Is too much expected of shipping on environmental matters? That was the topic for discussion at this morning’s parliamentary debate at the Sea Asia conference in Singapore.
Chaired by Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, the debate covered regulatory areas of water management, fuel regulations, and decarbonisation and how these impact all players in the maritime space with plenty of calls from participants for level playing fields.
Arguing for the motion were Dr George Pateras, president of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, Friedrich Bunnemann, managing partner of Asiatic Lloyd Maritime and Ali Shehab, deputy CEO at Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC).
Pateras kicked the debate off, telling the audience that when it came to the sulphur cap refiners had passed the buck to “unprotected” shipowners, saying the shipping community was being “held hostage” as the days tick down to the IMO regulation.
“Policing of our industry leaves a lot to be desired. We must all insist on a level playing field, the same for all,” Pateras said, claiming that by comparison aviation got off very lightly. This, he said, was down to weak lobbying on behalf of shipping.
“Our industry is over regulated and over policed. We have made huge advances on enviromental protection on a volunrary basis. No other industry has done so much on a volunrary basis,” Pateras claimed. Later on in the debate, Pateras would go on to say that regulations were wrong and not keeping up with reality.
“Don’t forget cows produce far more pollution than we do, why not regulate the cows?” Pateras quipped.
Also supporting the motion was KOTC’s Shebab who said current regulations were “barking up the wrong tree”.
The IMO 2020 introduction had brought in far too many complications, he complained.
Rouding out the pro-motion side, Asiatic Lloyd’s Bunnemann said of shipping’s decarbonisation pledges made last year, “We’re only the industry who has committed to such drastic targets.” Bunnemann said shipping ran on extremely tight operating margins.
“Pricing power is something we are lacking in the shipping inustry. We’re price takers and have become commoditised. How can we as shipowners and the shipping industry invest more into environmental matters if we don’t get paid for it?” he questioned.
Bunnermann said that the IMO has failed to achieve proper progress over the last decades and concluded his argument by suggesting that the world’s population as a whole will need to help shipping pay to clean it up.
Among those arguing against the motion was Dr Şadan Kaptanoğlu, president designate of BIMCO, and managing director of HI Kaptanoğlu Shipping.
She took to the stage arguing for more swift regulation, not less.
“Fellow shipowners forget it is the pressure from the public, consumers that force governments to regulate. We need more regulation, not less,” she said, while echoing many other speakers calling for global solutions and level playing fields.
“If you are defensive, if you are reactive, regulations come on you. We have to be proactive so lawmakers can see we are making our own regulations,” Kaptanoğlu said.
Professor Christine Loh from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and a former secretary of the environment in Hong Kong, raised a few laughs in her five minute put-down of the motion, using her seasoned political skills to good effect.
Describing the future as “dire” Loh labelled her opponents in the debate as frogs in hot water, as well as dismissing them as “little boys”.
Loh said many in shipping were passing the buck, blaming others, but the general public had an increasingly dim view of shipping and its “fat cats”.
Last up was Jeremy Nixon, the CEO of Japanese liner Ocean Network Express (ONE), who has this week in speeches made clear his green beliefs.
“The global planet is in much difficulty at the moment,” Nixon said, citing the increasing global population, climate change and increasing temperatures.
“Our customers … expect us to respect the planet. We all should find ways to make our shipping and logistics systems carbon neutral,” Nixon said, describing shipping’s march towards decarbonisation as a “bottom up, top down process”.
From the audience, Michael Parker, Citigroup’s well known ship financier, made clear he was not in favour of the motion. “A current is regulation … if you dont get with the flow your ventures will end and the reason is the money,” Parker said, pointing out the billions of dollars primed by private equity keen to invest in environmentally friendly industries.
Douglas Hsu, chairman of Taiwanese shipowner U-Ming, chipped in, saying: “I’m a shipowner, I’m an environmentalist. There are owners who are not responsible. Those who are struggling will not talk about the environment.”
Andreas Sohmen-Pao, chairman of BW Group, also gave the audience his thoughts on the debate, saying: “We have a critical situation for the planet… The question is how best to fulfill our responsibility. I support the environment, I support regulation. How can we do better in getting better regulation?”
A local unidentified Indonesian owner then took the microphone saying the millions of dollars Indonesian shipowners would need to spend on the sulphur cap would create many bankruptcies. Local energy giant Pertamina does not have the compliant fuel ready in time for the cap’s introduction, he claimed, adding that, in his view, shipping was the most regulated industry in the world.
Of the approximate 300 delegates in the room the vote went against roughly 40:60 – a majority felt shipping should be doing more to protect the environment.