Over 90% of the world’s good – be it oil exporting in Malaysia or wine delivery in Singapore – travel by sea, thus making shipping the world’s most efficient form of transport as well as a pressing issue in the eyes of environmentalists such as Peter Boyd, the chief operating officer of Carbon War Room, an international non-governmental organization and policy institute working on issues regarding market-based solutions to climate change, who said that there are 100,000 ships that account for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions – which, in terms of gross domestic products, it would be the sixth largest country in the world, with United States, China, Japan, Germany and France topping the list in descending order according to the listing by International Monetary Fund in 2013 – and is expected to triple by 2050 if current practices continue unchanged.
Ship engines are powered by heavy fuel oil, a residue from crude oil refining containing a lot of impurities and must be kept at high temperature both during storage and use in ships main engines nonetheless used because of its cheapness despite the fact that it is the most polluting form of the fuel and has a considerable contribution to global pollution. As Boyd had pointed out, it only takes 15 ships to emit the equivalent sulphur dioxide emissions of every car in the world.
In consequence, the shipping industry is, to an increasing extent, cognizant of the obligation to take action. Alastair Fischbacher, the director of Sustainable Shipping Initiative, an ambitious coalition of shipping leaders from around the world dedicated to talking the sector’s greatest opportunities and challenges in order to achieve a vision of a shipping industry that is both profitable and sustainable by 2040 noted that there had been many changes in the industry over the past eight to ten years, especially in relation to regulations.
More specifically is the changes in regulations such as International Maritime Organisation’s Marpol Annex VI regulation, as explained by Jim Brown, marketing development manager of AkzoNobel, a Dutch multinational active in the fields of decorative paints, performance coatings and specialty chemicals for items such as ship hulls, which stated that commencing 1 January 2015, ships transiting Emission Control Areas (special areas defined by Marpol for the prevention of sea pollution which include the North Sea, Baltic Sea, most of the US and Canadian coastline and the US Caribbean) will have to burn fuel oil with a sulphur content of no more than 0.1%. Ships have to either use cleaner distillate fuels or install expensive scrubbers to remove the sulphur dioxide from the emissions. Since cleaner distillate fuel is at least $300 per tonne more expensive than heavy fuel oil, this will have a significant financial impact.
On that account, cutting cost is of major concern and Sustainable Shipping Initiative in developing a Save As You Sail initiative, which, according to Boyd: “Capital providers looking to make a return will pay to retrofit a ship, the ship owner gets a free piece of fuel-saving kit, the charterer gets lower fuel bills from day one and once the financier has got his money back, the savings are even higher.”
To move towards sustainable living, we ought to take a long term view on what we do today. The shipping industry has flourished as commerce and trading increase. The technology of the ships currently being used are decades old. It is time for us to continue to push for better, cleaner technology to be used in the shipping industry. This will help to reduce carbon footprint, and to reduce harmful chemical being leaked into the ocean.