Skou: Maersk will order first carbon-neutral ships within the next three years

Søren Skou, the CEO of AP Moller-Maersk, the group that controls the largest containerline in the world, has mapped out when he will put pen to paper to order the company’s first carbon-neutral ships.

Speaking in the latest episode of the Outrage and Optimism podcast, which focused on the future of shipping, Skou said Maersk would order carbon-neutral ships within the next three years, starting off with smaller tonnage ships aimed at regional trades, before taking the knowledge and experience from this landmark first generation of new ships to order a round of larger boxships.

“Three years from now, we expect to buy the first order,” Skou said, saying the initial series would be smaller ships that can operate in a defined geographical area, likely Europe.

“Then we can go out and make supply contracts with people that can provide, whether it’s ammonia or alcohol, methanol and ethanol,” Skou continued, saying the aim was then to order larger carbon-neutral ships before the end of the decade.

Maersk has eschewed new orders lately and has avoided going down the LNG-fuelled path of many of its rivals.

In December 2018, Maersk came out as the first major shipping line to pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050.

In October 2019 the Danish carrier identified three fuels to focus on in its decarbonisation drive, namely renewable methanol, biogas and ammonia.

“A ship has a life expectancy of between 20 and 25 years, so we need to start replacing ships by 2030 in order to be ready at 2050,” Skou told the podcast.

“This is really very encouraging, it’s just the level of ambition and commitment we need to see across the whole industry. It makes perfect commercial sense so I’d hope to see other shipping companies joining the race. What we really need is real zero emissions vessels in operation by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change,” Di Gilpin from the UK-based Smart Green Shipping Alliance told Splash today.

Greg Atkinson from Japan’s Eco Marine Power took issue with the terminology carbon neutral when contacted by Splash.

“Carbon neutral is a pretty vague term but if they mean CO2 neutral then this seems feasible depending on the size of the ship,” Atkinson said.

“The industry has come together to work on the decarbonisation issue, which requires collaboration across the value chain – from the fuel suppliers to the classification societies to the ports and shipowners,” commented Andrew Stephens, the executive director of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative. 

“First movers are an essential part of this chain, investing into R&D for sustainable zero carbon fuels and setting their ambitions above what is expected and leading the way. We need industry leaders like Maersk to share research and learnings to enable and accelerate the industry’s transition to zero emissions,” Stephens said.

Last July, Maersk joined the likes of Nike and Mercedes-Benz as one of the nine founding signatories to the Transform to Net Zero initiative, which intends to develop and deliver research, guidance, and implementable roadmaps to enable all businesses to achieve net zero emissions.

Last month the European Commission presented its transport initiatives for the coming four years as part of longer terms plans to decarbonise the sector.

Under new goals set by Brussels, by 2030 zero-emission marine vessels will be market-ready with ports in a position to supply the requisite new fuel, and carbon pricing in place to ensure there is a strong uptake of these new vessels.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. How do the lines intent on going for carbon neutrality square the circle regarding the fuel/energy input for the steel and other materials for the hull, engines and other vital components? The focus on fuels to be used for propulsion is only part of the issue which seems to get neatly ducked and is disingenuous..

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