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A turn of the page – a class view of 2020 and looking forward to 2021

This year – 2020 – has been a very strange year so says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen DNV GL’s CEO – Maritime speaking to ShipInsight in late December. “We never expected any of this at the beginning and the industry has certainly been put to the test, but it has come through exceptionally well and adapted quickly to changing conditions,” he added.

For Ørbeck-Nilssen, despite all the tragedy that the pandemic has brought with it, it has also been a catalyst for change within the shipping industry. It has brought out the best and worse of attitudes and endeavours and nowhere is this more evident that in the treatment of seafarers who he says have kept the supply of essential goods moving under circumstances that few workers would find tolerable for days let alone months. Although there has been unity within shipping, and the UN through the IMO and ILO has manged to get heads of state engaged, the situation still has not been satisfactorily resolved.

This has implications for safety says Ørbeck-Nilssen, saying that fatigued seafarers will have reduced capacity to react to safety situations. He also pays tribute to the industry’s unsung heroes – the charitable organisations such as Missions to Seafarers and their work to provide support through initiatives such as The Flying Angel Campaign. “We are very happy to have been able to assist their work through our contributions,” he said.

Turning to operational matters, Ørbeck-Nilssen says that the increased use of remote services has been a massive boost to the digitalisation of shipping. Arguably the amazing uptake of remote services would not have been possible were it not for the fact that DNV GL had already begun rolling out some services two years ago.

Despite the boost from remote services, DNV GL’s head still believes that there is a great deal of value in having surveyors onboard for many of the surveys. “We need to find the right equilibrium” he said, “Going forward getting the balance right is the challenge for 2021”.

On cruise shipping, Ørbeck-Nilssen hopes that the CIP-M initiative it launched in the summer in conjunction with DNV Healthcare will soon allow the cruise sector to return to some semblance of normality. The no sail orders have badly hit cruising but he says the uptake of infection control measures has been encouraging and will help shipping to deal with COVID today and any similar events in future. He sees the cruise to nowhere strategy as an interesting development along with the fact that cruise ships today are effectively a destination in their own right but thinks that cruise passengers will still demand the traditional cruise with diverse destinations as the standard offering.

Looking ahead

At some point, the problems of the pandemic will fade but shipping still has many hurdles to clear says Ørbeck-Nilssen. Decarbonisation is clearly at the top of the list and will not move as financiers make use of the Poseidon Principle to limit finance to only the cleanest designs and other stakeholders demand shipping makes its contribution to reducing their own carbon footprint.

Within shipping, the emergence of the EEXI and CII are new challenges and Ørbeck-Nilssen says shipowners need to figure out where they are in relation to likely EEXI ratings. Whether ESDs, alternative fuels, engine power limitation or a combination of measures is necessary, needs to be identified he says.

However, there are other developments that are happening such as alternative fuels and the IMO starting to realise that technologies are being installed on ships that give efficiencies and emission reductions but which are not yet recognised or accounted for in the EEDI and EEXI ratings. With a new Phase 4 of EEDI being mooted for 2030 these are things that will engender debate at IMO. They may not be settled in 2021 but with MEPC 76 set to adopt new proposals in June, the groundwork for future strategies needs to begin to be laid.

Of course new technologies do not reach maturity overnight and Ørbeck-Nilssen believes that the best available means to take decarbonisation forward is LNG and that is likely to be the case for one or two vessel generations. It will not be the only new fuel with many more on the horizon. Methanol and ammonia also look to have great potential.

Making use of large data sets is another area where advances will be made. Today the industry is just scratching at the surface in machine learning and with AI some of the information contained in the data that is being collected will be able to be better utilised. Co-operation and collaboration are essential making use of data on a large scale and here Ørbeck-Nilssen believes that DNV GL’s Veracity platform will be a major enabler.