Amongst this week’s contributions to the gaiety of nations we may include the attempt by our industry’s lobbying bodies to tell the world that they do not do what we pay them to do – to influence national and international policy in favour of people who own and operate merchant ships.
There will be a good deal of mockery of the InfluenceMap report – do take a moment to look at it – because it was put together by outsiders, and it contains errors. So what? It is basically right, and we all know that it is. The IMO was captured by the shipowning interest as soon as the IMCO admitted the FOCs.
Sorry, BIMCO, sorry, ICS, sorry, national and regional shipowners’ organisations, but, if you are not influencing the IMO and others, there is no point in paying you, and we can all save a few bucks. What we want you to do is to influence the IMO in a less brain dead way.
The IMO in its infinite wisdom does not permit journalists anywhere near its key deliberations.
Sorry, IMO; I’ve been an observer at an IMO session, and I saw what went on. In my case, I was the observer on behalf of the International Group of P&I Clubs at a session on solid bulk cargoes, more than 30 years ago, and I saw a carefully drafted, science-based, regulation, which would have improved safety and been simple to enforce, turned into a pile of scientifically unsound but ‘commercially helpful’ garbage by, in that case, the Australian mining industry, who were pretending to be the Australian government.
I have no reason to think that any other sessions, or any other governments, are different. Bismarck’s remark about making sausages comes to mind.
Let’s be practical. We are in this business to make money.
How can we make lots of it, whilst at the same time keeping this planet’s delicate oceans and atmosphere intact? Planets don’t come with lifeboats.
Most of us will have seen the reports of the study, published last month by the University of Washington at Seattle, into the frequency of lightning strikes at sea and their much higher incidence over heavily used shipping lanes. In case you missed it, lightning strikes are twice as common over the two busiest shipping lanes in the world, those leading towards and away from the Straits of Malacca, as they are elsewhere, and this is because of the greater number of particulates in the atmosphere over those shipping lanes, which affects cloud formation.
That is direct evidence that our ships are interfering with the climate.
Remember, if you have been in shippng for 30 years, that the world fleet is now four times as large as it was when you started.
Our oceans are a mass of churned up fragments of plastic, leopard seals are eating krill because there are no penguins, reefs are blanching, life in the seas is dying, and all our representatives can do is to offer up the prayer of the young Saint Augustine – “O Lord, make me virtuous, but not yet!”
It doesn’t really do, does it? When we are offered such validations of Disraeli* as, “Shipping moves 90% of goods at the cost of 3% of emissions”, which is a running together of numbers from different places – the valid comparison would be with transport emissions, not total emissions – we can feel nothing but contempt and disgust at the prostitutes employed by our racket to try to put one over on the general public.
The IMO does not have the power to influence public opinion, all it can do is to slow down, or speed up, regulatory charge.
Regulation of emissions exists, in a very feeble form; real regulation of emissions is unavoidable; all we can do is to choose to promote it or to try to delay it.
We all know that if we try to regulate emissions by measuring fuel consumption, and so on, people in our business are going to cheat. It’s what people in our business do. The only way to keep ourselves honest is to ban the infernal combination engine altogether, along with the external kind, and to adopt zero emissions.
Before you throw your hands up in horror, take a moment to think about this.
The best way to make loads of money whilst stimulating economic development is the same as it always has been – to ride the wave of a truly disruptive technology. Containers, diesel engines, welding, steel, refrigeration, wireless, the telegraph cable, compound expansion steam, carvel planking, the astrolabe and the mariner’s compass – these have been the great disruptors, and the biggest of them involved propulsion.
We want to make money, and to lead long, comfortable, lives.
These are the only facts that matter.
I hope we all agree?
Because if we do, we must also agree that the only sensible proposal before the IMO is the one coming from the Pacific islands – including the Marshall Islands – calling for zero emissions by 2035.
That would give us 17 years to scrap every ship on the planet and replace them with ships that do not consume hydrocarbons and emit greenhouse gases when in operation.
That’s a real disruption, unlike unmanned ships and suchlike, which are chicken feed.
Seventeen years is long enough to pay down and scrap all existing ships and replace them with something else.
Let’s take a blank sheet of paper and think about that. The playing field is now quite level.
The available means of ship propulsion without emissions are nuclear, solar and wind.
We can put ‘solar’ in a little box and almost ignore it until energy storage improves, because we don’t want to go lugging main propulsion batteries around, using up deadweight, but we only ‘almost’ ignore it, because we do want battery power to drive auxiliaries.
Nuclear power is well proven, and it’s perfectly possible to fit package reactors which can run for a ship’s lifetime without refuelling. Submarines have them now, but nuclear reactors are very expensive and time consuming to build, so only a few ships are going to be nuclear.
Everything else is going to get there under some form of wind power, at sailing ship speeds. You can see why this is such an exciting prospect – if demand in ton miles is about as price sensitive as it always has been, and the supply of tonnage is going to be moving at three to four knots, not ten to fourteen knots, and the cargo is going to have to be stevedored in and out of hatches obstructed by sailing gear, taking much longer in port, we are going to see a freight boom that will make 2004-8 seem trivial.
I am not talking about the Romance of Sail; I am talking about making serious money in proper shipowning.
Henry Ford said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”, and I’m perfectly sure that the shipowners of 1866 were fascinated by movements in the S&P market for wooden square riggers, as Alfred Holt set out to make them all irrelevant.
We all know this change is coming. We can lead it, get rich and be on the side of the angels or we can share the fate of the other rust belt industries. Simple.
* “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics”.