Crew awareness is crucial in making the global fleet greener argues Mikael Laurin, the CEO of Lean Marine.
As the maritime industry strides towards decarbonisation, much of our focus has been on new fuels and technologies to lower emissions. Yet alongside this effort we must address what implementation of these technologies means for the people operating the vessels. I believe that we cannot unlink the strategies taken towards decarbonisation from the crew involved in making this industry-wide shift.
Not only will they need to learn new systems, but they are also being asked to fundamentally change the way they carry out their duties onboard to incorporate a new mindset and realigned goals.
This would always have been an effort-intensive endeavour, but our current circumstances make this even more challenging than it would have been in the recent past. Seafarers have been on the frontlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuity of the worldwide supply chains. They have been severely affected by obstacles to performing crew changes, poor access to vaccination, uncertainty and isolation being onboard for prolonged periods of time, and intense working conditions.
These newer concerns sit alongside the maritime industry’s longstanding issues around crew mental health and wellbeing – and I believe that we might see a surging negative impact on crew wellbeing that will influence our sector for the foreseeable future. For the decarbonization of shipping to succeed, we must thus account for the condition of crew emerging from this crisis, as well as any future events.
Considering the multiple ongoing issues affecting the health and welfare of its workforce, future solutions must be designed with sensitivity to these realities – particularly given our shared commitment to “a fair future for seafarers” as per the theme of this year’s IMO Day of the Seafarer.
Those of us designing sustainable shipping solutions, must maintain this focus for crew conditions as well and do our best not to further complicate a working environment that is rife with overwork and fatigue. This can feel like a genuine challenge, but it will reap long lasting rewards not just for the crew but for our industry as a whole.
Regulatory requirements, efficient technologies and crew adoption
The various routes to decarbonization are taking the maritime sector into relatively uncharted waters. Current regulations to combat climate change have pushed shipowners, shipping companies, and ship operators to invest in technologies that maximize vessel efficiency while also reducing fuel consumption, airborne emissions, and polluting effluents in water. Most major maritime stakeholders are keen to adopt new technologies not only to meet regulatory requirements, but for the commercial advantages that this way of operation brings.
It is heartening to see growing adoption of the cleanest, most efficient, and innovative technologies that can help our industry make the transition to zero-emission operations.
The increased focus on vessel efficiency has highlighted the various benefits that data-driven digital transformation delivers. Many ship owners and operators have equipped their vessels with sophisticated systems for voyage planning, execution, and post-voyage analysis – making them data-rich. The goal is to analyse this data and use it to continuously improve operational efficiency.
However, regardless of the emerging technology, a ship is only as efficient as the people operating it. Unless seafarers understand the practicality of this technology and adapt their onboard behaviour, the possible benefits will be limited.
Crew awareness is crucial for making the global fleet greener; a fact underlined by the public-private partnership of the IMO’s GreenVoyage2050 Low Carbon Global Industry Alliance which recently released freely available e-content to raise crew awareness about energy-efficient ship operations.
In my opinion, the necessary evolution of skill sets is a shared responsibility among shipping companies, seafarers and technology providers. Technologies must be designed to maximize fuel savings without placing an additional burden on already busy crew. This way of thinking ensures that shipoperators are increasing efficiency and conducting greener operations, without sacrificing crew welfare.
Technology that supports crew
As an ex-shipowner in the tanker sector, I know just how important it is to ship safety to make the onboard environment as supportive of crew as possible. Any number of factors, ranging from fatigue to insufficient training could spell tragedy and result not only in loss of life but also environmental disaster and reputational damage.
As shipping slowly emerges from the worst COVID-19 pandemic (an assumption that could change at any given time due the uncertainty about virus variants), the industry must manage a backlog of tasks ranging from maintenance of equipment and in-person surveys to training and certification of crew. Adding an additional burden of complexity around new technology or asking exhausted individuals to undertake constant amendments to ship thrust and speed feels cruel and is likely to either lead to inefficiency or error. At the same time, we have made a commitment to greener operations that must be fulfilled, given public scrutiny of our sector’s environmental credentials.
I believe that shipowners looking at new technology must make ease of use, reduction of workload and simplicity of operations priorities when it comes to the selection criteria. Crew must be reassured that new technologies are there to support them rather than complicate matters – after all, cultural change hinges on workforce buy-in.
Greener ship operations can only come about if the crew have access to easy-to-understand information, and training that goes beyond operational compliance and addresses what this way of working allows them to achieve. By bringing seafarers into the process and making it a shared goal, we bring grassroots commitment to our shared goal.
I believe that the ideal scenario is one in which shipowners are offered holistic solutions that not only includes sophisticated technologies, but also crew training and easy to access information about how to achieve the best possible result for each individual vessel. This ensures that green technologies are successfully adopted by crew and onshore personnel and their full potential is utilised.
Decarbonisation is a shared commitment and for this to be sustainable in the truest sense of the word, we must ensure that no-one is left behind in the transition. After all, this is a fundamental tenant of the “fair future” that we are building together.