Time for the ferry industry to build on good intentions

Operators needs to act now to meet fast-approaching International Maritime Organization deadlines

Time for the ferry industry to build on good intentions
The global ferry industry is committed to reducing emissions and its impact on the oceans

By Johan Roos |

After 15 years of deliberations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), international shipping became the first industry to commit to tangible targets for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018. The agreement calls for energy efficiency improvements of 40 per cent by 2030 and 50 per cent absolute reductions by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.

The challenge is how to devise regulatory requirements that properly reward not only the myriad of potential improvements in new ship designs, but also the CO2 reduction measures applied on existing ships.

People outside of the shipping industry may think that a vessel’s energy efficiency can be calculated like that of a car – in litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. However, the value of a ship operation is determined not only by the distance it travels, but more importantly by what it carries. This is where it gets complicated.

The current IMO regulations have generally been framed around the likes of bulk carriers, tankers and container ships, which as carriers of most of the world’s cargo, are the major source of the shipping industry’s CO2 emissions. For such types, the calculation is pretty straightforward. Their nominal deadweight (DWT) is roughly equivalent to their cargo capacity. The value of their transport work is based on kilograms of fuel per DWT and nautical mile, which is then converted to CO2/DWT x nm.

In contrast, defining the efficiency of ferries soon gets close to impossible due to the diversity of vessels within the sector. A ro-ro freight ship, for instance, might be designed to carry very heavy cargo, or more voluminous cargo, or any combination in between. Using DWT is agreeable for the heavy cargo carrier as it will typically max out and thus get a low CO2/DWT x nm value. But the more volume-orientated ship will run out of space before it runs out of DWT, so the value rating will always be poorer and unfair regardless of how efficiently it is run.

The complexity is even greater for ro-pax ships and high-speed craft. How do you apportion the fuel consumption between types of cargo carried – people, vehicles, freight units – and then start comparing ships’ performance?

Our industry has been very heavily involved in helping the IMO to find a fair path forward, with great support from Member States. Nevertheless, the plethora of one-off ferry designs leads me to conclude that a good outcome can only be reached if the solution recognises the sector-specific variations of ferry design and operation. To that end, when IMO sessions resume after the Covid-19 hiatus, we will suggest that CO2 efficiency for ferries should be measured on an individual ship basis. This would contrast with the normal practice in less diverse segments, where ships are measured against an established average performance for that sector.

The calculation would be based on the fuel consumption and distance sailed by the ferry in an agreed base year – probably 2008 – coupled with the vessel’s volume in gross tonnage (gt) and expressed as kilograms CO2 per gt x nm. This value is what the ferry then has to beat to meet the IMO targets. It doesn’t matter if the savings come from new technology, low-carbon fuels, slow steaming, shore power, hybridisation or just more clever operational practices. With such a truly goal-based approach, ferry operators can explore the most cost-efficient solutions in a far more appropriate, less complicated way compared with design criteria like the Energy Efficiency Design Index.

Finally, a warning. Having spent 15 years on the topic, the European Union is pushing the IMO to have everything in place by 2023, so decisions must be taken during 2021. The international maritime community must now act uncomfortably fast to ensure that this really is the end of the beginning in our collective CO2 reduction mission.

Johan Roos is director of international regulatory affairs at Interferry

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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