Setting the agenda for British shipping

UK Chamber of Shipping

Bob Sanguinetti, Director General of the UK Chamber of Shipping, outlines its view of the big questions for the industry’s future

At the start of 2020 the shipping and maritime industry was looking ahead, planning for the future. New IMO (International Maritime Organization) global sulphur regulations had just come into force, and much of the focus of the industry was on green issues: How are we going to reduce CO2 emissions? What will the fuel of the future be? What action can we take here in the UK ahead of the UN climate change conference COP 26, pencilled in for late next year in Glasgow?

It is safe to say 2020 hasn’t been the year that anyone expected. The coronavirus pandemic has not only had a major impact on the global shipping industry, but has affected every business of every size around the world. It has had a devastating personal impact on millions of people right across the globe. We should never forget the impact this deadly disease has had on families and communities everywhere.

Over the past few months governments around the world have been wrestling with different lockdown measures and doing what they believe to be most appropriate to stop the spread of the disease. As the UK moves from the immediate crisis phase to the restart and recovery phase, innovation will be at the heart of the journey. New ways of working will have to be developed, and new products, techniques and processes will give rise to new opportunities, new entrants and new jobs.

But no one should lose sight of the work that has already started. In the UK that means the Maritime 2050 Strategy and the Clean Maritime Plan.

Leading from the front

A tanker belching greenhouse gases and black soot particulates into the atmosphere.
A tanker belching greenhouse gases and black soot particulates into the atmosphere. To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is a challenge that shipping must meet. Photo: Shutterstock

More than ever the world is changing. Despite the present focus on Covid-19, we urgently need a debate, no longer over whether action on climate change is needed, but rather over how quickly we can do it, to mitigate the risks and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, especially in the transition to clean energy.

To ensure the UK Chamber of Shipping is setting the agenda and leading from the front; it recently updated its five-year strategic plan. This refreshed plan sets out the clear direction for the Chamber to head in, making sure that it is not only working collaboratively with its members but also setting a strategic narrative while tackling new challenges and identifying future opportunities.

The shipping industry needs to do all it can to reduce its emissions, and 2019 was the year that tackling climate change came to the fore in shipping. 2020 was expected to be a critical year, and the signs are that, despite the coronavirus, the industry is still focused on decarbonisation and the challenges it faces.

The last few months have seen Danish groups, including Maersk, come together to deliver green hydrogen projects as they look to create emission-free fuels suitable for ships, trucks, aircraft and other heavy industry.

It is not just big industry that has been leading the way. The Chamber has shown creditable leadership on this critical issue.

The Chamber has published its Environmental Resolution, committing it and its members to continuously reducing the footprint of shipping on the environment and to protecting the environment for present and future generations. It is also collaborating with members on a Single-Use Plastics Charter, whose goal is zero plastic pollution from ships to sea.

At the IMO last November, the Chamber argued that slow shipping was not the answer to reducing emissions. The IMO agreed, and has adopted a goal-based approach instead.

Across the UK, members of the Chamber of Shipping have been doing extraordinary things to reduce emissions. But in the next few years all will need to do more, and that is why the Chamber has called for a green industrial revolution to accelerate the development of new green technologies right here in the UK.

A share in the blue economy

Platform supply vessels at Aberdeen
Platform supply vessels at Aberdeen – the shift away from fossil fuels, not only in ship propulsion, will require new roles for new forms of offshore energy support vessels and their crews.

The global blue economy is set to be worth over £2 trillion by 2030. If the UK is to get a fair share of that business, we need innovation, and the right environment to be set by the government. There is a global innovation race, with countries competing to develop and deliver green tech to the world’s fleet. In the next few years the Chamber hopes to see the UK take advantage of its place on the global stage and lead the charge to create the technologies needed to decarbonise the shipping industry. The recovery from Covid should be a green recovery, with investment in clean technology.

