The maritime industry’s efforts to actively shape green shipping are having measurable success. A study by Germany’s Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) shows that air pollution has reduced dramatically in some areas. Since the start of 2015, the maximum permissible proportion of sulphur in fuel used by ships in the North and Baltic Seas and the English Channel has been 0.1 per cent, instead of the previous 1.0 per cent. Shipping companies are now obliged to run their engines on higher-quality fuels than heavy oil or use flue gas scrubbers when travelling in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs). Shipyards such as German Dry Docks in Bremerhaven offer individual solutions for reducing emissions and the right scrubber for each ship.
Air quality could be even better as there is a lack of checks, highlights NABU Transport Expert Dietmar Oeliger. “We suspect that there are actually a lot of violations going on at sea.” NABU is calling for more staff and funds for increased checks, as well as stricter sanctions. “The tightening of the limit has led to a demonstrable improvement in air quality,” confirms Monika Breuch-Moritz, President of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH). Surveys in Wedel on the river Elbe have shown that SO2 values in the estuary have improved by at least half. However, last year 69 of the 3479 vessels were found to still have a sulphur content of over 0.1 per cent in their fuel.
Nevertheless, things are moving in the right direction. NABU highlights that reduction in emissions avoids costs to health and the environment, and is calling on the IMO to reduce the sulphur limit from 3.5 to 0.5 per cent worldwide by 2020 (as is currently planned in principle). This limit is to be in place in Chinese coastal areas as early as 2018. In northern Europe, the lower 0.1 per cent value will remain in place; this also applies in U.S. coastal waters, among other places. However, NABU believes that in order to prevent distortion of the competition for northern European ship owners, the Mediterranean Sea also needs to be declared a low-sulphur region. The industry could adapt to the required fuel production, as has been demonstrated, summarises NABU Consultant Axel Friedrich. He adds that fuel costs have not increased for ship owners due to low oil prices.
The German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) believes that the measurements show that companies are complying with the emissions limit in the North and Baltic Seas. “We need effective public start-up support so that ships can begin to run on low-emission liquefied gas,” says the VDR. However, Hans Gätjens from Bureau Veritas says that whether a ship owner changes over to LNG or other low-emission propulsion systems is an individual decision.
Investment in competitive advantages
A study by the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (Hamburgisches WeltWirtschaftsInstitut) on behalf of HSH Nordbank has shown that lower sulphur limits for fuel will increase costs for companies considerably. It states that stricter regulation of sulphur emissions will leave both the maritime sector and associated industries confronted with significant economic risks. It is believed that the future development of fuel prices will play a key role, particularly the expected price gap between relatively cheap bunker oil, which has a high sulphur content, and comparatively expensive marine diesel.
Running costs for ship operators in the SECAs could increase by up to 20 per cent in the event of complete switchover. The study’s conclusion is, however, that modernisations and upgrades in shipping should be perceived not just as cost factors, but rather as investments that could lead to competitive advantages.
Source: THB, special supplement: Green Port/Green Shipping