International Cruise and Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2019
International Cruise & Ferry Review Ferry Business 106 rexit, the costs of complying with emission rules, doubts about the future of marine fuels and the ultimate demand to become carbon neutral are just some of the current challenges facing those operating ferry services. Ferries tend to be long-living ships and it is quite possible that the new vessels of today will still be operational around halfway through the 21st century when carbon dioxide emissions are supposed to be well under control and zero-emission ships have become an industry commitment. However, they face an uncertain future in a world of growing environmental demands and rapid technical changes to both ship and propulsion systems. The ferry sector has proved adaptable in the past and can certainly be the same going forward. But what sort of policies must ferry operators implement to grow their business and keep customers onboard? It is easy to be sceptical about the green agenda. However, there seems to be no doubt that, whatever the cost, it’s beneficial for ferry operators to invest in greater sustainability – and ensure their customers know about it. Whether that customer is a major freight user who wants to be labelled as environmentally sound, or just a car or foot passenger who has embraced current attitudes, there is clearly an economic benefit to being publicly identified as a green transport operator. A positive environmental profile is something that can provide a genuine marketing advantage against competition, whether from other ferry operators or other modes of transport. While some may wait until the environmental regime is tightened by regulation, there is arguably an advantage in voluntarily aligning with the direction of travel, despite the uncertainties. It is difficult to see public opinion going in any other direction, and the sensitive ferry operator will go with the flow. Unlike deep-sea shipping, which faces a colossal challenge in developing green propulsion systems and compliant fuels suitable for very large ships engaged in global trading, bunkering infrastructures for short-range ferries is simpler to put into place. It is no coincidence that it is the ferry sector where vessels are being equipped with hybrid, electric and battery systems. Similarly, now that LNG is increasingly being referred to as an interim solution, it’s reasonable to suppose that the ferry sector will see the first developments in the full commercial use of hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels and post-petroleum fuel technology. Ferries will provide a means for scientists and engineers to translate their research into practical applications, scaling solutions up from the experimental to the technically feasible and commercially viable. It’s quite a responsibility for ferry companies to decide to commit to new fuels or machinery systems that are unproven at sea. This is where supportive governments encouraging research into new fuels and marine propulsion systems will help. However, it’s a very big jump and one that must be taken quickly if the 2050 zero-emission targets are to be achieved. Practicality suggests that there will likely still be large numbers of conventionally powered vessels in operation halfway through the century, so it has been suggested that, by 2030, a sizeable number Going green with a ‘can-do’ attitude Ferry operators have been challenged to become carbon neutral by 2050, but how can they make it a reality? Michael Grey considers their options ”Ferry operators are unlikely to be beaten by these new environmental demands” COMMENTARY Michael Grey Michael Grey is a master mariner turned maritime journalist and has edited both Fairplay and Lloyd’s List over his 60-year career.