The World Maritime Day has an added significance this year (2018) as it marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention which established the organisation. The IMO had conceived it to promote and communicate its own achievements and objectives around a central theme. This theme is carefully chosen to reflect the flavour of the year. In 2011, the chosen theme was about piracy, but since Somali piracy at the time was already at its height, the focus was on ‘Orchestrating the Response’. The theme of Safety had been explored many times, but since the Year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it took stock of the safety measures enforced since that time.
The theme this year, as was the case two years earlier, centers around shipping. But while in 2016 it talked about its indispensability to the world, this time around it revolves around how better shipping shapes a better future. The most important aspect of this year’s theme, however, is that it refers to Shipping as our heritage. Not to be missed is the point that any heritage needs deft, and perhaps reverential, handling.
The IMO has since long explicitly recognised Shipping to be ‘perhaps the most international of all the world’s great industries and one of the most dangerous’. Its internationalisation can be gauged from the fact that it knits ports and continents together, carrying all types of cargo, by traversing through the 71% of the globe that constitutes water. And indeed, it constitutes the major means of commodity trading of raw materials and goods produced around the world. And with the advent of containers that are not only refrigerated or temperature controlled, but also optimised to slow down the ripening of fruits, the agricultural sector is also set to join the bandwagon.
A word of caution though: Shipping has to be responsive to demand. Almost all the packaged goods are carried in container carriers, and container trade at present, after a series of mergers, is dominated by four or five companies. Most of them are opting for huge container ships of up to 23000 TEUs capacity to enable economy of scale, and if the projected trade grows sluggish, freight rates drop to the extent of shutting down the smaller players. Even the 7th largest Shipping Company, Hanjin, went bust around two years ago.
These days, the high spot charter rates, relatively low newbuild prices and burgeoning LNG trade are making shipowners hitch themselves to the LNG bandwagon. As opposed to six ships in 2016, 33 new LNG ships are on order this year to reap the harvest of an unprecedented wave of new LNG supply projects coming on stream in a relatively short period. This has also enabled shipyards to tap into new technological advancements over the past year or two to make the packages more attractive. The boom in Shipping of all varieties has also spawned equally numerous problems of all types, and the IMO has not exactly been inactive either in reacting to these challenges. Ever since the advent of steamships in the mid-19th century, safety at sea has always been a prime concern. It was the well-known Titanic disaster of 1912, however, and the shock that it generated, that led to the formulation of a comprehensive treaty on safety measures. Noting the rapidity with which amendments were required and the procedural delays which held it back from keeping pace with them, the new IMO-sponsored version of 1974 incorporated a tacit acceptance clause which enabled any amendment to automatically enter into force provided sufficient number of objections were not received by that time. The current Safety of Life at Sea Convention is thus also referred to as SOLAS ‘74.
SOLAS essentially deals with the fixing of minimum safety standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. Detailed technical standards, wherever required, have been established through various international codes like International Code of Safety for High Speed Craft (HSC Code), Irradiated Nuclear Fuel (INF) Code, International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.
It was however only in 1985, when armed militants not only took over a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, but also killed an aged paraplegic passenger, that the issue of ship security came to the fore. The shock waves generated resulted in the formulation of a Convention on Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, or SUA Convention 1988 in short. It made state parties responsible for establishing their jurisdiction over the offenders as well as the laid-down offences.
It was however the much bigger horror of 9/11 that forced the IMO to come up with a comprehensive maritime security code, appropriately titled the ‘International Ship and Port Facility Security Code’, whose implementation was hastened by tabling it as an amendment to the existing SOLAS Convention. Its first part lists the mandatory requirements for governments, port authorities and shipping companies, while the second part provides guidance for implementation. Each contracting government was required to prepare and implement port facility security plans based on security assessment and risk evaluation.
In order to regulate the movements of ships under both routine and hazardous conditions, the IMO achieved a major breakthrough in 1972, when it rationalised and consolidated all the regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea in a single document commonly known to seafarers as the Rules of the Road.
While such regulations did lessen the probability of collisions, they couldn’t be eliminated altogether for the simple reason that a host of other factors like poor watch keeping practises, inadequate seamanship skills, watch-keeper fatigue, high stress levels and ill-adjustment to new technologies are also at play. Human factor has been found to be the most likely cause of a majority of accidents at sea, followed by technical and environmental factors.
The human factor is aggravated by the tough working conditions faced by seafarers – months at sea, isolation, cramped living conditions, refrigerated food, noise, heat, rough seas etc. No wonder then that 26% of them were found to suffer from depression, with nearly half this number not turning to anyone for help for fear of losing their jobs.
The International Labour Organisation is the specialised agency which not only remains concerned about worker rights, but is seen to be actually doing something about it. The ILOs Maritime Labour Convention, adopted in February 2006, has set minimum standards to ensure satisfactory conditions of employment for the world’s seafarers. It has not only updated over 65 other Maritime labour instruments, but has also introduced a system of certification and inspection to enforce it.
