Maintaining Sustainable Shipping During Decarbonisation



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During the 2023 GREEN4SEA Athens Forum, Mr. Emmanuel Vergetis, INTERCARGO liaison / Consultant, gave a presentation on the various challenges the dry bulk and tramp shipping are facing as we are heading toward the maritime decarbonization, reports Safety4sea.

Bulk carrier fleet 

Initially we need to keep in mind that Bulk carrier fleet is the largest representing approx. 43% of the total fleet by DWT.  Furthermore based on latest data of 2022 the Bulk Carrier Fleet has the lowest age average.

Despite the fact that Bulk Carrier Fleet has the lowest age average of 11.1 years compared to the other main segments an increasingly important concern is the ageing of the fleet, since older ships are generally less efficient and generate higher emissions.  Shipping is primarily divided into the Liner model and the Tramp model. An important trade characteristic of the bulk segment is that more than 65% of the approximately 13.000 bulk carrier ships are engaged in the tramp trade characterized by ships sailing in irregular trade patterns, rather than along fixed routes, and calling various ports around the world.

Regulators are faced with the huge task of not only decarbonising a world fleet made up of thousands of vessels but also understanding the two main maritime economic models. It is worth highlighting that a dry bulk carrier’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are amongst the lowest per tonne-mile of cargo carried and bulk carrier vessels represent one of the most economical and thereby environmentally friendly transport modes on earth.

More particularly, taking the year 2008 as a reference, the most significant carbon intensity reduction was achieved by bulk carriers where the overall EEOI and AER in 2018 was around 38% and 31% lower.


Despite the achievements in emissions reductions shipping is considered to be one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize.

Shipping will be competing with other industries that are also trying to decarbonize, i.e aviation. The majority of bulk carrier owners eagerly await new fuels as long as these fuels are safe, promptly available, and permitting a sustainable business model. The “Green Corridors” concept although may be beneficial for some type of vessels is not suitable for the majority of bulkers trading.  Dry bulk shipping needs “Green Ports” globally and INTERCARGO has invited initiatives promoting Green Ports and the concept of Green Hubs as fundamentally relevant for the tramp sector. To achieve the goal of Zero Emissions in Shipping by 2050, it is fundamental that governments, legislative parties and all stakeholders understand that decarbonisation of the shipping sector is a whole system challenge and does not only affect the ship, while the majority of the investments needed  are for land-based infrastructure and low carbon fuel production.

Shipping faces substantial challenges on the journey to achieve the decarbonisation goals and shipyards need also to play their significant role and develop ship designs and integrate the technology that can be practically and safely implemented onboard. The human element and the shortage of skilled seafarers will continue to be one of the biggest challenges for most of the bulker owners and operators. Crew competitiveness for most bulker operators (not owning LNG/tankers etc.) that do not have adequate crew experience with alternative fuels yet, may prove to be one of the most significant threats towards the decarbonization pathway especially as alternative fuels are becoming more complex to handle on board. The shipping sector will only be in position to deliver the target of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 with acceleration in the commercial development of relevant technologies, the availability of fuels and propulsion systems and of the necessary related infrastructure.

It is difficult to imagine that alternative drop-in fuels will be available in all ports globally in the short and medium term. Drop-in biofuels for deep-sea shipping would be in high demand but most probably not available in sufficient quantities and locations globally.

Moreover, the GHG reductions of E-fuels which are produced using green hydrogen and CO2, i.e e-hydrogen, e-methane and e-ammonia or liquids like e-methanol or e-diesel, depend entirely on abundant renewable electricity, a prerequisite we question since the supply of renewable electricity is forecasted to remain in high demand in the future. Furthermore, the tramp shipping model does not easily allow for Operational optimization leading to further reductions of the GHG Intensity. Whether Carbon Capture is truly sustainable onboard remains to be seen.

On top of the aforementioned challenges due to irregular trade patterns, we also need to add  the high CAPEX of ESD  technologies, and highlight that the cost of these technologies (i.e. wind assisted propulsion) is much higher proportionately, versus other sectors for the bulker fleet, resulting to Return on Investment (ROI) and business cases that may not be very attractive.

Concluding, to build a realistic pathway and address the challenges, all stakeholders in the maritime venture should bear the costs of the decarbonisation transition and play their role. This is not just shipowners and operators, it is charterers, fuel suppliers, ports, cargo shippers and cargo receivers, while governments need to develop land-based infrastructure to support the low carbon fuel production in sufficient quantities.

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Source: Safety4sea