Let the countdown begin

Amanda Lyons, senior consultant at BLUE Communications, reflects on the outcomes from the 36th Motorship Propulsion and Emissions Conference held in Hamburg from 21-22nd May 2014.

Amanda Lyons, senior consultant at BLUE Communications, reflects on the outcomes from the 36th Motorship Propulsion and Emissions Conference held in Hamburg from 21-22nd May 2014.

Are you ready for 2015? That was the over-arching question posed to around 130 delegates from across the shipping industry that convened recently in Hamburg. It takes little more than a brief meeting with many of our clients, or backchannel conversation with the maritime industry media for it to be abundantly clear that meeting the new 0.1% sulphur limits in Europe and North America from 2015 is a concern that has been keeping ship owners, operators and even their service providers awake at night.

But sentiment towards 2015 compliance is changing. Whilst discussions at various conferences over the last few years have been useful exploratory exercises to weigh up various options, definitive solutions remained elusive. Now, just over seven months out from D-day, consensus was clear in Hamburg that distillate fuel would be the obvious short-term solution from next year.

With the use of marine gas oil (MGO) widely accepted amongst the delegation as the most feasible option from 2015, despite an increasing influx of scrubber sales, the implications of this came under the microscope. Notwithstanding the much-commented “known” of a severe hike in fuel prices (from HFO to MGO), other concerns have arisen, including worries over spiking bunker bills, the coverage of distillate distribution, fuel quality as well as the methods of fuel testing and reporting all still have elements of ambiguity. Overall, there was widespread acknowledgement that ‘we won’t know until we try’. Even the best-laid plans may need adjusting or even over-hauling once vessels are navigating these changes on a regular basis next year.

However, what resounded particularly strongly was that if ship operators are going to purchase cleaner fuels, they want the regulations to be properly enforced to prevent the occurrence of a two-tier system that favours those who flout the law and pocket the difference. This is a valid concern and it was captured acutely by Bo Cerup-Simonsen of Maersk Technology who flagged that according to an EU statement, only 1 in every 1000 ships are currently inspected for fuel compliance in European ports.

But 2015 ECA compliance is only one piece of the puzzle. In fact, it was quite aptly referred to as a ‘test bed’ for trialling different fuel solutions, understanding new financing and technology options and testing the effectiveness of policing strategies in preparation for the global sulphur cap in 2020/2025. Therefore, in recognition that more challenges lie ahead – wider sulphur limitations as well as lowering carbon emissions and meeting ballast water and forthcoming NOx Tier III requirements, many of the presentations took a longer view. These included new models to finance the future uptake of abatement technologies from CME, fresh thinking on optimising ship operations from NAPA and ClassNK as well as debate on the way that ship efficiency is currently measured and ranked raised by ABS and various ship owners.

Whether it was the uncharacteristically warm temperature in Hamburg or eclectic mix of creative solutions brought to the table, I came away from the two days with sense of real optimism – behind the array of challenges that the shipping industry is facing, the conversations at Motorship reflected a genuine drive to innovate and change in order to create a better, more sustainable future.