In the midst of the international shipyard crisis, German shipbuilding firms have managed to create themselves a promising niche in the market by specialising in complex projects. Alongside spectacular new-build cruise ships and special vessels, the focus is on complex but less headline-grabbing conversions and upgrades of existing ships. “Not least because of increasingly strict environmental regulations, the concept of retrofitting is becoming increasingly important,” says Managing Director for Technology and the Environment at the shipping and marine technology association (VSM), Dr. Ralf Sören Marquardt.
More than 90 per cent of German ship owners are expecting stricter environmental regulations for shipping over the coming years. That’s the result of the latest survey of ship owners conducted by corporate consultancy PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). “Since 2011 practically every ship owner has been expecting there to be an increase in the strictness of environmental stipulations for the maritime sector in the near future,” says the current paper. According to the study, two thirds of German ship owners have opted to make structural changes to their fleet in order to be able to meet the heightened environmental requirements.
The focus of recent environmental discussions has been on the topics of ballast water treatment and reduction of sulphur emissions in ships’ exhaust gases through installation of scrubbers. Both areas are anything but trivial, and require considerable technical expertise in planning and implementation: “Essentially, it’s all about integrating additional systems into an existing, tried-and-tested system in the best way possible,” explains Guido Försterling, CEO of German Dry Docks AG (GDD) in Bremerhaven, which specialises in this type of project.
Companies like German Dry Docks made preparations for the coming legal provisions early on, and are able to offer their customers both customised solutions and suitable scheduling. After all, when it comes to retrofitting, things are going to get quite tight. Marquardt says that up to 7000 ships worldwide will have to be retrofitted each year once the new ballast water directive comes into force. However, according to information from the VSM, Europe has only 80 to 100 docks that are suitable for such projects.
Alongside the approaching environmental regulations, the main reason for more and more ship owners entrusting a retrofit to a German shipyard is to improve their own cost situation. Persistently poor freight and charter rates are prompting optimisation of ships’ operations, which GDD has taken account of in close collaboration with engine specialist MWB Power. “The enormous increase in attention being paid to the issue of energy efficiency over recent years is striking,” state PwC’s shipping experts in their survey of ship owners.
However, smaller companies in particular seem to have some catching up to do: “Concrete measures to specifically reduce fuel consumption are implemented more often by more highly staffed and high-income shipping companies than smaller shipping firms,” states the PwC study. The corporate consultants link this finding with advice for the smaller fish to follow the major firms’ lead, and also invest in optimised on-board technology.
(Cost-)optimised use of ships is also an important aspect of “Shipping 4.0”, which refers to the digitalisation of the maritime sector in the same way as the “Industry 4.0” development on land. “A good nine out of ten managers in the German maritime sector now believe in the condition of machinery and components on ships being automatically passed on to shipping companies by means of data transmission,” found PwC’s experts in comparison with the last survey of ship owners back in 2014.
Retrofitting ships with IT systems for data transmission to land is clearly necessary in order for shipping companies to be able to meet their future role within the overall transport chain. Internet giants like Amazon, Google and co. will still not be involved directly in shipping, but ship owners are positioning themselves to be able to offer data-based services over and above just transport. “In order to remain viable, shipping companies will have to build on their range of logistical services,” says PwC.
Dr. Frank Roland, Managing Director of the Center of Maritime Technologies (CMT) in Hamburg, believes that subsequent conversion and retrofitting will have a role to play as early as during the planning of new builds in future. “Ships are in use for around 30 years,” he explains. “Unlike before, when designing we need to consider not only short-term use in the first few years, but also changing use throughout the entire life cycle.” As such, he believes that subsequent conversions or upgrades could be made easier from the outset.