“Don’t shoot shipping,” the head of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS), Theodore Veniamis, entreated last Friday on behalf of an industry that feel it is getting more than a fair share of the blame for global marine pollution.
Greek shipping has achieved and maintained its dominant position in the global industry by moderating the drive for progress with realism, and the right mix of risk and caution – most of the time. This mentality is now prompting local shipowners to object to what they view as “rushed decisions” to impose a drastic cut on shipping fuel pollutants, feeling that the sector is being unfairly and disproportionately targeted. And when the nation’s shippers, who control 20 percent of the global merchant fleet, voice their objection to any policy, their lead is almost invariably followed by others.
“I want to assure you that the strength of our voice is respected today more than ever at every level,” Veniamis told a UGS press conference of the final day of Posidonia 2018, the biennial shipping exhibition that took place in Athens last week.
The reaction from Greek shipowners comes after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) imposed a global sulfur cap of 0.5 percent on fuel oil, effective from January 1, 2020, against an existing limit of 3.5 percent. Furthermore, in cooperation with regional authorities such as the European Commission, the IMO is also seeking a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from 2008 to 2050 by 50 percent. In order to meet these targets, shipowners’ plans include scrubbers – oil treatment systems that remove sulfur from the oil – and the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as propulsion fuel for ships. But are they being asked to do too much, too soon?
Speaking at the event, which was also attended by Greek Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis, Veniamis said that he had raised the issue with IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim and European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc during their visit to Athens for Posidonia. The issue was also raised with state delegations and private maritime stakeholders who converged on the Greek capital for the biennial fair.
Veniamis stressed that he feels shipowners are being treated like the “bad guys,” when responsibility for clean fuel lies primarily with oil producers and engine manufacturers.
“We have stressed, in every direction, that the shipping industry, despite being the most environmentally friendly mode of transport, is being unjustifiably called upon to implement legislation and environmental targets whose achievement depends primarily on other stakeholders, such as the ship engine manufacturers and oil companies,” he said.
“In addition, we must not forget that the demands of global commerce are constantly increasing, to the benefit and welfare of nations, and that shipping must respond to the increased demand for high-quality maritime transport services to meet these needs,” he added.
Answering a question by Kathimerini’s Ilias Bellos, Veniamis admitted that “the 2020 target was lightheartedly agreed on in 2016, without the shipping world understanding what its share would be.” He went on to wonder what good it will be to use scrubbers to desulfurize the fuel and then pour the byproduct, i.e. the sulfur itself, into the sea.
The focus, Veniamis said, needs to be turned onto oil producers. “Fuel companies have been offering the worst oil for several years now. If we could go back to the 1970s, we would see that we then used the best oil at the time.”
His comment also echoes warnings by the head of the European Community Shipowners’ Association, Panos Laskaridis, who said last week that without the introduction of carbon-free types of fuel, the ambitious pollutant reduction targets will be simply unattainable, as solutions like scrubbers are not enough.
“We have no problem as long as the oil companies supply as with the fuel required, where it is required,” said Veniamis. “What will happen with the new fuel mix to be used? There is a safety issue here and no one can offer us guarantees. Also, bunkering companies cannot guarantee that the fuel mix will not create a safety problem on board.
“The oil companies will have to say if their fuel will be compatible with engines and safe. The problem is that it will not be certified under ISO requirements before 2023, even though we will have to use it as of 2020. We want oil and bunkering companies to be given more time in order to ensure quality and safety,” Veniamis said.
“What is the shipping industry’s share in environmental pollution? Is it 2.5 percent? And what about speedboats and the yachts? Don’t they also pollute? Has anyone given a thought to them? Governments don’t, because they bring in profits,” protested the UGS chief.
“We cannot perform miracles,” Veniamis said, adding that the focus seems to be exclusively on shippers. “I have not seen any international organization or commissioner say that the shipping companies are not to blame.”
However, he added, “we do not even get a say on how the engines of the ships we order are made.”
Veniamis insisted that shipowners will use “all the open channels of communication and formal consultation developed to promote realistic and feasible, in terms of implementation and effectiveness, proposals to address current environmental challenges.”
The biggest groups of shipowners have already expressed their objections to the targets with a joint statement addressed to the IMO that the organization has also uploaded on its website, according to John Lyras, chairman of the UGS’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The IMO will convene in early July and decide on the technical issues raised and signed by all major international entities of shipping such as the International Chamber of Shipping, Intentanko, Intercargo and BIMCO,” said Lyras.
Can all this sway the IMO? Industry insiders think not, with Nigel Lowry from the Lloyd’s List noting that previous IMO targets were met without any change in deadlines and that this will also be the case for the 2020 target. The July meeting is just a few weeks away, however, and should provide the answer.