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23 Sep 2022
4 mins
Seafarers Need New Safety Skills to Handle New Technologies for Greener Shipping

This year’s World Maritime Day theme is ‘New technologies for greener shipping’, highlighting the need to support a green transition of the maritime sector into a sustainable future, while leaving no one behind, points out the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The IMO has committed to reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050, compared with 2008, and it aims to decarbonise the maritime sector fully by the end of the century.

The pressure is on the industry to comply with sustainability goals by developing and investing in new tech, new fuels and having stronger, environmentally-friendly practices.

Capt Jeff Parfitt, head of safety and environment at the Nautical Institute, in an article for the institute’s Seaways magazine, pointed out that faced with the monumental global challenge of the environment and the decarbonisation of shipping and the reduction of greenhouse gases, the human element is “missing, ignored or given little exposure” in the initiatives.

“The new fuels are hazardous. Their handling will require new skill, knowledge and a new approach to safety and hazard identification. This is the only way to prevent these fuels from becoming a danger to crews ports and cites where ships will operate,” he commented.

Crews will require upskilling to deal with new fuels and ships will have to be maintained to higher standards.

How do seafarers fight fires and abandon ship with these green fuels? 

How many seafarers know how to stop an LNG spill or how to fight an LNG fire – bearing in mind LNG has a radiant heat nearly twice that of marine diesel oil, greatly increasing the risk of secondary fires? What medium is used to fight such a rapid fire, and is that scenario even plausible?

Methanol burns with barely a flame. In a lighted space such as an engine room, a methanol fire is virtually undetectable with the naked eye, requiring sophisticated sensors.

Ammonia poses even greater issues, being hugely toxic and requiring specialist PPE to handle. A loss of containment of ammonia would be instantly devastating to the immediate surround.

These safety-related questions posed by Capt Parfitt require critical attention.

To address seafarer safety, the Nautical Institute has joined with the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Transport Workers’ FederationInstitute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology and Ocean Technologies Group to develop a green curriculum to assist in the development and training of seafarers who may be involved in the handling of the proposed hazardous alternative fuels.

There may be new aspects of fire-fighting techniques, the application of sophisticated PPE, monitoring and maintenance, as well as bunkering requirements.

Can shipping meet the IMO goal of hitting net zero emissions by 2050?

“We have a binding treaty. Whatever we agree to by amending Marpol is legally binding on the parties and signatories, and that is a hugely powerful tool,” Dr Bryan Comer, shipping lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation was quoted as saying in an article for the Lloyd’s List.

Most shipowners will not voluntarily build greener ships. Chair of Maritime London Harry Theochari told Lloyd’s List: “Shipowners are going to have to be forced to build green ships, but a lot of them are coming round to the idea anyway.”

“The major problem will be for the smaller, private owners. It is more difficult for them to finance the changes they will need to make.” He estimates are that the cost of meeting the IMO target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by 2030, compared with 2008, is a range of somewhere between $1trn and $1.4trn.

While big shipowners take risks on untried technologies, the challenge is for them to be more transparent so smaller companies and poorer countries can make the transition together.

Decarbonising shipping requires the individual and collective efforts of the entire maritime sector – governments, industry, research bodies, and many other stakeholders, Singapore Minister for Transport Mr S Iswaran highlighted at the 2nd International Maritime Organization (IMO)-Singapore Future of Shipping Conference. The IMO, he said, plays a vital role in galvanising the maritime community to tackle this shared challenge.

The call is for the maritime community to sustain the spirit of cooperation in tackling the global challenge of climate change as we chart the future of shipping.