ECONOMY

Fleets turning ‘green’

Tanker company owners seem to be increasingly waking up to the various commercial benefits stemming from harmonization with safety specifications and the adoption of rules for environmental protection. The major maritime accidents of the last few years have led governments and authorities to apply stricter rules and safety specifications, while checks have intensified. The vessels undergoing most checks are tankers and coal gas-carriers, mainly due to the nature of their cargo. Rather unexpectedly, shipowners are now assuming the initiative in adopting new, stricter specifications to prevent pollution and technological innovations for the protection of the environment. These changes are important for they reduce the risk of accident while contributing to the development of «green» fleets. The significant role played by shipowners today in strengthening environmental safety, despite high costs, will reward them in the future with an even greater reduction in accidents, already few in number, leading to oil spills. One of the greatest changes is the gradual scrapping of single-hull tankers and their replacement with new, double-hull ships. The example of the Greek Tsakos Energy Navigation Limited (TEN) is the most telling: As much as 91 percent of the company’s 41 vessels (including 15 tankers under construction) are double-hull, while 30 of its ships will have been built between 1998 and 2007 (when all its new ships will be delivered). Similar efforts are being made by Mitsui OSK Lines, one of the largest tanker companies in the world. It controls 82 ships, 65 of which, or 80 percent, are double-hull. Its new vessels go a step further: Supertankers under construction (VLCCs, exceeding 300,000 dwt) will also have another tank built around the fuel tank and filled with sea water. This design amendment creates a double wall across the fuel tank, reducing the fuel spill risk in case of a crash or other damage to the ship. Even more complex technical improvements are being introduced by the Greek Thenamaris group of the Martinos family. The building of an ecological fleet seems to be part of the group’s long-term strategy. One of its first moves was to develop and apply a special design to large tankers used for carrying crude oil and other oil products that would enable ships’ tanks to be cleaned more easily, avoiding concentrations of draff (residue) and other damaging oil components. As a result, cleaning the ship does not require large quantities of water anymore. In fact, this design has since been widely adopted in China’s shipyards, in as many as 30 new vessels. Thenamaris is also installing state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly engine equipment which, combined with the use of top-quality fuel, helps the company reduce atmosphere-polluting emissions. Regarding accident prevention, the company is paying more money for the reinforcement of all materials coming into contact with the oil and ballast tanks. This ensures longer protection from rusting, while also boosting crash protection. The reduction in polluting emissions is one of the most burning issues in shipping today regarding the environment. There have been many legislative and institutional initiatives in the last few years, mainly from Scandinavian countries. Debate now focuses on how to withdraw and scrap old ships in an environmentally friendly way, as requirements will multiply exponentially by 2010, with some 2,000 ships heading for the scrapyard. To this end, an optional measure, named «Green Passport,» has been developed for the ecological recycling of scrapped ships’ materials, ensuring greater safety for workers at break-up docks and diminishing the possible consequences to the environment. Certainly everything starts from the building of the ships, hence many companies are cooperating with the competent authorities to obtain the Green Passport when building new vessels. Optional though this is, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) has recommended that its members secure Green Passports for all their new ships. That is not the end of «green» efforts, as everyone is trying to reduce pollution by experimenting with new technologies and developing new equipment. The aim is to strike a balance between better shipping, energy sufficiency and business profit.