Hidden Pollution From Shipping Threatens Sustainable Ocean Efforts

in International Shipping News 25/02/2021

Ships are the polluting ‘elephants in the room’ nobody is talking about despite a global drive to make oceans cleaner, according to new research.

Nearly every vessel, from commercial vessels to day-tripper yachts, are continually releasing substantial amounts of toxic metals into the sea, according to the study.

The study, led by Dr Gordon Watson, of the University of Portsmouth, coincides with the launch of the United Nations ‘Decade of Ocean Science’ to focus on healthy seas and a ‘sustainable blue economy’.

Dr Watson said: “It’s ironic that as the world is working really hard to remove plastic pollution, there is, at the same time, highly polluting vessels continuing to pollute the seas right under our noses.

“The United Nations and the world want healthy seas with sustainable ocean policies awash with more offshore wind farms, aquaculture, and sustainable tourism. All those aims are laudable, but toxic metals from shipping, which is critical to all these activities, is a hidden threat to healthy seas and nobody’s really talking about it.”

Alongside educating boat owners on using less toxic anti-fouling paints and anodes, Dr Watson and colleagues call for urgent legislation to ensure that shipping is front and centre of sustainable ocean policies.

The researchers studied data from the 1980s on the amounts of toxic metals in sediments of the English Channel region from over 300 coastal and offshore sites.

Although they found a steady reduction in overall levels of metal contamination in the seabed from the 1980s, 2010-13 showed an increase partially linked to specific metals involved in shipping activities.

The researchers calculated that all vessels from a sailing boat to a cruise liner release substantial amounts of metals such as copper, zinc and nickel, which then accumulate in the ocean’s sediments.

Copper is used as a biocide in paints to prevent organisms from growing on hulls. These anti-fouling paints are recoated regularly to ensure that the hull remains clean of encrusting barnacles and other marine organisms that slow down boats, making shipping more expensive.

Nearly all boats also have metal blocks attached beneath the waterline. Often called sacrificial anodes, their role is to degrade first, thereby protecting the hull from corrosion and these are often made of zinc.

Finally, increasing numbers of diesel-powered ships have had scrubbers fitted to reduce the emissions of harmful gases to the atmosphere. An unintended consequence of this is the discharge of waste water with high concentrations of metals such as nickel during the exhaust-gas cleaning process.

The Channel is the world’s busiest waterway, used by hundreds of vessels a day, both commercial and leisure craft, and Dr Watson sees the research findings as a ‘canary in the mine’ for global ocean health.

Shipping – both commercial and leisure – is likely to grow as investment takes off in the global blue economy, a bid to ensure the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.

The study is published in Environment International.Full Report

Source: University of Portsmouth

Global supply chains choke under tsunami of freight

in International Shipping News 13/02/2021

With global supply chains buckling under huge order volumes and a confluence of disruptive forces, shippers should prepare for 2021 to be a perpetual peak season across all transport modes, logistics experts warn.

Competition for freight space is so fierce that companies will need to pay exorbitant premiums to get on planes and vessels and apply more flexible shipping methods to avoid delays.

And the unusual move to keep factories open during the long Chinese New Year holiday means freight transportation systems won’t have a chance to draw down shipments stacking up at ports and loading docks.

“There will be no slack season this year,” said Brian Bourke, chief growth officer at Chicago-based SEKO Logistics, during a video briefing for reporters on Monday.

How upside down is the market? With container vessels overbooked, shippers paying record rates and surcharges to secure space, and congested terminals forcing vessels to wait days for a berth, SEKO’s ocean freight sales team is now selling airfreight as an alternative mode for customers that need goods quickly, he said.

And airfreight, which is normally about eight times more expensive than ocean transport, is no panacea. Demand is expected to grow by double digits after recovering from the depths of the coronavirus crisis last summer, while cargo capacity remains about 20% below 2019 levels because of the extensive reduction in passenger flights.

On major trade corridors, planes are flying full and rates are two to three times higher than normal. Load factors on a key trans-Atlantic route, for example, were higher in January — above 80% on average — than in November and December, typically a much busier shipping period, according to CLIVE Data Services. So many flights are full that some carriers are telling customers they cannot guarantee capacity commitments.

Port congestion ripple effects

The import/export bottlenecks are all related to the COVID pandemic.

