How the coronavirus pandemic has given shipping clarity

Matthieu de Tugny from Bureau Veritas writes for Splash today on shipping’s path ahead post-Covid-19.

Shipping is operating within a new normal; even before Covid-19 triggered an unprecedented social and economic change, we were already dealing with the impact of IMO2020 and facing the challenges of transitioning an industry to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

This has exacerbated and complicated other changes already taking place; trade sanctions, ‘on shoring’ and ‘reshoring’, cyber security, and significant shifts in demand cycles.

Shipping has kept going during the pandemic – which is lucky for all of us.

Covid-19 has allowed us to take a step back and assess what we need to do and how to do it

We can see clearly that without shipping there is no modern life. We can live without commercial aviation but not without seaborne transportation. Although the pandemic has also highlighted, with the crew change challenge, the fact that, as an industry, we are not as influential as we need to be. Our seafarers are not being treated how they should be – as vital workers in a vital industry.

Covid-19 has perhaps had one benefit. It has allowed us to take a step back and assess what we need to do – and how to do it. We need to decarbonise our entire operations (with the transition from analogue to digital a key cog in achieving that goal), while also simultaneously adapting to new market economics as we have always done.

However, our next steps are critical, in selecting how we integrate the ‘two D’s’ – decarbonisation and digitalisation – into our industry which is spoilt by choice, and plagued by risk. Whether it is choosing a pathway from the plethora of future-fuel options, or the often-complex array of technological innovations at shipping’s disposal, shipping needs clarity to its direction of travel.

This is where classification societies have a major role to play; supporting the industry through these troubled waters. Ever since the 18th Century, Class has been guiding shipping. Now, during these extraordinary times, Class must offer shipping its counsel to help it achieve the right pathways to decarbonising and digitalisation.

While we cannot overlook the serious challenges that Covid-19 presents to the shipping industry, class must also remind shipping that it faces a longer-term existential challenge in the form of needing to decarbonise, and the need to explore new low carbon alternative fuels and assess their viability for the sector.

There is undoubtedly pressure on us all to act quickly – as the IMO’s 4th Greenhouse Gas study confirmed, with shipping’s CO2 emissions projected to rise by 50% by 2050; reaffirming the necessity to find transition pathways to a decarbonised future.

The sector must focus its collective minds on the fuels, energy, and propulsion systems needed to supply the dense energy ships need. To power ships today and for the immediate future, gas – principally LNG – represents the start of the transition which is the only viable alternative available for shipping to reach IMO2030, but more must be done.

Beyond LNG, there are several pathways in shipping’s energy transition, as we move from lower-carbon fuel sources, through to carbon-neutral and ultimately carbon-free energy with the likes of renewable methanol, hydrogen, or ammonia-powered ships coming to the fore. Nor should we overlook the opportunity presented by wind and solar energy or battery storage technology.

Class must take responsibility to advise in drawing up a pragmatic roadmap that offers clarity and assurance in terms of safety. Digitalisation has a key role to play in this roadmap as the COVID 19 pandemic has reinforced. Data analytics will support smarter decisions from design to operations. The digitalisation of shipping is not about reducing the importance of people – ashore or at sea, but about helping us make better decisions and we have to recognize the need for training and new skills in shipping. Class has a key role to play regarding how digital solutions can best be deployed.

One particular area in which Covid’s impact on digital acceleration has been well highlighted is that of remote surveys. Once considered a solution of the future, remote surveys have been rapidly and successfully deployed. For all its challenges to our society and economy, the pandemic has reminded us all how, when we work collectively and creatively to solve a problem, solutions can be found.

This should give us all confidence that we will see an increasingly joined-up and technologically-driven sector. If we can successfully embrace the ‘two D’s’ – digitalisation and decarbonisation – we can create a more prosperous and sustainable future.


  1. Also relevant to the counter-claim that we ‘NEED’ to decarbonise shipping from :

    There are two primary externalities that result from our emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—1) an enhancement of the greenhouse effect, which results in an alteration of the energy flow in the earth’s climate and a general tendency to warm the global average surface temperature, and 2) an enhancement of the rate of photosynthesis in plants and a general tendency to result in more efficient growth and an overall healthier condition of vegetation (including crops). There’s incontrovertible evidence that the planet is both warmer and greener than it was 100 years ago.

    As we continually document (see here for our latest post), more and more science is suggesting that the rate (and thus magnitude at any point in time) of CO2‐​induced climate change is not as great as commonly portrayed. The lower the rate of change, the lower the resulting impact. If the rate is low enough, carbon dioxide emissions confer a net benefit. We’d like to remind readers that “it’s not the heat, it’s the sensitivity,” when it comes to carbon dioxide, and the sensitivity appears to have been overestimated.

    As new science erodes the foundation of climate worry, new technologies are expanding recoverable fossil fuel resources. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have opened up vast expanses of fossil fuel resources—mainly natural gas—that were untouchable just a few years ago. The discovery that the world is awash in hundreds of years of recoverable fuels is a game‐​changer, given the strong correlation between energy use per capita and life expectancy.

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