Photo: Illustration, Image by Offshore Energy

Failure to comply with new environmental rules will pose ‘a huge business risk’

With the increasing pressure for shipowners to sharpen their environmental performance, driven by IMO 2050, regional regulations and market pull from charterers, banks and investors, the decarbonization challenge is here to stay.

This represents a whole new ball game for the industry. Optimisation of ship operations has traditionally been dictated by the efficiency of delivery around the globe that has typically meant being able to sail at full speed, thereby burning more fuel, to minimise costs for the charterer. It has been driven by money, not emissions,” says DNV GL’s Performance Advisory head Bjorn Berger.

DNV GL sees the adoption of new digital technologies as vital to achieve decarbonisation goals for the shipping industry as the global green agenda shifts the business playing field for shipowners.

But the new green regime dictates that shipowners must minimise emissions from their operations and efficiency will be defined by their ability to reduce their environmental footprint, which will be a key differentiating factor in future competition for charter contracts.”

Furthermore, he says failure to comply with new environmental rules will pose “a huge business risk” as vessels that do not meet emissions requirements will be unable to trade, though “not all shipowners have fully realised this”.

As such, digitalisation of ship operations, in tandem with the use of alternative fuels, will be a key enabler to optimise the energy efficiency of fleets to meet low-carbon standards.

However, much of the maritime sector is lagging behind other industries such as aviation and automotive – in which digitalisation has been widely applied for decades – as well as offshore where concepts such as data sensors on equipment, digital twins, artificial intelligence and remote operations are now rapidly gaining ground, according to Berger.

He believes there is massive untapped potential for the shipping industry to improve its efficiency through harnessing data flows from operations that can have a positive impact on commercial, environmental and safety performance.

Digitalisation facilitates the automation of processes and functions, and combining data streams from multiple sources allows the maritime industry to make better-informed decisions more quickly, creating more efficient and responsive organisations, according to DNV GL.

Ships are increasingly being fitted with advanced sensors to monitor fuel consumption and energy efficiency, providing real-time data that can be integrated into an overall fleet management system for continuous learning and optimisation of operations.

Berger said that there are several examples of shipowners installing a fuel monitoring device on the bridge and testing out different operational measures to check how this affected fuel consumption. In many cases, minor differences in operational behaviour reduced fuel consumption by 10%.

“When such data monitoring is aligned with centralisation of fleet operations from an onshore control room, this gives the shipowner insight and transparency for better decision-making to assimilate best practices and thereby operate the fleet in the most cost and fuel-efficient way,” Berger explains.

Norway-based navigation software provider NAVTOR believes smart shipping is possible if the industry taps into the potential of software suites available for route planning, performance analysis as well as assistance in compliance with regulations for different ports and jurisdictions.

NAVTOR’s head of business development Arild Risholm Saether says: “Shipowners can use the digital tools available to take actions to reduce emissions. The add-on, of course, is you will have more profit and will be more attractive in the market for charterers and other types of customers.”

One major advantage of digitalisation is the ability to optimise maintenance through continuous condition monitoring of engines, the hull and other equipment and structures using data sensors.

But only a handful of ship operators, notably in the containership and cruise sectors, have moved proactively on the digital front to realise the commercial benefits of centralised operations based on digitalisation.

Application of digital technologies throughout a vessel’s life-cycle – from newbuild design and construction to operations – as well as within the shipowner’s administrative and logistical organisation will be key to optimising ship operations as the industry navigates a course into a low-carbon future.

Such digital tools are necessary in the newbuild phase to ensure a ship is designed and built to be as future-proof as possible with maximum fuel efficiency and a low environmental footprint so that it can remain competitive over its lifetime.

In the operations phases, DNV GL has found that digitally enabled operational and managerial measures can achieve 10% to 20% greater energy efficiency, and thus improved emissions performance.

Moreover, monitoring and reporting of key performance data such as carbon-intensity measurements will be required in relation to greenhouse gas ratings for regulators, charterers, ports, banks and finance institutions, making this a rite of passage for shipowners in future.

Berger believes digitalisation can result in a shift whereby charterers increasingly may take over the role as shipowner to include vessel operations within the entire logistical chain in order to meet environmental requirements, citing online retail giant Amazon as a possible candidate.

This trend is already evident in Norway where grocery supplier Asko is developing an autonomous and electrically powered vessel to cross the Oslo fjord to cut the need for more pollutive truck delivery over long distances.

The advent of more digitalised ship operations does though present an increased cyber-security risk for fleet assets as a vessel’s legacy computer systems are more vulnerable to hacking when hooked up to a wider network.

While the breach of a company’s administrative IT system can have a reputational and financial impact, a data attack on onboard operation and control (OT) systems can endanger the safety of a vessel and its crew, for example by exposing it to piracy.

A disturbing increase in such OT incidents in recent years – including notable attacks on Cosco and Maersk – has given rise to new IMO regulations on cyber-security effective from this year.