Companies are building up inventories that diminished when the global economy locked down last spring. Demand for medical supplies from China to combat the virus remains high. Meanwhile, consumers have shifted spending from services to things they can enjoy at home or outdoors while observing social distancing rules. Hot items on e-commerce platforms include treadmills, hot tubs, TVs, surround-sound systems, bicycles and ski equipment.

The U.S. Congress is also preparing a new coronavirus stimulus package, with more unemployment benefits and $1,400 checks for people making $75,000 or below, which is likely to spur another round of robust e-commerce purchases for goods made in Asia.

The V-shaped recovery in container shipping, with some 5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) pushed from the first half of the year into the second half, has strained the industry’s capacity to the limits. Industry analysts say every available vessel is deployed, but it’s not enough to handle such a quick shift in volume.

Meanwhile, COVID infections and quarantines have reduced the number of available longshoremen in the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex to work ships and get containers on trucks, leading to massive port congestion. Ships are falling behind schedule as they wait more than five days for a berth. It can take another five days to get containers through the terminals to surrounding warehouses or onto trains, with drivers waiting up to two hours to enter the gate.

There are currently 31 container vessels anchored offshore, with an estimated 310,000 TEUs worth of stranded goods, according to the Maritime Exchange of Southern California.

East Coast, European and U.K. ports are experiencing similar challenges, to varying degrees.

On-time reliability for vessels has dropped to 45%, according to Denmark-based maritime research and advisory firm Sea-Intelligence ApS. And the latest monthly report from Ocean Insights shows record-breaking rates of containers being rolled from a scheduled vessel to a later departure, with industry leader Maersk posting a 14% increase in January year-over-year.

(Source: Sea-Intelligence)

Vessel delays and a shortage of containers are having a corresponding effect in China, where shipments are also piling up.

Normally, shipping volumes hit a lull in late December, tick up for a few weeks in February and early March to make up the slack following the Lunar New Year and then ease back until late summer as companies stock up for back-to-school and the holidays.

Factories typically close during Chinese New Year for more than a week as people flock from coastal cities to inland provinces to celebrate with their families in what is considered the largest human migration in the world. Ocean carriers temporarily pull many vessels from their schedules to avoid sailing half empty. When businesses reopen, there is huge transportation demand to move postponed shipments. The schedule puts pressure on businesses to tightly manage inventory, production timelines and shipping deadlines to make sure they can deliver during the seasonal rush before and after the holiday window.

No shipping lulls

But the Chinese New Year holiday, which begins Friday, won’t provide much breathing room for transport providers this year. Chinese authorities are discouraging “nonessential” travel to contain a new wave of the coronavirus. Many manufacturers have announced they will continue production through the holiday period to clear backlogs of orders.

Congestion problems are expected to persist without the normal pause to help clear out shipments.

Last year, ocean carriers cut 112 vessel departures at Chinese ports, or about 20% of capacity. Through Monday, there were only 63 blank sailings announced for the holiday period, and the primary reason was because of the huge rotation issues, not a decrease in demand, said SEKO’s Akhil Nair, vice president of global carrier management and ocean strategy.

Air backlogs could also grow because a large number of freighter flights were canceled weeks ago in anticipation of a dead shipping period, according to Flexport, a San Francisco-based freight management company.

Chinese COVID safety measures are impacting freight transport in other ways too.

Truckers arriving at coastal ports from western provinces have to pass three different levels of COVID testing along the journey and the outbreaks have raised fears that domestic travel could be completely locked down by the government like it did a year ago, said Nair, who is based in Hong Kong.

Truck capacity is also scarce in logistics hubs because there was a large exodus of drivers who left before the Lunar New Year in anticipation of possible travel restrictions. Ocean Insight reported the truckers are subject to mandatory quarantine by traveling home and in some regions, especially the south, up to 95% of truckers will be unavailable.

And shipping along the Pearl River delta is disrupted after barge and small-vessel operators that feed the deepwater ports stopped accepting cargo for 10 days or more because of additional COVID testing in South China and Hong Kong. The entire region is switching to trucks to try and move cargo all the way to the Yantian International Container Terminal in Shenzhen and the Port of Hong Kong.

