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Shipping is innovative; on its 50th anniversary MARPOL can make it more so

Posted 11.10.2023
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BLUE’s Caitlin Sear and Emily Dove attended the IMO-UNEP-Norway Innovation Forum at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), part of the World Maritime Day and MARPOL’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

In the climate fight, technological innovation underpins shipping’s ability to reach its 2030 and 2050 climate goals. And as this audience heard conversation, debate, and collaboration will be critical to ensuring the industry inspires innovation in the limited timeframe we have to work with. 

The forum was formatted into five sessions: 

·       How innovation facilitates higher environmental performance in maritime transport

·       Complementing the prohibition on discarding plastic into the sea from ships with innovation and information

·       From IMO 2020 to IMO 2030: How IMO’s fuel standards support innovation in marine fuel production

·       Decarbonizing the Maritime Sector: Innovative approach to bridging the Global North-South Gap

·       Innovative Strategies for a More Sustainable Maritime Sector through Partnerships

Driving innovation 

Amid MARPOL's 50th anniversary, it was fitting that much of the dialogue centred around technology being viable and ready at scale, with consensus that the link between innovation and regulation was critical. Regulation has created the development seen in the industry, and the current rate of pace. In an ideal world, innovation and regulation should work in sync to drive continuous improvements. 

In addition, Konstantinos Vouroutzis from ABS believes that innovation will play an increasing role in monitoring ship performance. This has already been seen in elements of digitalisation. As we go forward into the future, innovation must work to create optimisation of entire processes and supply chain - not just individual ‘siloed’ components.

De-risking and incentivising investment

Innovation needs ongoing investment as a driving force. “First movers are critical for success of any industry, but in shipping we don’t incentivise first movers”, Capt. Mahyar Jokhi from Intertanko. Governments and regulators like the IMO and EU must work to support and incentivise. This will send the right signals back to the market to innovate. But we need to channel and promote this investment into a variety of avenues and streams. For example, in the energy transition and alternative fuels space - we need variety not one singular method, or driving organisation. 

Current and future regulation must be inclusive. If it’s viable it should see deserved attention from investors, who must be prepared to commit where there is return even if this reward is far on the horizon. Christophe Pouts from IPIECA argued that “a big challenge for our generation today is that we need pilot studies before further regulation”. Pilot schemes will be successful in proving this bankability and creating assurance in pay-back. This willingness to learn and adapt is paramount to unlocking green finance by creating confidence. All steps forward are valued investments, with each contributing to the holistic innovation needed to meet commitments made. 

Encouraging universal collaboration 

Maritime needs to be transparent, from ship design to alternative fuels, we need to share information and go against the historically opaque grain. Estela Vázquez Esmerode showcased the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping as a true example of the success this can have for the industry. Information sharing will provide clarity on operational best practices, and how we can continually improve. Information and skill sharing will unlock a level playing field across the industry. It will also indicate those barriers to adoption, and move conversations from the engine room to the boardroom. 

Large-scale partnerships and collaboration are required to achieve a transition of this scale. The cost of this transition will also be drastically different for each organisation, and for each flag-state. This cost is dependent on the availability of finance, but also established infrastructure and viability. “Specific investments and pathways will work for certain individuals, but differentiated methods may be needed for others”, says Ahila Karan. Utilmately, we as an industry need to think more broadly to achieve real bankability.  

The viability mindset will also be different; from developed economies to those developing, to maritime hubs in the global south and the north. We need to foster an open mindset to support best allocation of funding, and also the sharing and uptake of skills. With a well trained human force running this industry globally, we need the same level of skill attached to innovation and ongoing development. Pablo Mendoza-Villafuerta, ED INTPA argues that this attitude will “best ensure we achieve the commitments made - on global, regional, and local levels”.

Closing remarks

Ultimately, “MARPOL is not just about GHG emissions, it’s about creating conversations and the drive needed to bring change”. In agreement with Arsenio Dominguez, the maritime industry needs to ensure it continues to innovate and create new ways of doing things. 

This Innovation Forum created real valuable conversation, reinforcing the collective passion in our industry. It gave reasoned and evidenced methods to continue driving innovation of all varieties across our industry. This will secure an optimisation of digitalisation and a holistic enhancement of environmental performance. 

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