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Is extending the life of a ship bad for the environment?

Dr Anand Hiremath from Global Marketing Systems (GMS) has three simple ways for shipping to become more circular.

The maritime industry contributes nearly 940m tons of CO2 emissions annually, accounting for nearly 2.5% of the world’s total CO2 emissions, according to data from UK Research and Innovation.

But in less than 120 days from now, the International Maritime Organization’s two new regulations – Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) – will apply to existing ships of 400 gt and above.

The IMO’s intention is for these new regulations is to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions from shipping operations by 50% by 2050 against its 2008 emission levels, and carbon intensity of all ships by 40% by 2030.

The EEXI regulation is one of the most significant measures by the IMO to promote more environmentally friendly technologies and reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint. For CII, the annual rating ranging from A to E will be issued based on ratio of the total mass of CO2 emitted to the total transport work undertaken in each calendar year and if the rating is below ‘C’ corrective action must be taken immediately.

All of which raises interesting questions about the options available to ships of a certain age – let’s call them vintage assets. One engine manufacturer has warned that more than 80% of bulk carriers and container ships will be in the lowest C,D and E CII categories by 2030 if no action is taken, damaging their commercial viability.

Is scrapping the only commercially feasible option for vintage assets which fall foul of the new regulations? Taking a holistic approach, looking at the vessel’s full life cycle assessment, is there a case for extending the life of older vessels, rather than consigning them to the scrap heap?

If the purpose of EEXI and CII is to save the environment, phasing out vintage assets could be unintentionally counter-productive and lead to greater environmental damage.

How so?

Analysis clearly shows that newbuildings are responsible for significant energy consumption/GHG emissions when taking into account the transportation and handling of the raw materials used in steel production.

In their academic paper on “Assessing Environmental Impacts of Ships from a Life Cycle Perspective” joint authors Stefanos Chatzinkolaou and Nikolaos P. Ventikos state: “The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of building, operation and recycling is studied for a panamax tanker and impact on human health (climate change) and ecosystem quality is estimated. The results show that the “shipbuilding has 40% impact and steel production process under the scope of ship building alone responsible for nearly 90% of the total CO2 emissions.”

For a universal approach – also now referred to as the circular economy – a life cycle assessment/material balance analysis of the ship’s operational life must also be evaluated.

Circular economies preserve value in the form of energy, labour, and materials with the maximum value extracted from resources before they become waste. It is a framework to tackle not only climate change but also biodiversity loss and pollution.

There are three simple ways shipping can become more circular.

The first is to consume less – which ensures better use of resources. The second is to consume better. The third is to create systemic change.

And change is already happening. There are other methods to reduce EEXI including retrofitting clean technologies, waste heat recovery systems, air lubrication technology, wind-assisted propulsion, to name a few.

Clearly, questions remain over the commercial viability of retrofitting expensive energy-saving equipment on older vessels. It is clear from the evidence that repairing and extending the life of (mid-sized, vintage) ships is more environmentally friendly than building a new one. The sooner this uncomfortable truth is accepted, the better.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.


  1. What is the impact of using burners and cutting tools on emissions when ships are cut up and dismantle?. This seems to have been overlooked. It must be significant

    The same question applies to other metal assets (aircraft, trucks, trains etc.

  2. Q: If a spreader manufacturer builds a product that must be replaced after ten years of operation life, and they build ~ 2,000 spreaders per year, would the global environment be better off if the spreader could survive twenty years of operation life, thereby reducing the need for an annual new-spreaders-production by 1,000 units per year, each & every year?

    It is clear from the evidence that repairing and extending the life … (of a spreader?) … is more environmentally friendly than building a new one. (?)

    1. Thanks Bruce for the comment. The environmental footprint of manufacturing spreader and building ship is totally different. We are comparing apples with oranges here. One size don’t fit for all.

  3. In the tanker industry we see shorter life of vessels. Mainly due to charter requirements. If charterers refuse to use vessel of more than 15 years why should the owner buy a ship that will last longer?
    As a ship inspector of more than 15 years I can see that the quality is dropping. Ships used to be good up to and beyond 5th special survey. Now they have problem reaching 3rd special survey. So what happens when the charterers realize that 15 year old ships might be to old? Will they lower requirements to 12,5 or even worse 10 years of max age? How can this be good for the planet? Charterers (we are talking some of the largest within the tanker segment) needs to remove the max 15 year requirement.

  4. The vast amounts of construction waste involved with the entire shipbuilding process should also be considered. Even well-run shipyards in Korea and Japan have dozens of containers filled daily from massive piles scrap cuttings, plastic, wrappings, wood and packaging, rubber, caballing, paint cans and on and on and a big portion of which is not recyclable and therefore taken to landfills. The amount of waste generated in building a vessel is staggering!

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