On Sunday, the Yantian terminal increased the cutoff time for deliveries to container yards from two days to a week before vessel departure in an effort to reduce truck queues that stretch for miles.

Meanwhile, there are no empty containers for trucks to take back because shipping lines only plan to release them five days before vessel departure. With nowhere to go, cargo is piling up in warehouses.

“You have a chicken-and-egg syndrome. If you get a container, you can’t get it back in for the ship. And if you don’t get a container anyway, which you were waiting for, you can’t move your cargo out,” Nair said.

He predicted the confluence of transportation woes — terminal restrictions, driver shortages, continued factory production and limited vessel supply — will reach a crescendo next week.

“These conditions will choke factory-port connectivity starting in about two weeks, with inventory backups lasting for months,” Ocean Insight said.

And that’s not all.

Vietnam’s Tet holiday coincides with Chinese New Year and many Chinese-owned factories there plan to keep operating this year, which will lead to large backlogs because shipping lines prioritize putting empties first in China. Intra-Asia feeder routes that carry raw materials and semi-manufactured goods for assembly plants also get second-class treatment so shipping lines can use scarce boxes for the high-yielding transoceanic markets.

Nair said if the equipment shortages continue in Vietnam and other countries, orders that left China when U.S. tariffs increased during the Trump administration could temporarily pivot back to China.

“Post-Chinese New Year is not going to be a recovery but a continuous elongation of this situation,” Nair said. “We’re not going to see a big spike in bookings because the bookings are already there, but we don’t have the equipment or the trucks [to ship goods] or the port won’t let them in.”

The situation underscores how China’s ports are intertwined with those around the world.

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve seen almost every trade area in a peak,” Nair said. “Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and India — everyone is peaking at the same time, so no carrier’s equipment ratio is going to be OK and cover this type of continual peak.”

Some retailers are suggesting their ordering may normalize by June, but even so, logistics providers say there will be a strong shoulder season until the volumes start building in August for holiday in the West.

“It looks like there may be issues all year because you get to a certain point and then you get back into peak again,” Jim Monkmeyer, president of transportation for DHL Supply Chain North America, said in an interview. “I don’t think we’re going to catch a break.”

Pay the piper

Until very recently, ocean shipping was a commodity business with carriers undercutting each on price for market share. But ongoing financial hardship led to massive consolidation and capacity discipline, with some carriers offering differentiated services.

Last summer, carriers offered guaranteed vessel loading or terminal discharge for $800 to $1,750 per box. Today, the definition between standard and premium service is blurred on the import side. Just getting cargo on the ship requires a premium and those slots are going for $1,750 to $4,000, said Chris Capodanno, SEKO’s vice president of product development and strategic client solutions.

U.S. exporters, who normally enjoy lower rates because of less backhaul demand, are also forced to pay premiums to secure a box because carriers are so keen to get empties back to China as fast as possible. Agriculture producers and other shippers, often located far inland for ports, are crying foul, saying the carriers are violating shipping law by abandoning service commitments.

U.S. domestic intermodal and rail shipments out of Southern California are also experiencing heavy delays. DHL’s Monkmeyer noted that transit times to the East Coast could take a week longer than normal, which is impacting several technology companies that manufacture in the region or across the border in Mexico.

Railroads, much like parcel companies did during the pre-Christmas rush, are capping how much volume shippers can send through the system and charging a $1,500 surcharge for any containers above their limit, Monkmeyer said.

The latest TEU tender forecast on FreightWaves’ SONAR freight data platform shows imports into the Port of Los Angeles declining over the next month and increasing in Long Beach. The data suggests the conditions for greater congestion and tight truck capacity continuing, or even increasing, since Long Beach typically handles freight going out via long-haul truck and rail. And total outbound loaded rail container volumes out of the ports and Inland Empire are elevated as well, according to SONAR, which may partially explain why outbound truckload volumes have trended down in the past couple of weeks.

Logistics response

SEKO Logistics is managing the chaos with a number of efforts. At the top of the list is accurate forecasting.

Capodanno said the freight forwarder is partnering with customers to conduct rolling four- to eight-week demand forecasts and adding new digital tools to manage the entire booking process, from price quote to allocation. The company also closely monitors suppliers’ production schedules at origin to nail down cargo-ready dates for pickup at the port.