Last year the UK government launched the Clean Maritime Plan. This requires all-new ships trading in UK waters, both international and domestic, to be designed with zero-emission capable technologies, and to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The targets set are a huge challenge, but the Chamber is confident that the radical solutions will eventually be found. In fuel development we could potentially see a combination of hydrogen or ammonia, and batteries powered from renewable energy sources. Synthetic fuels may offer a solution, too. However, the key question is ‘How can the industry successfully transition to net zero, not merely remaining competitive but going further and making the most of the big opportunities?’

In 2019 the Department for Transport launched its Maritime 2050 strategy. This has set a clear pathway for industry and government to work together on, to innovate, to develop new greener, cleaner technologies, and to exploit the opportunities of the future. Taskforces are being established and working groups set up; and policy discussions continue to ensure the work on the strategy continues.

It is abundantly clear that the technologies needed to achieve the 2050 target of net-zero emissions do not yet exist at a scale or in a form that is commercially viable, especially for long voyages. So, what is needed at the heart of our strategy to achieve our longer-term goals is concerted research and development activity, led and incentivised by government, and supported by industry, manufacturers, academics and innovators.

Future proofing

The government has been clear about its ambitions to achieve net zero by 2050, and this is surely a brilliant opportunity for the UK shipping industry to step up to the mark, and once again become a global leader in areas with massive growth potential. Underpinning the government’s commitment is Maritime Research and Innovation UK –(MarRI-UK). It has made available up to £1,000,000 of funding for industrial research, to find innovative ways to reduce maritime emissions. The first tranche of recipients has just been announced – a small but vital step on the long journey ahead.

But there are fundamental questions which need answering now.

How can vessels built today be futureproofed, given they may well still be operating in 2050? To ensure a smooth transition, zero emission ships need to enter the fleet sooner rather than later. Over the next decade zero emission options need to evolve rapidly to overcome barriers involving safety, availability and commercial viability.

The Chamber will continue to push the government, the IMO and international organisations to ensure they are doing all they can to help shipping reduce its emissions.

Safety and seafarer training

Rescuer equipped with breathing apparatus descending into a shipboard closed space.
Rescuer equipped with breathing apparatus descending into a shipboard closed space. Safety for seafarers at sea is high on the Chamber’s agenda. Photo: Shutterstock

Shipping must become cleaner, but it must also become safer for seafarers. The Chamber has done excellent work in developing its new Safety Culture Charter. This was officially launched during London International Shipping Week last September by the then shipping minister, Nusrat Ghani. Its aim is simple: to reduce incidents and accidents at sea. The Charter now represents around 100,000 seafarers, and it shows, not just lip service paid to safety, but real action.

The Chamber has a very clear mission. It is the trade association and voice of the UK shipping industry. It works with government, parliament, international organisations and others to champion and protect the industry on behalf of its members.

The Chamber has demonstrated commitment to its mission during the coronavirus pandemic by securing funding to help the ferry industry continue to bring us the vital goods we need. It also persuaded Chancellor Rishi Sunak to adapt the Job Retention Scheme to include more seafarers, and it successfully lobbied government to exclude seafarers, offshore and maritime workers from the 14-day quarantine rules.

As the UK recovers from the pandemic, innovation will be key, but innovation takes many forms. It is vital to ensure that the next generation of seafarers are trained using the latest techniques and technologies, and that the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) continues to develop new and modern ways of delivering seafarer training and education to make UK cadets among the best-trained seafarers in the world.

The MNTB does excellent work in partnership with industry to raise the standards of seafarer training in the UK. Last year saw the extension of its Recognition Services – a quality mark for seafarer training – around the globe, helping to raise standards at seafarer training centres worldwide. It was important to recognise and reward the excellent standards of training delivered to seafarers, both nationally and internationally, and the results to date are gratifying.

Ensuring the safety of those at sea, upskilling training centres in the UK and across the globe, working with international governments and organisations on a global pandemic, and tackling climate change – these are just some of the issues the Chamber’s members have faced with great professionalism in the past few months and will no doubt continue to face in the months and years ahead.