric-powered vessels is now within reach.

Scrubbers are already being deployed on entering Emission Control Areas to meet the upper limits stipulated there. Scrubbers wash the sulphur out of the heavy oil, reducing sulphur content from 3.5 to 0.1 percent. But, because the polluted washing water is pumped into the sea, the procedure does assist with climate protection, but exacerbates another shipping problem: water pollution. The IMO has been tackling the dumping of (toxic) waste, shipwrecks and the introduction of alien plants and animal species via ballast water for decades now. Waste gas purification systems – known as scrubbers – offer a totally clean solution, but this requires enough tanks on board ship to take the waste water.

Liquid natural gas in greater demand

A long way from being climate neutral, liquid natural gas (LNG) is still much lower in emissions than heavy oil. No sulphur oxide or nitrogen oxide and hardly any rust particles are released when using LNG. Demand is continuously increasing, especially in the cruise sector. Shipping companies like AIDA and MSC have already ordered several LNG-powered gigaliners and are not put off by possible supply shortages. Because: LNG might be available in large volumes, but the required port infrastructure is only now being developed in many locations. But shore power is already an integral element in terms of supply. This means that ships can turn off their engine in the port and still maintain deck operations.

Back to sailing

A container ship with a 12,000 tonne load travelling at full speed consumes around 300 tons of heavy oil – every day. To reduce consumption, shipping companies have been opting for slow steaming for many years now: If a ship travels at around one third of its top speed, consumption falls by around 40 percent. The SkySails system has been on the market since 2002. It is a kind of paragliding canopy attached to the ship, saving up to 20 percent on fuel. Flettner rotor technology is much older – dating from the 1920s. Large rotating cylinders are powered by the wind, generating propulsion. A refined version of this technology has been used by the E-Ship 1 since 2010. In the right conditions, the ship now produces up to 50 percent less greenhouse gas and saves around 20 percent on consumption. This technology is now used on other ships – the Viking Grace Baltic ferry, for example.

Visionary projects

Shipping - Heavy swell The E-Ship 1 with her four Flettner rotors relies on wind energy. The E-Ship 1 with her four Flettner rotors relies on wind energy.

Computer-controlled routing systems have been setting the course on the world’s ocean for years now. The latest generation are guided by the wind, the waves and ocean currents, saving around 20 percent on consumption. The Norwegian chemical company Yara will be using computers for the entire operation in future. A collaboration with ship builders Kongsberg, the 100 percent electric-powered ferry the Birkeland will be coming into service in 2018. The journey will be controlled completely autonomously as of 2020 – the same goes for port clearance, which will also be solely electric. Rolls Royce, a pioneering British company in this sector, aims to establish autonomous sea shipping by 2035. The first partially autonomous container ship with a reduced crew is scheduled to sail from 2020.

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