When the 40-foot containers arrive on the West Coast, they are immediately trucked to a cross-dock, sorted by destination and loaded into 53-foot domestic containers for expedited truck transport to other cities across the country.

Shipping lines are beginning to divert traffic to other ports and logistics providers like SEKO are helping customers find alternate routes, but the ports of Oakland and Seattle-Tacoma are also forcing vessels to wait as back ups begin.

Express shipping services have become a popular middle options between airfreight and standard multi-port schedules, but their value is decreased if there is no room to unload.

Peloton (NASDAQ: PTON) last week said it would spend $100 million to address supply chain bottlenecks that are slowing delivery of its bike equipment, including for airfreight and fast-ship services.
Source: Freight Waves

Ocean container losses topple annual average in 2 months

in International Shipping News 10/02/2021

The World Shipping Council issued an eye-opening report last July. What seemed like a steady stream of vessel fires, capesizes and container losses was in fact a small drop in the global ocean shipping bucket. A WSC study found a tiny fraction, about .0006%, of the roughly 226 million containers shipped on the world’s oceans each year were lost.

WSC reported on average only 1,382 containers were lost at sea per year between 2018 and 2019. So what’s going on? Between Nov. 30 and Jan. 31, more than 2,675 containers were lost in five incidents at sea. That’s almost double the annual average in just a two-month period.

MSC Aries

Most of the accidents have occurred in the North Pacific, including the most recent, the reported loss of 41 containers from the MSC Aries last Friday. All 41 containers lost overboard reportedly were empties being moved back to China to be refilled.

An MSC spokesperson did not confirm the number of containers lost but did tell American Shipper, “No cargo went overboard, according to preliminary reports from the vessel.”

The Aries is deployed on MSC’s Sequoia service, with a port rotation of the Port of Long Beach in California and Ningbo and Shanghai, China.

The ship “met with heavy weather while en route from Long Beach to Ningbo, impacting a limited number of empty containers,” the MSC spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the MSC Aries berthed Thursday at the Port of Ningbo, “where a survey is taking place to assess the status of any containers damaged on board and any further action to take. We expect the vessel to resume service soon after the survey.”

Built in only 2020, according to VesselFinder, the container ship can carry a reported 14,300 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Maersk Essen

The Maersk Essen lost 750 containers Jan. 16 while sailing from Xiamen, China, to the Port of Los Angeles. Maersk said the 13,100-TEU Essen “experienced heavy seas during her North Pacific crossing.”

The Essen changed course after the loss of the containers and sailed for the Port of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico, where it berthed last Saturday.

Representatives from W K Webster, which describes itself as “the world’s leading service provider in the settlement of cargo claims,” are in Lazaro Cardenas and providing updates.

“Our team of surveyors are in place at Lazaro Cardenas to undertake surveys as cargo operations proceed and to ascertain the status of all the containers we represent. We are liaising with representatives of the vessel locally to agree to a protocol for the inspection of containers and the procedures for reloading containers, cross-stuffing cargoes into replacement containers and, in some cases, for the probable disposal/salvage sale of cargo considered to be a total loss,” W K Webster said.

It said the surveyors also were studying drone footage of the Maersk Essen as it approached Lazaro Cardenas. W K Webster said the footage was removed from its website at Maersk’s request.

“Following cargo operations at Lazaro Cardenas, the most likely scenario is that containers discharged ashore — or transloaded — will be reloaded to the vessel for on-carriage to Los Angeles as originally intended,” one update said. “Due to significant port congestion at Los Angeles/Long Beach, Maersk has not ruled out transshipping to alternative vessels or possibly rerouting containers by rail. Whichever plan is ultimately adopted, it is clear that there will be significant delay to cargoes reaching their final destinations.”

The operations in Lazaro Cardenas could take several weeks “given the complexity and dangers involved,” W K Webster noted.

“We continue to liaise with the vessel’s representatives regarding the status of the containers to accurately determine which containers were lost overboard and the stowage positions of those remaining on board,” it said.

A Maersk spokesperson told American Shipper the Essen is “undergoing standard discharge of damaged containers and weather-related repairs” at the Mexican port.

He said the Essen is estimated to sail from Lazaro Cardenas for the Port of LA between Feb. 12 and 16, “resuming regular TP6 string scheduled calls.” The TP6 service connects Asia and North America, with the only U.S. call at the Port of LA.

