Ten Issues for the Next Ten Years: Part One

February 25, 2019 12:28 pm

The shipping industry is often seemingly on the brink of the biggest change since the last big change. It seems though that the next few years are really set to shake and shape the industry like never before. Across a range of key reports, expert analysis, and conference findings, we look at the ten issues which will set the agenda for the decade ahead.


#1 Cleaner Shipping

According to DNV GL, “decarbonisation is the number one challenge for the industry”. The Classification Society cites three key elements to accelerate the pace, and see the need for efficiency, the logistics of getting cleaner fuels, and the development of carbon-neutral fuels themselves.

These are challenges which would be hard enough in isolation, but as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is set to implement a strategy with the aim to reduce shipping emissions of greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050, the move toward full decarbonisation is upon us.

For many experts, the initial changes will be about scrubbers, and reports stress the importance of at least cleaning up sulphur emissions in the interim. The new IMO rules to limit sulphur content in fuel enter force on 1 January 2020, and so there is no time to delay as the rules prohibit ships using fuels with sulphur content above 0.5 percent, unless they are equipped with scrubbers.

New research forecasts that just over 10% of marine fuel will be scrubbed in 2020 when the regulations kick in, it is estimated that compliance with the regulation to be at 85% in 2020, rising to full compliance by 2025.

#2 New Systems and Autonomous Ships

The future of shipping is already here, and as we are seeing a 4th Industrial Revolution ashore, so too are we witnessing the rise of “Shipping 4.0”. As new developments in digitalisation shape the way that business is done, it is changing how vessels get their cargoes. Soon it will also change the way ships themselves are operated.

While there is still some way to go, ironically more from a legislative, liability and insurance perspective than technical, it is clear that ships are changing. The future of fully automated systems controlled by remote operators or by algorithms is within reach. Something which poses massive risks, but opportunities too.

According to DNV GL, the biggest challenge is not to make them work, but to make them “sufficiently safe”. That is quite a phrase isn’t it, and worryingly reminiscent of the all too common lowest common denominator approach to shipping that has blighted safety for decades.

What then, we must ask, is sufficiently safe?  It seems that over the coming years the issue of tolerable risk level will most likely be defined by a competent authority such as the IMO and flag States for any given operation. In the meantime, we have to focus on staying sufficiently safe with training and ensuring seafarers are up to the tasks.

#3 All Aboard the Blockchain

There cannot be a discussion about the future of shipping without mention of the word Blockchain. The arrival of a totally decentralised, open-source, peer-to-peer software driven ledger for shipping transactions and information is imminent. Indeed, the goal of the maritime blockchain is to provide improved processing time and real-time updates, higher accuracy, and full transparency.

Shipping remains a traditional industry and the processes the parties follow, in many cases, are almost archaic. Ships float on water, but the industry is awash with paper, with documents such as sales contracts, charter party agreements, bills of lading, port documents, letters of credit and others related with the vessel and the cargo.

All these documents may need to pass through a long chain of parties since their importance remains high both for various payments to be affected as well as the carriage and delivery of the cargo to take place. The hope is that the Blockchain could turn the whole process paperless as parties in each transaction contact each other, perform physical transactions, exchange and store information in an encrypted format and perform their contractual obligations digitally.

There would also be increased security, potential cost savings and easier access to the market as barriers will be removed. For some, this will be a real opportunity to show they do everything right, well and thoroughly. For others, well the challenges of having to engage openly will be as much psychological as technical.

#4 Cleaner Seas

While the IMO is set to shake up what is put into ships by way of fuel, there are also new requirements for what comes out of them too. From ballast to sewage, there are conventions to be applied and new challenges to operating cleanly and legally. One of the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals is “Life Below Water”; so there is much to be done to reduce pollution.

The implementation of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention has been a landmark decision which involves the installation of ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) to prevent the impact of invasive marine species unwittingly being moved in ships’ ballast water tanks.

As the deadline for a BWTS installation begins to loom larger, it is seen as vital that ship owners and operators start their planning and installation. According to industry data, over 60,000 vessels need to be retrofitted with BWTS between now and the end of 2024. The systems need to have IMO approval, and if sailing to the USA, approval from the United States Coastguard. (USCG).

Aside from ballast, there is the small matter of sewage from ships. There are growing concerns that some type of approved equipment is claiming it can deliver “scientifically impossible” results?  There are calls for new rules for marine sewage treatment plants and reviews by the approval assessment bodies and their respective Administrations.

#5 Serious About Cyber

The issue of maritime cyber security has been a popular topic of discussion over the past few years. However, just because people are talking does not necessarily mean they are taking the right actions.

There seems to have been something of a divide when it comes to keeping ships safe from cyber attacks or problems. There are the purely technical design and systems fixes which need to be built in by cyber security experts. While on the other side of the divide, seafarers need to supported, guided and assisted in doing the right things when it comes to cyber.

Seafarers have often been talked of as one problem in securing vessels, and there are criticisms that mistakes onboard are making ships less secure. We know that issues do arise, there are USB drives placed into machines they shouldn’t be, and there are most definitely files downloaded and emails opened which compromise the cyber hygiene of a vessel.

It is not fair though to make seafarers the cyber scapegoats. This is an issue which is more complicated. However, crews must be aware of the things they need to do. That was one of the drivers behind the KVH Videotel Cyber Security at Sea training course, aimed at Masters, officers, ratings and shore management.

The course raises awareness of cyber security onboard ship and encourages good cyber ‘hygiene’. It also explores cyber security risk and introduces candidates to the cyber risk management plan. These are the basic building blocks of protecting vessels and are vital in moving the cyber security debate and capabilities forward.

Find out more at https://videotel.com/stcw-training-catalogue/1298-cyber-security-at-sea You can read about the next 5 key issues which will be shaking and shaping shipping in the decade ahead here.

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