The new year is here and we wish global peace is sustained so that maritime trade can thrive. Anyway this is a new year of new shipping activities globally. For many seafarers, shipowners, scholars , policy makers, regulators and others, it is a year for reinvention in shipping. Some industry experts and maritime scholars also see the year 2023 as a year of challenges and opportunities.
Shipping is one of the most competitive industries globally with gains and losses fluctuating depending on the global economy. Now that world’s development bank (World Bank) has predicted a global GDP growth of 1.7 percent in the new year, one wonders how this prediction will affect shipping worldwide.
Since the beginning of 2023, maritime scholars have been carefully analyzing and suggesting how to move shipping forward in the new year. There are climate change and safety concerns expressed by organizations, national and multinational institutions. The new year hopefully will provide another opportunity for global shipping community to reflect on past activities and find ways and means of moving forward with renewed inventions in the next 52 weeks.
There are challenges arising from ships’ vulnerabilities. Despite the criticality of shipping to global trade, maritime infrastructure remains vulnerable and largely insecure. These vulnerabilities are increasingly becoming problematic because the incentive is always there for attackers to target maritime infrastructure.
Despite the criticality of shipping to global trade, maritime infrastructure remains vulnerable and largely insecure
Since ships play a critical role within the global supply chain, attacks on shipping will have far-reaching consequences. Simple cyber penetration can lead to ship collision, sinking and explosions of vessels leading to significant collateral damage. The problem of piracy is not over. Piracy is still rampant in many areas with modern pirates deploying advance tools provided by cyber criminals.
There would be opportunities in shipping this year. Regarding survival of shipping, it has been said many times before that partnership and collaboration are crucial for shipping business to respond to enormous challenges it faces. This is time for collective action. The maritime industry globally is full of bright creative , enthusiastic and caring men and women. When they come together to solve a problem, the potential is enormous.
So, collective action must be sustained. Take for instance, the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network – a simple idea that involves a network of shipowners globally to work together to eliminate corruption in the maritime industry. About a decade later, industry sources revealed that more than half of the industry is onboard and through international best practices, sharing and collective action, real progress is being made to solve a problem that no one thought could be solved – corruption. We need to apply the same strategy to carbon reduction and biodiversity.
The prime goal for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the new year, according to the Sec Gen is to:
“Achieve the adoption of the revised IMO Strategy on reduction of the Greenhouse Gas Emission from shipping raising our level of ambition, showcasing IMO’s determined maritime de carbonization commitment and providing a framework to ensure we leave no one behind. This will set the sector’s trajectory for the future and contribute to the global fight against climate change.”
Transition to zero-emission in shipping is not only about technology and fuels but also, incorporating a people-centered approach. In order to safely transition to alternative fuels within the designated timeline, it’s the industry’s responsibility to ensure that skills and competencies of the future workforce match the needs of the industry globally. Going through a research analysis by the Just Transition Maritime Task Force and Det Norske Veritas (DNV) suggests that to align with the Paris 1.5 degrees Celsius trajectory, about 400,000 seafarers will require essential training or retraining as well as skill upgrade by 2030 and 800,000 will require essential training by mid-2030.
In the new year, most seafarers will continue to be our unsung heroes. Seafarers who often make great sacrifices to enable global trade must be acknowledged in appreciation of their hard work. But for the efforts of seafarers globally, the world was able to avoid humanitarian crisis by transporting vital grain supplies out of the war-torn Ukraine last year. Looking at the years ahead, one can say that seafarers will always lead in all the work the shipping industry does while hoping that the industry gives them the necessary support they need. It means that the safety of all seafarers across the globe must be priority.
We would like to see onboard safety improved so that seafarers do not risk their lives on duty. Most importantly, the IMO and industry partner should work in concert to improve safety in enclosed spaces and life boats. It would be worthwhile to see an end to the “blame culture” when investigating accidents at sea. Let’s look beyond what mistakes seafarers may have made and dig down further to understand what drove them to take the decisions they did. The root cause of the accident or incident are vital to avert future occurrences. There should be more to learn from marine incidents.
All stakeholders in the maritime industry are concerned about seeing an improved safety on ships but to achieve this, we need to be transparent. Everyone should be confident they can be open and honest about “what happened” and “why it happened” without any fear of retribution. From a personal experience, marine accident investigation requires special skills and training but the task can be made easier if seafarers feel safe in admitting their mistakes.
The new year 2023 obviously will be a year with both many challenges and huge opportunities. Ahead of all is the green transition of the global fleet. This demands higher ambitions from world leaders to succeed. Global expectations from the maritime industry is carbon neutrality by 2050. This will require huge investments into research and development worldwide alongside much higher demands and better enforcement across boarders. Africa cannot afford to be a laggard in research and development endeavors in shipping.
Shortage of skilled labor is global. At the national level, relevant authorities should be looking into having the needed amount of skilled labor which is a big challenge at the moment. The global way forward is to reward the sustainable choice – building new ships, retrofitting and improving the current fleet with provision of needed amount of new green fuels. We should see to ensuring strong global enforcement of international regulations and faster implementation of decisions from the IMO.
It would have been nice if maritime nations can work together at all levels and between each link in the supply chain connected to the ship. Without sustainable shipping industry, global trade will grind to a halt – the transportation of raw materials, food, energy products and finished products would stop. However, ships need fuel to move and the new environmental protection regulations that has come into force on 1 January 2023 mean everyone- energy giants, manufacturers, shipyards, charterers – will need to take their share of the responsibility or risk their share of the transition being delayed.
Read also: Rethinking maritime trade in Africa
Shipping has been more reactive than proactive. Those in the maritime industry must embrace change and bold transformations. Why, do we say this? Old -school mindsets, strategies or practices, no longer deliver, not in the long term at least. Currently, the situation demands an urgent need for open mindedness, innovation and forward-looking mentality. While shipping still has its own unique story to tell, we need to learn lessons from other sectors of the economy, embrace broader trends which are transformative on a scale larger than shipping. Shipowners and other stakeholders in the maritime industry must work smarter in order to modernize the industry and secure it for a prominent place in tomorrow’s world.
For those seafarers who are away from home and loved ones as well as those poor conditions or caught in around conflict zones and are not sure when they will see their families, Human Rights at Sea May bring a ray of hope. Human Rights at Sea continues to bring hope to seafarers onboard state-owned and commercial vessels who need help, protection and justice throughout the maritime environment. One can only hope that fundamental human rights protection would be better applied at sea as they are on land.
Sailors will not be in the same ship, but they will all likely be in the same storm. This calls for unity, resilience and courage to fight for what is right in 2023 and beyond. Those of us ashore who have related or are still relating with the maritime community ought to keep at the forefront of our minds the people who sail the world’s ocean. Even though some of us may be sitting at a desk ashore rather than standing on the bridge of a ship, we must work together. This columnist is optimistic that in the end we will succeed to have a greener planet. Working together, sharing best practices and taking collective action, we will find solutions to challenges at sea. And together the maritime industry worldwide will be made cleaner and safer for all.
As seafarers ride the waves in the new year when strong tides lifts, wild wind blows and the cables strain, may their anchors remain firm, and not drift. Wishing all seafarers fair wind and following sea in the new year. Thank you.