ONE Apus

In one of the worst cases of cargo losses on record, the ONE Apus lost 1,816 containers about 1,600 nautical miles northwest of Hawaii after reportedly sailing into a severe storm Nov. 30.

The Apus, which had been en route to the Port of Long Beach, turned around and sailed for the Port of Kobe in Japan, arriving there Dec. 8.

W K Webster also has a crew in Kobe and said that as of Wednesday, 638 containers had been discharged from the Apus, which has a carrying capacity of 14,052 TEUs.

“Progress is still relatively slow, although the rate of discharge does appear to be increasing slightly as the most severely damaged containers are discharged, leaving others that are more easily handled to be removed. It is still likely to be a few more weeks before discharge is completed and necessary repairs made to the vessel,” W K Webster said.

“Details of the status of each container still does not include details of those containers thought to be lost overboard as a result of the incident. It is presently unclear whether this will be revealed by a process of elimination as the discharge operation at Kobe concludes or whether earlier information will be made available,” it continued. “A declaration of general average now seems very unlikely. We are pressing [ONE] to formally confirm this so that this issue can be finally put to rest and our clients’ concerns allayed.”

General average basically requires shippers to contribute to the expenditures made to preserve a ship and its cargo. Most cargo insurance policies protect a shipper’s merchandise from physical loss or damage and cover general average losses.

What caused such a massive number of containers to fall from the Apus, which made its maiden voyage in the spring of 2019, reportedly has not yet been determined.

“Investigations into the cause of the incident continue, but a physical attendance by our appointed expert has been delayed as a result of the owner’s current refusal to grant access to the vessel, citing safety issues,” W K Webster said this week. “We still intend this inspection to take place in due course when permitted, including an inspection of all relevant physical evidence that [ONE has] agreed to preserve.”

A reply to American Shipper’s email to ONE for additional information simply said, “Discharging of damaged containers is still ongoing at Kobe. Kindly understand we disclose details only to the customers.”

The loss of 1,816 containers in a single incident certainly jumps out. But even with the case of the Apus subtracted, the number of containers lost in the last two months is by a far cry outpacing the annual average.

Ever Liberal

Taiwanese carrier Evergreen Marine’s Ever Liberal lost a reported 36 containers after encountering strong winds in the Pacific about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Kyushu, Japan, on Dec. 31. An additional 21 containers reportedly fell onto the deck.

The Ever Liberal had sailed from Busan, South Korea, bound for the Port of LA. Evergreen told the Taiwan News that the container ship diverted to Taipei to survey the damage.

According to VesselFinder, the Ever Liberal arrived at the Port of LA last Sunday and was due to berth in Oakland, California, on Thursday.

Built in 2014, the Ever Liberal has a capacity of 8,452 TEUs.

E.R. Tianping

Israeli carrier ZIM reportedly lost 76 containers last month from the chartered ship E.R. Tianping.

The incident also occurred in the Pacific as the container ship was making its way from South Korea to North America.

The 2006-built Tianping did visit the ports of Vancouver and Seattle at the end of January. It now is sailing for Busan, with an estimated arrival next Wednesday.

ZIM did not respond to American Shipper’s requests for comment.

Giulia 1

While no cargo reportedly was lost, rough seas are being blamed for the death of a crew member from the bulk carrier Giulia 1 off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, last Saturday.

According to reports, the Giulia 1 was about 320 nautical miles southeast of Nova Scotia when it was hit by the wave. One crew member, said to be a 30-year-old Filipino man, was killed and three others reportedly suffered injuries.

The bulk carrier reportedly had sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, and was bound for Africa when the incident occurred. The Giulia then diverted to the Port of Halifax, where it arrived Sunday.

Transport Canada told American Shipper that it inspected the vessel Wednesday and “issued a deficiency notice under the Maritime Labour Convention and the International Safety Management Code. The vessel will remain alongside at the Port of Halifax pending rectification of all items to the satisfaction of port state control.”

Transport Canada did not say what those deficiencies were.
Source: Freight Waves

Scania joins forces with other transport giants to make Scandinavia’s largest port fossil-​free

To speed up the transition to fossil-free fuels in the transport sector, Scania joins forces with Volvo Group, Stena Line, and the Port of Gothenburg. The collaboration will ensure a reduction in carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 linked to the largest port in Scandinavia.

