Slowing ships could bring some marginal gains, says Drewry

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Slowing ships even further could have some marginal gains, however, further evaluation of the unintended consequences is required, according to shipping consultancy Drewry.

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is meeting this week in London to further explore methods to achieve its overall goal of decarbonising shipping, including looking at some proposals that will help move things along in the short-term.

One such idea that is reportedly being looked at is the idea of putting speed restrictions on ships, an idea supported by a group of nine environmental NGOs and 120 shipping companies, none of which being container lines, in an open letter to the IMO.

The open letter to the IMO did not specify what the average speeds should be, but with slow steaming being such a long-established feature of the industry it is questionable how much slower containerships can go, Drewry said.

“Our preference would be to set maximum annual average speeds for container ships, and maximum absolute speeds for the remaining ship types, which take account of minimum speed requirements. Such a regulation should be implemented as soon as possible and the obligation for compliance should be placed both on shipowners and operators, including charterers,” the letter said.

Based on Drewry’s preliminary research it appears that the benefits, both in fuel cost and consumption terms, from slowing and adding new ships suffers from the laws of diminishing returns.

Another upside in this scenario for carriers to consider is that introducing extra ships into the same service would afford them the opportunity to hide more surplus capacity, which would theoretically raise utilisation and freight rate revenues even as big new ships are hitting the water.

For the owners of the cargoes, shippers, the prospect of slower services and potentially higher freight rates is not so appealing, although many of them too are under pressure from their own customers to support a greener agenda.

“There does appear to be some marginal gains to be had from slowing ships even further, both in terms of fuel consumption and cost. Before making this a mandatory requirement, we agree with Maersk that further evaluation of the unintended consequences is required,” Drewry concluded.