A lower carbon future for the ferry industry

Interferry’s Johan Roos discusses how the industry can sustainably address climate change
A lower carbon future for the ferry industry
Interferry is working with partners on the HySeas III project to launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered ocean-going ferry

By Guest |

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

After more than a decade of intense regulatory development and ever-increasing requirements at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the ferry industry is currently in much calmer waters. Several factors explain this marked slowdown in new regulations, such as the European Union (EU) Commission’s expressed strategy to clean up existing regulations before pursuing new ones. The EU Commission is inextricably linked to the IMO, as almost any new IMO safety or environmental regulation has first been conceived in Brussels.

More importantly, we may have come to a point where the low-hanging regulatory fruits have already been picked – and some high-hanging fruits too for that matter. The current safety regime is very strong for passenger ships on international operation or on domestic routes within the 36 countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The fatality rate is difficult to calculate due to poor data but, based as the number of fatalities per number of passengers, the ferry industry is on par with the international aviation sector. Unfortunately, this is not the case in a handful of developing nations, and Interferry has created a Safety Committee to address this issue. 

The other main regulatory arena we are addressing is the environment, where performance at ship level has improved dramatically after two decades of regulatory interventions. The ferry industry has not supported all of the amendments, largely because operators need significantly more time to implement them. While there are a couple of concerning issues, such as hull fouling and underwater noise, we don’t expect any disruptive issues in the short to medium future. We do, however, need to address the fundamentally difficult and potentially disruptive issue of greenhouse gases (GHG).  

International shipping has historically been allowed to regulate itself through its common body, the IMO. Although slow at times, this model has served humanity and the planet well and it’s difficult to envisage a better system. However, there has been concern related to the IMO’s role in developing requirements that significantly improve shipping’s GHG performance. Many voices argued that shipping should not have been excluded from the Paris Agreement, which set a long-term target of well below 2°C for the increase in global average temperature compared with pre-industrial levels. In fact, the non-binding nature of the agreement is not well aligned with how we manage shipping regulations, especially as it could create significant marketplace distortions and a resurgence of Flags of (GHG) Convenience.

This April, the IMO agreed to binding requirements for international shipping after being influenced by the EU, Australia, Japan and others, with constructive support from China.  The requirements demand that by 2030, there will have been a 40% reduction in GHG emissions per transport work – typically measured as grams of carbon dioxide per ton/nautical mile of transport (a metric which the industry doesn’t agree is reasonable for ferries) – and a 50% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in absolute numbers between 2008 and 2050. These binding targets will be exceedingly challenging for most operators to meet.

Interferry and its members agree that work must be done globally to address climate change, but it needs that pace of change to align with what is practical and affordable for operators.

Ship speed is a key factor. Slow steaming can help in the case of a trans-ocean voyage, where more than 90% of carbon dioxide emissions occur as the bulker/tanker/container ship moves along at its 14-20 knot design speed. Reducing that design speed by one or two knots will significantly reduce the emissions without necessarily calling for additional capacity.

When it comes to ferries, most of the carbon dioxide is emitted during manoeuvring and when the vessel is in port. Fuel consumed at design speed during the crossing is still significant, but the emissions savings that would be made by reducing the design speed are relatively small compared to other vessel types. Speed is also of fundamental aspect for ferries running services on a tight schedule. This is why the IMO has recognised that its current Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) requirements for improving carbon dioxide performance by slowing down is no more feasible for ferries than it is for aircraft or trucks.

Interferry is engaging with the IMO to develop more realistic reduction strategies, primarily through substitution of conventional fuel oils. This mainly revolves around the electrification of new and existing ships, replacing diesel fuel with LNG and other new technologies that are currently being developed. A critical step will be to develop a proper recognition of the efficiency gains made by electrification – that is, how to calculate the EEDI on a hybrid-powered ferry. Further ahead, we must also determine how to take account of shore power used to charge ferries between crossings.

These are challenging goals, but I am confident the ferry industry is better placed than most maritime and transportation sectors. It will pilot many of the solutions that need to be developed for the entire maritime industry to meet current and future expectations. 

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