Shipping is ready for a technological revolution | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Shipping is ready for a technological revolution

12:05 AM February 14, 2015

The ocean is the highway of international trade. With more than 90 percent of the world’s goods transported across waters, the global shipping industry helps you turn on your lights, cook your favorite meal, and even put petrol in your car. But that’s not the only contribution the industry makes.

It is also the lifeblood of many local economies. In Singapore, the industry employs around 170,000 people and contributes around 7 percent to the country’s GDP. In Hong Kong, the industry accounts for more than 25 percent of the country’s GDP. In the Philippines, the maritime industry contributes over $5.2 billion annually to the country’s foreign exchange remittance, and employs more than half a million Filipino seafarers .

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Shipping is one of the world’s most important industries and, as projections suggest, global seaborne trade could double by 2030. Its role in driving local, regional and global economic growth will continue to increase.

But it’s not all smooth sailing. All eyes are on the environmental performance of the industry, which is facing stricter regulation in two key areas—emissions that are directly harmful to society and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that threaten the balance of our planet’s ecosystems.

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Reducing harmful emissions, such as Sox, Nox and particulates, is being addressed through new regulation which will see a global reduction in the sulphur content permitted in ship bunker fuel from the current 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent by 2020. In emission-controlled areas, such as Northern Europe and North America, the lower cap of 0.1 percent has been enforced since Jan. 1.

The shipping industry is also the only sector with a binding global agreement to reduce GHG emissions. Under the agreement, which came into force in January 2013, the shipping industry has to reduce the amount of GHG emitted per ton of cargo transported per kilometer (ton/km) by 20 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2025.

These measures are incredibly important for the overall wellbeing of our planet, but they’re no small task. Ship owners will need to significantly invest in new technologies, fuels and approaches to meet the standards that are being set.

And the industry is taking action. From the development of emissions abatement technology, the adoption of greener fuel options such as liquefied natural gas and ethanol, through to the reduction of ship power, there are a number of options being explored. The question is: Does this go far enough?

With trade forecast to continue expanding in the coming decades, more and more ships will be required. This poses a bigger question for shipping, and society: Can we keep growing world trade while improving our overall environmental performance?

I believe the answer is yes—but it will require a radical rethink and a collaborative approach.

Exploring fuel options is key to developing a solution to this challenge, but it will not be enough on its own. It’s time for a full technological revolution which will require us to look at what’s already out there and investigate a completely fresh approach.

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This will not only allow the shipping industry to reduce its environmental footprint but also create overall efficiencies which are good for ship owners’ bottom lines. Larger containerships are creating scale efficiencies requiring specialized understanding of hull structures but, so far, we have yet to see real technological change in shipping.

Looking ahead, we should be looking to a world where voyage information, data from ship structures, components and machinery are centrally collected and used to enhance performance.

It’s also about looking at what technology is already out there. Nanotechnology could allow paints, coatings and materials to give signals of performance, enabling us to hear the hull “talking” in the same way that we hear pumps and engines “talking” through sensors today. Acoustic fibers can detect minute changes in vibrations, meaning that we will be able to sense engine rooms in different ways. We need to be leveraging these existing technologies to their full potential.

These are exciting options to explore but to make them reality, the industry needs to be able to implement them in a way that’s economically sustainable—and we need everyone to work together to find the right balance.

This will require a change in mindset and may require people to work in different partnerships and using different skills than those that dominate shipping today. All this could ultimately lead to a fundamental change in the skill sets required by ship builders and class societies, like Lloyd’s Register. Will the next generation of ship “designers” be made up of mathematicians and chemists, as well as naval architects, engineers and metallurgists? At our new Global Technology Centres in Southampton and Singapore, we are addressing the questions raised by a need to change.

These questions and challenges are what make events like Sea Asia 2015 so important. The event, to be held during Singapore Maritime Week in April, will bring together leaders from across the industry and around the globe to look at, debate, analyze and argue these critical issues in hope of developing effective solutions.

I look forward to continuing this discussion with my colleagues at the event in April.

Tom Boardley, marine director of Lloyd’s Register, is a speaker at Sea Asia 2015.

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TAGS: column, Shipping, technological revolution, tom boardley
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