Trade and freight transport are vital to expand public welfare and ensure function and development of society. The transport sector is also a complex system, where different modes of transport and organisations collectively face big climate challenges.

“No single organisation or individual hold the key to the challenges ahead. Collaboration is crucial and we are pleased to bring on board two of the world’s largest truck manufacturers and the world’s largest ferry company. With our collective expertise, breadth, and market presence we can make a real difference,” says Elvir Dzanic, Gothenburg Port Authority chief executive.

Tranzero Initia­tive

Named the “Tranzero Initiative”, this venture focuses on the one million truck transports and the 55,000 tonnes of carbon emissions generated from road transports to and from the Port of Gothenburg annually. The Initiative also includes electrification of sea transport.

The companies involved will introduce a series of interlinked measures to accelerate the switch to fossil-free fuels. This has already commenced with a needs analysis and mapping of freight flows.

Gothenburg Port Authority will produce the necessary infrastructure and access to fossil-free fuels for heavy vehicles. Scania and Volvo will put commercial offerings in place for their heavy truck customers, ensuring that land transport becomes fossil free in accordance with the goals laid down by the port. Stena Line will also have a key role by ensuring new fossil-free vessels are brought into service on the Gothenburg-Frederikshavn route by 2030.

Welcomed by the Swedish govern­ment

The Tranzero Initiative is welcomed by the Swedish government and is in line with the ambition for Sweden to become the world’s first fossil-free country.

“We have had a long-standing exchange of views and ideas with the government regarding our challenges, and our goals are the same. The transport sector needs to move away from its reliance on fossil fuels and with the Tranzero Initiative we are taking a monumental step forward,” Dzanic concludes.

The seafarer crisis — a shipping problem being passed from port to port

Stranded seafarers are getting increasing desperate. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
ANOOP KUMAR VASWANI/STUFFStranded seafarers are getting increasing desperate. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

A major maritime crisis is getting so bad some seafarers are injuring themselves just to get home.

The problem is turning up at our door. Some of these crews are arriving with unpaid wages. Others haven’t touched dry land since the start of the pandemic while a few are badly in need of medical assistance.

An estimated 400,000 seafarers are still on these ships despite their seafaring contracts having come to an end.

To go back to their families they need access to airports, so they can swap places with others.

The Government has passed provisions allowing things like crew changes (which are guaranteed under the Maritime Labour Convention) to happen, but that’s not the full story.

The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is criticising New Zealand for running a seemingly generous policy for these seafarers on paper, but then allowing local port companies and district health boards (DHBs) to nullify these policies by passing their own rules.

Left unaddressed the issue could lead to a major maritime accident in our waters, drive up costs and discourage some ships from visiting.PlayUnmuteCurrent Time 0:50/Duration 1:39Loaded: 100.00% FullscreenJOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFFThe Seafarers Mission chair says crews whose contracts have been extended by months without shore leave feel “imprisoned.”

ITF navigation section co-ordinator Fabrizio Barcellona says while New Zealand’s response to this issue has been good on some fronts a “bureaucratic maze” of local rules are making the country’s efforts look uncoordinated and “opaque”.

“We have to remember that hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been trapped working aboard these vessels since March last year,” Barcellona says.

“The seafarers aboard these ships don’t have Covid, they’ve been isolated for months. But they are tired and fatigued, working six or seven days a week to bring New Zealanders the goods, fuel, food and medical supplies the public needs.

“Jacinda Ardern’s Government can honour these seafarers’ sacrifice by respecting their rights and making its rules clear and easy to understand.”

Advocates are finding it difficult to get New Zealanders to care about the fate of seafarers. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
NEIL PATRICK M SISONAdvocates are finding it difficult to get New Zealanders to care about the fate of seafarers. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

Some seafarers have even found it difficult to get access to medical care here.

One needed his finger amputated, but was passed from port-to-port allegedly due to DHB objections to him coming on shore.

DHBs in the Wellington region argue it was the shipping company that didn’t want to wait, but people in the industry say extensive arrangements were made for the person to be treated in Wellington only for a chief medical office to reportedly say: “[the seafarer] is going to lose his finger anyway … [they] might as well lose it at the next port.”

