Uncertainty tethering sustainable development

The Port of Singapore will not allow ships with open-loop scrubbers to discharge scrubber wash water onsite after 1 January 2020. Image: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore

"Uncertainty" is the biggest issue around sustainability in the global shipping and ports industry and is slowing down decision making, a policy expert has said.

Speaking during 'The Business, Trade & Container Shipping Outlook 2019' session at TOC Europe last month, Patrick Verhoeven, managing director of policy and strategy at International Association of Port and Harbors (IAPH), said the global sulphur cap and LNG are amongst topics that are bringing a lot of uncertainty over what to invest in to cut emissions.

"Should we invest in this?, What is the propulsion of the future? What is the business risk," are all questions being asked by ports and port operators as regulations are driving change, said Mr Verhoeven. "The uncertainty is huge," he stressed.

Scrubber ROI?

The debate around scrubber washwater and its effect on water quality and sediment is an example of this uncertainty and resolution of this is made more time sensitive ahead of the IMO’s January 2020 global sulphur cap deadline and the March 2020 rule prohibiting the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil unless the vessel is fitted with a scrubber.

The introduction of bans and restrictions on open loop scrubbers by ports as a result of environmental concerns, notably by the Port of Singapore amongst others, "is a huge issue for people who have in good faith invested in this technology," said Mr Verhoeven.

Likewise, there is hesitancy to commit to LNG because it's regarded as a temporary solution towards working to zero-emission operations. Globally, ports have made big steps towards LNG provision and services. In Europe this include Gothenburg in Sweden, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Milford Haven in Wales. In the US, the Port of Jacksonville in Florida and Port of Brownsville in Texas are committed to LN, and in Asia the Maritime and Port Authority of (MPA) Singapore, and Yokohama Kawasaki International Port Authority (YKIP) have also invested.

However, in the case of Europe at least, Mr Verhoeven stated: "European commission and regulators were promoting LNG as the fuel, but it’s a fossil fuel and maybe it’s good for sulphur emissions but not for GHG. So, there is a push on the regulatory side, which is creating uncertainty in a way," he stated.

"I think some of the regulation we have seen on emissions has also been made up and developed without realising what the full implications are," he added.

Double the pressure

Ports are facing both commercial and community pressures when it comes to dealing with emissions. Working out what a customer wants and what they will invest in is one issue, while pressure to green operations comes locally.

An example of this is at the Port of Antwerp, where 32 cruise ship calls are expected in 2019 and emissions at berth from its cruise terminal are already low. A current petition to stop cruise ship calls altogether have been triggered by the introduction of a low emission zone for cars.

"As a port operator you are in the middle, the message to the commercial side is that we need to work together. That’s why we were pleased that the IMO adopted at the last MEPC, cooperation between shipping and ports because I think that’s really important going for the 2050 target," he said.

Questioning what would help ports at this stage, he noted an increase in collaboration between terminal operators, with the emergence of some port alliances, stating collaboration has been pushed as an agenda for a long period now.

On the subject of changes that would impact environmental practise and decision making, and looking at the dominant port landlord model, he questioned whether more privatisation could be on the cards and whether a stronger regulatory authority is needed.

"MPA has more clout to introduce scrubber bans because they are government basically. Others that are private may not be able to do this.

"We could rethink our own rules as traditional regulators/landlords," he stated.

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