Year in Review: Observations on Maritime Landscape 2023
- Shipping has certainty on carbon – everything else is up in the air.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) came in for rare but sustained praise for reaffirming its commitment to accelerating the reduction of shipping GHG emissions, establishing the ambitious goal of achieving ‘net-zero’ GHG emissions by or around 2050.
The outcome of the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting may be too vague and imprecise in other areas, but the stated aim was what the industry needed to hear in terms of an ambition level that could be used to demonstrate commitment to its stakeholders and customers.
Additionally, vessels may need to be equipped with real-time emission monitoring and reporting systems, which will require crew training for effective implementation and compliance. Older ships may also see challenges with retrofitting, which could make them commercially unattractive. However, new, compliant ships equipped with more modern digital voyage optimisation solutions might see an increase in market value.
- All the industry needs now is the fuels…
The industry spent much of the year debating not just which alternative fuel they should adopt but where, how and when they could get their hands on them. The answers are defined by scarcity of supply, challenging adoption paths and a very slow road to widespread availability.
As was pointed out many times, it won’t happen all at once – you don’t flip a switch and go from 400m tonnes of fuel oil to 400mt of any alt-fuel overnight.
The path follows a distinct evolution; first, lower carbon fuels still produced from fossil fuels, next ‘blue’ fuels produced from recycled carbon and then green fuels produced from sustainable feedstocks. The orders for alt-fuel ready ships provide a buoyant demand, but their proponents point out that much stronger policy support will be needed to incentivise higher production.
- Everybody raises concerns over the CII – and the IMO is aware
Criticism of the IMO is a team sport for shipping and it’s a game anyone can play. Often the criticism is unwarranted but if there is one thing the industry agrees on it is that the IMO’s Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) is not fit for purpose.
A system designed to award energy efficiency ratings to vessels, the CII is wide open to miscalculation, manipulation and abuse and shipowners wasted no podium opportunity to point out its flaws.
Once the kins are ironed out we’ll likely see more vessels equipped with real-time emission monitoring and reporting systems, which will require crew training for effective implementation and compliance.
- Money will be green – and maybe harder to find
The Poseidon Principles group of banks – which are seeking to green ship finance along ESG principles – agreed a significant revision to its reporting framework to move shipping portfolios closer into line with Paris Agreement carbon emission reduction targets.
The 30 signatories said the move also aligns with the IMO’s ambitious net zero carbon goals. The banks, which are committed to measuring and reporting the carbon intensity of their loan portfolios, represent about 65% of global ship finance.
The Poseidon Principles founders have always diverted suggestions that green money will be more expensive or harder to obtain but in the long run, both seem likely.
- Digitalisation is an unstoppable force – more consolidation is likely
After at least a decade of proliferating platforms, competing software startups and herds of digital unicorns stampeding through exhibition halls threatening to change the industry, digital got serious this year.
Money changed hands in increasing amounts for some new and well-established companies – including some veterans of the last tech bubble – as owners and operators sought to give themselves an increased edge in voyage optimisation and vessel efficiency.
There may still be too many options available – there are certainly a lot of companies competing for the same stretched ship manager/operator dollars – but tools for everything from voyage planning, tracking, monitoring and scheduling and optimisation make a compelling case for investment.
- Collaboration is key – but also hard to achieve
Collaboration was the undoubted buzzword of the year; everybody talked about it and recommended its adoption. Few were specific about what it meant and fewer able to illustrate what it might require.
There is a spectrum of options that can evolve to joint industry projects, joint development projects and joint ventures, but these are not a solution, just steps. They raise awareness but are not sufficient to make real progress.
The challenge is improving just in time port arrival by approaching the problem, which requires three essential characteristics – standard setting, benefit sharing and governance – which is why so little of it happens in practice.
- LEO stands for disruption – and better connectivity
2023 was the year when a different kind of communications at sea began to gain concerted attention. More and more operators of all kinds either started to trial or deploy Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite systems, principally the Starlink service founded by Elon Musk.
One highly traditional shipowner after the other – Japanese, Greek and more – suddenly declared themselves in favour of improved access to communications for their crews after years of doing what might charitably be called the bare minimum.
There are significant benefits for the maritime markets from the value that LEO Internet services will bring. There are also risks. Starlink for example is much more like a cellular telephone service: great when it works but with no performance guarantees and with very short contract periods.
- Shipping is always subject to risk
As a derived demand industry, shipping is subject to the whims of the world economy and politics too. This year, for tragically obvious reasons that has put ships and crews back in the centre of the news – and in the firing line.
In the Black Sea, vessels and seafarers had to contend with the risk of mined waters according to security companies which reported that the transit routes to Ukraine’s ports had been targeted to disrupt trade.
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