Ahead of the International Chamber of Shipping’s AGM in Hong Kong this week, in a three-part interview the ICS secretary general, Peter Hinchliffe addressed some of the industry’s most important challenges.
On CO2 reductions
We are extremely pleased on how the IMO is progressing on CO2 reductions* We have this really good agreement that has put the shipping industry ahead of any other sector in the world in terms of CO2 reduction.
We are in an even stronger position than individual countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement. We are reducing our CO2 emissions more rapidly and more fundamentally than any of those countries. We are in a good place and it’s about time we got some recognition for that which we haven’t had so far. But of course the hard work starts now.
We now have to look at the individual measures we take to deliver a pathway towards a zero carbon industry. A lot of that work is extremely complicated. There will have to be some very substantial studies, both economic and technical, on what can be delivered, what are the timescales and what are the economic impacts.
A lot of the countries at the IMO are quite worried about what the impact will be on their own economies. We understand that. But we feel that the concerns not as serious as some countries fear. But nevertheless we need the economic studies to be sure that we are not damaging economies.
On sulphur cap implementation 2020
ICS believes there are issues over creating an understanding amongst shipowners that the discretion is about compliance fuel not simply 0.5% fuel and that there are graduations of various sulphur levels of different kinds of fuels.
One of the problems is that the least expensive solution will be a 0.5% blend of crude. Unfortunately all those blends will be different and they don’t necessarily mix together so there is a fear of machinery breakdown where a ship has bunkered in one port and the next bunker taken on is not compatible. There are serious concerns about this.
If a shipowner chooses distillate instead it will be subject to a much bigger price hike. We don’t know what the price hikes will be but a good estimate is that it will be one and half times the price of a 0.5% fuel, so, again there are serious commercial issues about that.
The IMO has said there will be availability of 0.5% fuel, and that is probably true. What the IMO didn’t look at was the cost of the fuel or where that fuel will be available. It may well not be available at the right places.
But generally we are content that the IMO is listening to these concerns and it have established work streams, which are looking at all these questions. I don’t think we have solutions yet but I do think solutions will be found.
On Autonomous ships
First we have to decide what we mean by autonomy. In some respects we already have autonomy. If you operate an unmanned engine room, it equates to autonomy in the engineering department.
Autonomy does not mean an unmanned ship. Autonomy means some aspects of the ship operation are being run on an automated basis under the oversight of the ship’s crew.
There has to be some work done on defining what is meant by autonomy, and the IMO is working on this, as is the International Association of Classification Societies. I believe the intention is to come up with six different levels of autonomy, which will be very helpful in obtaining a reliable definition.
I am all in favour of equipment being put on ships to make life easier for watch-keepers. Then they need not be distracted by some administrative function that could be done by a machine. Instead they can do what they should be doing – looking out of the bridge window. But if you are asking me whether we will ever run unmanned ships, frankly I am not convinced.
I think people make a number of assumptions that are not necessarily correct. First, do shipowners want unmanned ships? There doesn’t appear to be a business case for it.
The driver in this would be if the unmanned ship were cheaper to operate than having a crew on board. At the moment the cost of installing the equipment and the control systems and setting up the shore station is much more expensive than putting a crew on board. In short, the business case is not well made.
* On 13 April the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed to an initial strategy to cut the shipping industry’s total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% from 2008 levels by 2050.
Tomorrow Mr Hinchliffe reveals IMO shortcomings and looks back on a 17-year career with the ICS.