The objective of the qualitative research we undertook was to identify the key decarbonisation challenges and opportunities from a shipowner’s perspective.
Our research highlighted that reliance on ad hoc collaboration between shipowners, and between technology companies and owners, is currently a major barrier to the decarbonisation of shipping.
The findings – based upon owner feedback from across the container, tanker, bulk, cruise and ferry sectors – uncovers that while the potential impact of more in-depth interaction is significant in achieving carbon reduction commitments, this is not currently being delivered in a way that owners need.
Every senior industry player interviewed confirmed that there is a willingness to collaborate and that it is critical to achieving rapid, fundamental change. However, collaboration is less evident in practice, as owners focus on achieving emissions reductions while safeguarding competitive advantage.
Owners also identified a lack of good quality and relevant operating data as a key barrier to the uptake of clean technology. There is also a perceived shortage of independent corroboration for the claims made by some technology vendors. None of the participants accused technology providers of deliberately misleading results but reflected that the data in a brochure will inevitably relate to another ship.
Large shipowners, in particular, are doing a great deal to move the industry forward by creating clear demand for future green fuels, by setting up infrastructure to trial new technologies, and by sharing some of their findings.
However, according to respondents, that only highlights the challenge for the smaller and medium-sized owners – where typically the scale and investment required for R&D and trialling was unattainable. To play their part, these smaller and medium shipowners need to draw in partners in order to access the knowledge, scale and resources to enable them to make changes.
Collaboration has become a decarbonisation buzzword lately, much heralded as central to shipping’s energy transition, and critical to meeting the International Maritime Organisation’s emissions reduction targets.
However, effective collaboration needs convenors to safeguard participants and break down barriers. Convenors can act as a central black box, bringing sensitive information together to paint the full picture while protecting the confidentiality of the data owners. They can also help ship owners share the cost of trialling a new technology while giving them all access to the benefits.
Our research highlights that, while the heart is willing, the head remains focused on safeguarding competitive advantage. This creates a fundamental barrier which has to be addressed if shipping is to achieve its decarbonisation goals.
Collaboration is more than just shipowners sharing technical data on a new technology. It encompasses all stakeholders and often supply chains as well. What is clear is that we cannot expect collaboration to “just happen” – there has to be more proactive convenors. Flag states, national chambers and the international chamber, industry coalitions and independent consultants all have a key convening role to play if significant barriers are to be overcome.
The Houlder Navigator survey and whitepaper is the first in a series of projects aimed at identifying and addressing key decarbonisation challenges and supporting the energy transition.
The whitepaper includes shipowners’ perspectives and direct quotes on decarbonisation goals, choosing vessel efficiency (clean) technology, financial incentives and disincentives, evaluating alternative fuels, and making collaboration work.