11 Jan 2022
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic. The announcement underscores its major socio, economic and political impact across the globe.
The pandemic has forced individuals and businesses, including the maritime world, to pivot and now entering an era of what many may refer to as the "new normal." Whilst the shipping industry braced itself for the fallout that would inevitably come from the COVID-19 disruption, volumes fell less dramatically than expected with the outcome being less severe than was initially feared and in fact brought with it a boom in most notably freight rates.
UNCTAD's Review of Maritime Transport 2021 revealed that trade decreased by 3.8% in 2020, but soon bounced back with an estimated increase of 4.3% in 2021. While the road ahead for 2022 looks positive, there are still a number of uncertainties and risks that could hamper maritime trade. These obstacles include unprecedented pressures on global supply chains, dramatic surges in freight rates, and price increases that could affect both consumers and exporters/importers.
Freight prices and maritime trade are not the only aspects affected by the global pandemic. When borders closed and trade fell, so did CO2 emissions. While the industry attempts to meet the International Maritime Organization's goal to cut GHG emissions and develop zero-emission vessels by 2030, this ripple appears to be one positive outcome of this global health crisis.
Before the onset of the outbreak, greenhouse gas emissions were rising by 1% per year over the previous decade, but as nations attempted to "flatten the curve" and slow down the spread of the virus, by April 2020, global shipping CO2 emissions decreased by 1%. But it isn’t over yet, studies have indicated that this has only been a momentary win for the industry in its pledge to mitigate climate change.
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, there's no question that the industry has had to adapt to a rapidly changing world. With a 2050 goal in mind, how has COVID-19 impacted the maritime world's drive towards ensuring a more sustainable future?
A drive towards digitalization
There has been a greater push towards creating sustainable technologies and digitalizing the industry, especially with regards to maritime transport infrastructure such as the creation of sustainable ports (defined as the business strategies and activities that meet the current and future needs of the port and stakeholders while protecting and sustaining human and natural activities).
The pandemic has also strengthened the need for investment in the digitalization and automation of the shipping world with integrated digital platforms being developed to do away with physical paperwork, providing the added benefit of minimizing the need for physical interaction. An example of one port looking toward combining the two is the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) who currently has plans to establish a completely digital ecosystem at all port sites in Nigeria by 2025. The goal is to promote smart port transformation and focus on creating paperless, sustainable, time-and cost-saving port operations.
Other notable technologies that have been developed during this time have been the pollution mapping app Eyesea, which offers users an easy-to-use application that allows them to record and submit images and locations of pollution across the world's oceans. This helps identify what makes up maritime pollution, and where clean-up efforts can have the biggest impact.
Looking to the future
The development of innovative technologies and green solutions remain the primary focus and answer to decarbonizing the industry and switching to alternative fuels could provide the long term answer the industry has been looking for.
While alternative fuels are in the development and testing stages, shipowners can still do their part to reduce their impact on the environment. Regular hull cleaning provides another effective method that can help protect marine ecosystems and reduce CO2 emissions.
Invasive species that grow on vessel hulls increase drag and reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 35%, creating an expensive problem in a short amount of time. HullWiper’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) is an environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional brush/kart method, employing adjustable seawater jets that minimize the risk of damage to coatings or polluting local port water with dislodged marine fouling. All removed biofouling is collected via an onboard filtration system, which is then disposed of in an environmentally approved and efficient manner.
Along with a smooth clean hull, the removing of these invasive aquatic species results in optimal performance, energy efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions, which is a triple win for the vessel and its operator.