Pollution and climate change could be reduced through waterborne transport.
In February, I represented the Malta Maritime Forum in a national conference, organised by Transport Malta, on ‘Sustainable Transport and Cleaner Solutions’. The event was held online on February 24 and tackled various topical issues with respect to the maritime industry and how it can support a shift to more sustainable transport.
During my intervention, I maintained that one way to reduce pollution and climate change was to consolidate traffic on waterborne transport because it is the most energy-efficient and also helps to cut congestion in roads, as shipping is already the lowest emitting mode of transportation per ton-mile.
In this regard, the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF), through its active participation in the European Network of Maritime Clusters (ENMC), is promoting a shift in traffic from road to waterborne which will contribute to achieving the objectives of the European Union’s Green Deal Package.
The MMF is aware that larger vessels are being built to reap even more advanced economies of scale and efficiency gains. Technological advances, horizontal alliances and agreements are being formed to better achieve them.
However, the diversity and vastness of the maritime industry creates serious challenges posed by the need for extensive coordination between all the various components in the industry and all the different countries they take place in. Key stakeholders, besides shipowners, are charterers, shipbuilders, port operators, port services, navigation control, fuel and bunker suppliers, and several others.
So, the handling of bigger ships, for example, necessitates new commensurate investment in port infrastructure, which, in turn, calls for a revised regulatory framework that guarantees legal certainty for investors, transparency of public funding to ensure fair competition and efficient use, and non-discriminatory access to services. More concentrated volumes of cargo, as well as the need to remain competitive vis-à-vis other modes of transport, also necessitate a speedier execution of formalities and better coordination of logistics operations.
On a national level, Infrastructure Malta is investing €50 million in a shore-to-ship power project that will allow cruise liners, and eventually Ro-Ro vessels, to switch off their on-board power-generation plants and plug in to shore-side electricity points to power their on-board services. This development, which forms part of ‘The Grand Harbour Clean Air Project’, is complemented by investments with similar objectives taken at the micro level by the private sector.
Shipowners, in fact, have, since a number of years, installed exhaust gas cleaning systems (commonly referred to as scrubbers) on their vessels. This equipment is designed to capture exhaust gas from the main engine funnels before reaching the air and transform the gases into liquids which are treated before they are disposed of.
Alternative, carbon-neutral fuels will be key contributors to shipping’s future energy transition and a major step forward towards carbon-free shipping
Further examples of initiatives taken at company level continue to be taken to reduce emissions from the maritime industry. These include Malta Freeport Terminal’s investment of €20 million in six new German technology megamax quay cranes which, besides the necessary stacking capability, are more energy-efficient and less noise polluting. Besides, the Freeport also invested in separate technologies that optimise job distribution to terminal tractors and the efficiency of rubber tyre gantry jobs which reduce idling, undesired truck turnarounds and container rehandling. Other examples given were the latest additions to the fleets of the Pilot Cooperative and of Tug Malta which generate less pollution in the air as well as in the water.
These initiatives taken jointly by the private and public sectors are also conducive towards rendering sea transport more attractive to the local user. Consumers and commuters are becoming ever more environmentally conscious and appreciate (a) that maritime transport is already one of the most energy-efficient due to the critical mass it enjoys; (b) the decarbonisation initiatives being taken to reduce the maritime industry’s carbon footprint; (c) the convenience and comfort of service; and (d) the advantage over getting stuck in congested roads. The positive response of commuters, for instance, since the introduction of fast ferries between Malta and Gozo and between Valletta and the Three Cities and Sliema is clear testament to this.
Further initiatives that could be taken in this regard would be for Gozo Channel to replace its fourth vessel currently on charter with an eco vessel and that this vessel could operate a ro-ro service between the Valletta and Mġarr harbours carrying heavy trucks and other ro-ro cargo, thus eliminating such truck pollution and congestion from Maltese roads from south to north and vice versa.
The MMF continues to monitor these interesting and encouraging developments, as well as those occurring on the research of alternative fuels, including those based on hydrogen and ammonia. These developments are regarded as game-changing breakthroughs in the decarbonisation efforts of the maritime industry.
It is not the business of the maritime industry, of course, to conduct such research as it relies on scientists for these breakthroughs.
The industry, however, stands ready to test new propulsion methods capable of replacing fuel oil in ships, tugboats, ferries, pilot boats and any other category of vessel once these are made available.
Indeed, alternative, carbon-neutral fuels will be key contributors to shipping’s future energy transition and a major step forward towards carbon-free shipping.
Michael Callus is a board member of the Malta Maritime Forum.
This article appeared in the Times of Malta on 7 March 2022