In a world which revolves around the needs of global markets and infinite growth on a finite planet, our economies are heavily stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting into personal tragic fates and a halt in demand and consumption.
These consequences are in the spotlight for good reasons and I do not intend to downplay them, but I cannot help but wonder how large the ecologic footprint will be when we as a society and especially the marine industry, return to business.
Lockdown – a break for the planet’s pollution
The economic standstill has resulted in various short termed positive effects for the environment. It varies from marine mammals re-discovering territories, noise reduction in the oceans or impressive satellite images displaying NOx level drops. Viewing such images reminds me of our heavy impact and our planet’s sensitivity.
Of course, changing weather conditions must be taken into consideration when evaluating air pollution statistics since the outbreak of COVID-19, but the restricted movements in the transport sector significantly contribute to cleaner air.
When talking about transport, I must mention shipping, too. During normal operational months, it is possible to notice “NOx-highways” on the oceans, similar to the AIS-tracing maps we are used to. Due to the loss of demand and consumption, the shipping industry unintentionally reduces air pollution by vessels remaining at anchor without cargo options or passengers. This then leads to less health risks for coastal communities, because shipping routes often lead to harmful particular matter within a 250nm range.
Sustainable disadvantages for ecotourism
Now at a first glance the effects of reduced transport, regardless if ashore, at sea or via aviation, seem to be promising from the environmental point of view, there are negative impacts which not everybody is aware off.
As an example, a decline in eco-tourism is leaving different preservation projects underfunded and tourism depending countries, like the Maldives, where this sector makes up 25pct of the GDP, struggle even harder to keep their economies running. As for most of the stressed economies, a restart will probably not happen in a sustainable way we are wishing for.
Besides that, as a former seaman I cannot be satisfied with vessels remaining at anchor, leaving crew on board without repatriation possibilities and in some cases, even unpaid and running out of supplies.
The question is: Which impact on the environment do we allow when returning to the new post-corona normal?
Ideally, the authorities worldwide will create the legal framework for an increased conscious of equality. Because if one is profiting from lithium mining and battery production, a share must be paid to the one losing existential ground water for farming on the other side of the globe. If there are not enough legally binding requirements to implement balance, sustainability will remain rather a side-effect than driver for the economical powerful and a luxury the developing world cannot afford.
Furthermore, obviously right decisions like using shore connections in a port have to be consistent and enforced by political will to ensure, that the intended outcome is achieved. Hamburg for example intends to install 30 shore connections until 2030, on the other hand it intends to subsidize electricity to attract cruise ships at its currently only existing shore connection.
The marine industry as well has ways to improve the environmental conditions
The use of biofuels, except for palm oil, wood logs or other ingredients claiming agricultural resources in undernourished regions, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) and other harmful emissions. Last year Maersk successfully tested a blend of cooking oil on a route from Rotterdam to Shanghai and back, showing that solutions are available.
I have had the pleasure to serve twice as a Nautical Officer on one of the most ecologically advanced merchant vessels ever built, the E-Ship 1. It does not only stand out with its streamlined design but also with its four Flettner Rotors, utilizing the Magnus Effect whenever wind conditions allow. It is a highly effective way to support the propulsion, but installations are limited by available space and therefore ship design and a longer amortization period.
The marine industry does not consist of shipping solely; ports also contribute to GHG emission reduction. Energy management already is the key to successful and sustainable operations and can range from LED installations, speed reductions for trucks, electrification of rubber-tired gantry cranes to automation of the supply chain, i.e. use of automated guided vehicles for container transport.
Simulations help to identify room for improvement in layout setups or operational flows and reduced environmental footprints can be included in marketing strategies to attract customers with a focus on sustainable solutions. Both are a part of services that we at HPC offer to our clients.
Ports are not left alone, regional public funding to progress sustainability is another tool to assist operators in minimizing GHG emissions. The German Federal Ministry for Economy and Energy is supporting German ports in various projects, one of them assists to implement measures to reduce CO2 and particular matter.
Even futuristic projects like the pioneering Wash2Emden, which determines the possibilities of storing surplus wind power in the form of hydrogen to provide green energy to ships in port, receive public funding.
There are so many options to make a change, we have the choice.
About the author
With a background as Nautical Officer, Marcus Eichstädt served several years on multi-purpose ships, gaining experience with cargo operations and customers worldwide. The ecologically advanced MV “E-Ship 1” is among the vessels he sailed, which made him strive into a direction with a stronger environmental background.
As Environmental Officer he held a Senior Officer position on board cruise ships and ensured constant compliance with international environmental laws and the company internal ISM-System. His passion for environmental protection has been perceptible in the training sessions he provided among the entire crew. You may contact Marcus at .