Safety and Environment are Not Contradictory Paradigms
The topic of this article is inspired by the discussions I had during a panel debate I recently participated at, during a conference in London in March 2019. During that panel discussion and throughout a number of interventions, shipowner representatives kept on going back to the fact that focus on the environmental challenges of the shipping industry must not overshadow the focus on safety on board ships.
During the past four decades, the marine environment has come into focus as society at large realized the intense pressure humans activities were causing to the oceans due to fast growth in world economy and a booming amount of ships, which transport some 90 percent of the goods worldwide. Parallel to that, accidents on ships, small and large, are still a fact that is worrisome since a large number of those seem to show a repeating pattern (for example navigational errors, hazardous operations boarding ships, hot work in hydrocarbon rich atmospheres, enclosed spaces entry, etc.).
It is common thinking to consider that prioritizing safety, ships can do whatever they need to save life and maintain sea worthiness. While this is true (Safety of Life At Sea is a top priority to any activity), environmental considerations cannot be kept externalized from the safety process. The way to resolve the dilemma between safety demands and environmental sustainability is to change the way we design ships, operate them and train crew.
There are a large number of examples where reconciling safety and environment was done successfully. A simple example is the installation of scrubbers to clean SOx from ships' exhaust gas: a requirement by class societies is to arrange a bypass for exhaust gas cleaning systems installed on vessels with single main propulsion unit and where failure may lead to loss of any main function of the ship. Such requirements prioritize safety by allowing bypass of the scrubber and at the same time facilitate the easy installation of the environmentally driven scrubbers.
Shipping should no longer be based on activities that increase pollution, but on activities that further sustainable development and minimize the footprint on the oceans and the environment. While ships contribute very little to the emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) given the amount of goods they transport, everyone must bear their bit of the burden and reduce those emissions, including our own industry. It is no longer acceptable to push safety in front of us to deflect our environmental responsibilities. Environment must become an integrated part on how we design and operate ships. Today, this is not the case. Ships still leave shipyards with inoperable ballast water management systems because "there are no requirements to use them yet."
With the environmental requirements on ballast water, EEDI, NOx and SOx emissions and the 2050 IMO goal of reducing the CO2 emissions by 50 percent, regulators have done their parts in setting the expectations from the industry. It is now up to us to meet the challenge and better, go above and beyond it, by educating, designing and innovating solutions and by:
1. putting safety as our top priority, and
2. aiming to reach those environmental goals as an as important milestone as building the ship itself.
Jad Mouawad is CEO at Mouawad Consulting.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.