Thursday, 3 July 2014


There’s a flurry of urgent activity now about the imminent implementation of the low sulphur regulations. The British Chamber of Shipping have been to Parliament to seek a delay in implementation; fuel suppliers are recommending early action on forward buying low sulphur fuels and deploying complex hedging tools.

The trouble is last minute dashes rarely end in sustainable - by which we mean certain, long term profitability - solutions. Once we get in to desperate positions we are forced to take desperate action and this is rarely the lowest cost, most rugged long term solution.

From an engineering perspective for the last 150 years or so it’s been relatively straightforward to deploy cheap, liquid fossil fuels in all maritime situations but things are not so simple now. The age of cheap fossil fuels is coming to an end and we can ignore it, wait til the last minute and panic buy a ‘quick-fix’ or we can start to think strategically now.

The global fleet is a complex ‘eco-system’ made up of multiple ship types operating in a myriad of situations responding to and driving the global economic system. Addressing this complexity demands a great deal of research, analysis and debate.

To compound the challenge we have to think long term; to try and predict how global systems will alter into an uncertain future.

Renewable energy has been adopted by land based systems - from automotive to power generation - as a resilient hedging tool to address the demise of fossil fuels. The maritime sector has multiple opportunities in this area too; there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution so we have to think smarter.

The global fleet, indeed the global economy, was built on wind power. It has huge potential. When we think of wind at sea we picture glorious old clippers but now it’s time to revise that thinking. Evolution of sailing ships was halted in the 1890s when the Industrial Revolution took hold. The Flying Cloud held the world NY-SF sailing record for more than 100 years. She was built in response to The Gold Rush and no sailing vessel could touch her performance.. 

As a global society we’ve changed a bit since the 19th century. How much potential is locked up in The Flying Cloud? We know America’s Cup yachts can sail faster than the wind, how much of that technology and thinking can we transfer to commercial shipping?
We need to embrace complex, challenging issues early and take decisive action to mitigate the costly risk of delay. The time to act is now 

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, merchant shipping has seen little or no technology transfer from yacht racing. Is this because there is nothing to transfer? I don't know. What I do know is that while we have boats that sail faster than the wind, we are worried about future generations of "eco" bulk carriers and tankers designed too slow to get out of trouble in rough weather. And this is because we are trying to meet future challenges with yesterday's tools. Something's got to change...