But for countering other related causes like slack watch-keeping, electro-mechanical breakdowns and hostile elements, good training is of the essence. It was in this context that the 1995 Convention on the Standards of Training, Competency and Watch-keeping came into being. It seeks to establish a baseline for the training and education of seafarers, with competence -based training, watch-keeping standards, quality control and certification being key areas of focus. This Convention, as amended in 2010, came into force on 1 January 2012. A five year transitional period given to all member states to ensure compliance also ended in 2017.
IMO is not unmindful either, of the potential the Shipping sector possesses to cause harm to the environment. The events surrounding the Torres Canyon, which ran aground off the Isles of Sicilly in March 1967, releasing its cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil into the sea, probably had the largest impact on the drive to upgrade marine pollution regulations. The need for new preventive legislation to stem the tide of an ever-growing number of cases of marine pollution led to the adoption of the ‘International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973, which superseded OILPOL ‘54.
Although accidental discharges such as the Torrey Canyon were often more visible to the public at large, it is actually operational discharges that result in a much more consistent and significant source of oil pollution. MARPOL 73/78, as it is presently known, not only seeks to address this issue, but has kept including in its Annexes other harmful substances capable of damaging the environment.
The Convention thus incorporates detailed instructions and guidelines for the prevention and control of pollution by noxious liquid substances carried in bulk, by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form, by sewage and garbage from ships and lastly, by air pollution from ships.
As far as air pollution is concerned, the Convention sets limits on sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances. IMO has displayed foresight by enacting rules that aim to cap ships’ sulfur emissions at 0.5% of fuel content by January 2020, compared to 3.5% at present. The reason I mentioned foresight is because the percentage of such emissions at sea is barely 2-3 % of the total at the moment, but if left unchecked, is expected to rise up to 17% by 2050. The industry is understandably worried, as compliance is not only expensive but requires careful coordination. Shippers are reluctant to invest in ‘costly’ scrubbers ($ 5-10 M per vessel) to enable ships to keep using the existing cheaper HSDO. Refineries are equally cautious in undertaking the billion dollar plus upgrade to produce low sulfur gas oil for fear of not being able to recoup their investment. Though scrubbers are being installed in some new builds, more than 95% of the global fleet is likely to opt for cleaner fuel. The first LNG-fuelled bulk carrier got delivered in April this year and many more such vessels are on the way. An LNG bunker vessel has also been designed to supply gas to such ships.
The shipping industry however considers the development of automated processes and functions on board vessels to be the biggest driver of efficiency in shipping. The collection, analysis and management of huge volumes of unstructured data i.e. big data, such as data on voyage performance, ship structure, machinery, fuel consumption, traffic cargo and the weather, are expected to provide valuable insights into the operation of ships and uncover hidden patterns as well as market trends. Big analytics will also encourage the development of automated procedures and advanced technologies such as Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).
The Yara Birkeland, a 3200 deadweight ton vessel, scheduled to enter into operation by 2020 for coastal use, will be the world’s first fully autonomous commercial vessel with zero emissions. MASS that trade internationally are expected to be introduced by 2035.
Innovation and attitudes are what matter most and for those that imbibe this principle, it will not be difficult to understand why a small country like Norway has become the world leader in curbing harmful emissions. Hydropower produces nearly all its electricity, the State Oil Company is expanding into offshore wind farming and people drive more electric cars per capita than any other country in the world. Its next target is to electrify as many as two-thirds of the boats that ply along its jagged and windy Atlantic coastline within the next 10 years.
Such technologies poses challenges to the IMO, which is not entirely unresponsive. In May this year, it has officially commenced work on looking into how safe, secure and environmentally sound MASS operations can be addressed in IMO instruments.
The International Windship Association, along with its 40 plus member countries and organisations, has also pitched in to provide alternate solutions to the Shipping industry to help meet the urgent and ambitious carbon reduction targets set by the IMO. A wide range of wind assist and primary wind propulsion technology solutions are currently available that offer between 10-30 % savings for retrofits and up to 50% on smaller new-build fully optimised vessels.
Ballast water discharges has been recognised as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet. The Ballast Water Management Convention, which had been adopted in 2004 and came into force in Sep 2017, requires ships to manage their ballast water, which in turn will prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that possesses the potential to cause havoc to local ecosystems.
We in Pakistan should remain ever mindful that along with our coast, our shipping, our ports and our ship building and ship recycling industries come huge responsibilities, which we can only abdicate, neglect or delegate to our peril. Apart from adhering to the given theme of the year on a specific day, the rest of the week should be spent in a stakeholders huddle to take stock of our failings and limitations, prior devoting the rest of the year towards addressing them.
It is only after we carry out the much-needed restructuring and capacity building of the Maritime industry, which taken as a whole, represents the largest slice of the global economy, that we can think of taking our rightful place in the comity of responsible Maritime states, capable of fulfilling our international obligations and harnessing our maritime potential in a sustainable manner.