This ‘moonshot’ isn’t rocket science

Andrew Craig-Bennett is not happy with Wednesday’s $5bn R&D submission to the IMO by shipowning interests.

“Da mihi castitatem et continentam, sed noli modo!”

The one line in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430 CE, that everyone knows: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”

It may have been an effective pick-up line for a randy thirtysomething lecturer in rhetoric, in fourth century Turin. It is no way for those who are paid to be the representatives of the shipping industry to conduct themselves in the twenty-first century.

“Moonshot?” More like a clod dropped into a puddle. It just makes a messy little splash and solves nothing.

Not that the European Union, still hankering after “emissions trading”, is any better. Emissions trading is – and we, in shipping, know this very well – far too easy to fiddle. It lends itself to scams, and its consequences are unpredictable – but generally bad for the planet.

The shipowning interest is hopeless, full of venal little people

It is embarrassing to see the paid representatives of our industry capering about like this and congratulating themselves on being ‘clever’. Any fool can see what this is all about – something to hold off the European Union, whose emissions trading plan is equally nonsensical, and lots of lovely cash in the form of that two dollar a ton levy, which will produce a mountain of money for ‘research’, some of which is going to get used by the people who have appointed themselves patrons of that research to expand their own influence. Some of it might – in fact some of it is bound, in one form or another, to stick to the fingers of those allocating the research dosh, because this is shipping, not a kindergarten.

Readers who have some acquaintance with Japanese shipbuilding and shipowning are free to mutter, “speedboat racing levy” at this point. “Research levies” don’t have a good name in our industry.

Research levies don’t have a good name in our industry

All that has been achieved by this squalid little plan has been to convince the mainstream media, and thus to convince most people, that the shipowning interest is hopeless, that it is full of venal little people, and that it will therefore have to be regulated properly, because it cannot organise itself to any effect. Judged by the objectives of those who put it forward, the very people who want to keep regulation out of shipping, it has already failed, and it has only been around for a couple of days.

The world is not going to give us five years to set up a slush fund for ingenious manufacturers, university engineering departments and others to play around with clever ideas, and then ask for some more time. We don’t have five years. to waste playing around looking for bright ideas. By 2030 we need to have 5% of the world fleet – that is a lot of ships – running ‘emissions free’, if we are to keep on target for 2050. Five years is not long enough – in any circumstances short of total war – for promising experimental technologies, like nylon, radar, aircraft carriers, the jet engine and liquid fuelled guided missiles – all of which had existed in experimental form before World War II started and all of which we developed by the time it finished, to be developed.

We don’t have time to come up with new technologies. The good and the great of the shipping industry’s international bodies – headed by the International Chamber of Shipping – are going in for magical thinking, as any engineer, chemist or physicist can tell them. There is no magic bullet.

We have to sort this out using the techniques that are available to us now. That means sailing vessels, nuclear power, green hydrogen (probably as ammonia) and to a very limited extent green methanol. That’s it. Not methane, not (apart from harbour craft) batteries charged by wind power and not the perpetual motion machine. Anything else is magical thinking.

Andrew Craig-Bennett

Andrew Craig-Bennett works for a well known Asian shipowner. Previous employers include Wallem, China Navigation, Charles Taylor Consulting and Swire Pacific Offshore. Andrew was also a columnist for Lloyd's List for a decade.


  1. Completely agree with the sentiment (although I would have put it in a less rambling, flowery diatribe than the article).
    Simply put, emissions trading a a political smokescreen (excuse the pun) which is NOT understood by the public or the mainstream media. Emissions are real and they are now AND they are cumulative, so the idea that a company can buy its way out of its sins against the environment is missing the point of ACTUALLY reducing pollution today, not in the two or three decades, when many of us will not be responsible for running the companies or even be alive.

  2. “Orbis terrarum liber est, et illi qui non commeant modo unam paginam legunt.”

    Rather irrelevantly, I’ve always liked this quotation from Augustine.

    The world is a book, [and] those who don’t travel read only one page.

      1. I saw the English version of that famous quote at an airport (forgot which one!), but it stopped me in my tracks and only increased my imperative to travel. Can’t wait to get vaxxed and back out into the world, hopefully soon…

  3. Why do I feel like the gentleman Mr Craig Bennett, whom I have never met, seems to have an unusual ability to give voice to what I am thinking about over morning coffee. If I were to add to it, the only way to approach this is to accept that there is no such think as the truly efficient allocation of capital, and some many is going to be left on the table as we get on with playing the game(s) we have in front of us.

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