Reflections on the Motorship Conference and preparations for 2015

Simon Phillips of BLUE Communications offers his take on The Motorship’s 34th Propulsion & Emissions Conference, held last week in Hamburg The sizeable turnout for last week’s Motorship…

Simon Phillips of BLUE Communications offers his take on The Motorship’s 34th Propulsion & Emissions Conference, held last week in Hamburg

The sizeable turnout for last week’s Motorship Conference is testament to the track record of one of shipping’s longest running industry convenings, now in its 34th year. However, the theme of this year’s conference – are we ready for the 2015 sulphur emission limits? – played its part in bringing delegates to Hamburg in search of an answer for this most challenging of questions.

The answer appeared to be a combination of ‘we’re making good progress but we’re not there yet’, ‘we know part of the solution but not the whole thing’ and ‘we’re hedging our bets until we know what others are going to do’.

However, there was no shortage of expertise and insight on offer from the presentations given over the course of two days, not to mention the debate that carried on at dinner at Hamburg’s famous Groninger Brewery. We heard the case for exhaust gas cleaning systems, progress being made in trialling LNG-fuelled vessels, issues with low sulphur fuel quality and availability, advancements being made in engine design, lubricant technology and vessel efficiency, the role of emissions monitoring and, amid the focus on technological solutions, the enduring value of basic human skills.

So what conclusions can be drawn? As 2015 draws closer, we haven’t yet seen a puff of white smoke from the top of the stack to signal industry consensus on a preferred solution. Indeed, much of the debate revolved around the need for individual owners and operators to find solutions to suit the very particular needs of different industries, vessels and routes.

It was also clear that there was little point in lobbying for further delay in the implementation of the 2015 regulations; a point made forcefully in keynote speeches from the IMO and European Commission and agreed upon by a number of other speakers and delegates. However, the potential impact on European shortsea shipping was widely acknowledged and there were encouraging comments from the Commission representative on the need to work with the industry to find a way to mitigate this impact, possibly through state aid provision.

Whilst individual manufacturers made the case for their own technologies and certain other organisations may have offered a mild preference for one prospective solution over another, it was also striking how non-committal most parties are. A number of speakers pointed out that most owners and operators are keeping their options open and waiting for others to make the first move, rather than throwing their weight fully behind a particular solution. In the absence of a ‘eureka!’ moment (and we shouldn’t hold our breath for this) or a decisive shift in industry opinion towards one option over others, it seems likely that the owners and operators will be faced with a menu of options in the post-2015 world, allowing them to choose between low sulphur fuel products, scrubbers and LNG.

For an industry that occasionally stands accused of lacking transparency, there was also plenty of evidence at the conference of collaboration between technology innovators, ship owners and operators, service providers and regulatory agencies. The number of joint studies and research projects underway show how heavily the industry is investing in finding solutions. Indeed, it cannot afford not to. It seems that sound progress is being made towards finding field-tested, operationally robust and commercially viable solutions to meeting the 2015 emission limits. Whether these solutions can be deployed on an industrial scale with the required supporting infrastructure in less than three years remains an unanswered question.