A spokesman for Hutt Valley DHB says no medical officer at a Wellington hospital made this comment.

Shipping NZ President Thompson remembers the incident and says people in the industry had to get Maritime NZ involved just to get the person treated.

A food Transfer from ship to mainland food transfer overseas. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
SAMUEL ONGBIT JRA food Transfer from ship to mainland food transfer overseas. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

“This is the frustration we have. Why do we need to go to those … [lengths] to get medical treatment for somebody who needs it?

“It was kind of like one DHB passing the buck to another wasn’t it? That’s what it was.”

The Ministry of Health say it is not aware of any cases where mariners haven’t been able to secure “urgent” medical assistance and believe a case-by-case approach managed by DHBs is appropriate.

Several DHBs told Stuff they haven’t declined any requests for medical help from seafarers with one saying they’re treating one case a week.

Barcellona admits Covid-19 makes things like shore leave difficult, but argues the onus is on governments and health authorities to make it work.

“It is important for the mental and physical wellbeing of all people to be able to come ashore for a walk, a meal and some time in the sunshine.

One seafarer decides to make a visual joke in frustration at the difficulty of obtaining shore leave. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
CARLO DEUXSON SANTIAGOOne seafarer decides to make a visual joke in frustration at the difficulty of obtaining shore leave. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

“While traditional ‘shore leave’ may not be practical in the Covid era, governments must come up with solutions that allow seafarers shore leave in reasonable, managed ways.”

On paper, we have a workable system allowing shore leave and crew changes, but Thompson says ports have imposed onerous obligations on top of these.

District Health Boards also require people to return a negative test before they step off a ship, but there’s a catch here as well.

“They might have been tested in one port [in New Zealand] and all cleared, all negative, go to the next port with that form and the local DHB said ‘nah, that’s not acceptable for us,” Thompson says.

“Or you’re getting ports saying no they can’t have shore leave because we haven’t consulted with the community about crew coming ashore.”

The winning photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
IKE S DANGANDANANThe winning photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

Global investment funds are putting pressure on governments and shipping lines to solve this problem in part to comply with their own sustainability guidelines.

On December 21 a group of major investors (led by London-based money manager Fidelity International) who collectively hold US$2 trillion(NZ$2.8t) worth of investments in the shipping sector sent an open letter to the UN secretary-general saying the whole situation posed a risk to sustainable supply chains.

“This issue is presenting significant health and safety concerns.

“The environmental consequences of a serious maritime accident involving these cargoes could be catastrophic for our oceans and security.”

An ITF survey in September found 30 per cent of seafarers weren’t getting the medical assistance they needed while 59 per cent were being forced to extend their contracts and 11 per cent weren’t getting paid.

Yet it’s not all smooth sailing even if seafarers do get access to shore leave.

The public often cares more about what’s in the containers than the people who transport them. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
JOSEPH FURNESSThe public often cares more about what’s in the containers than the people who transport them. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

Auckland International Seafarers Centre port welfare co-ordinator Aaron Ironside says crew who get shore leave sometimes face a hostile reaction from the public.

Like one group who recently visited Tauranga.

“They were accosted in the supermarket by the public. Of course, the public knew what a crew looked like, they’d been seeing them for years,” Ironside says.

“Suddenly 10 Filipino guys [were] all standing together in the supermarket … [and members of the public] gave them a hard time, told them that they must have escaped the ship. That they shouldn’t be here.”

People like him are trying to get a handle on how these seafarers are coping, but Covid-19 restrictions are adding an extra layer of complexity.

Ports have their own rules for crew changes on top of Ministry of Health rules. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
CEO ANGELO D FAJARDOPorts have their own rules for crew changes on top of Ministry of Health rules. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

Ironside says his first physical contact with seafarers comes when he boards the gangway in full personal protection equipment (PPE).

“We visit at the top of the gangway. The open air. We don’t go inside the ship,” Ironside says.

“It’s a challenge … you’re wearing a mask, they’re wearing a mask. They’re from another country. Sometimes it’s not always easy to hear and understand each other, but we do our best.”

The day before Ironside spoke to Stuff he was working on behalf of seafarers who had spent more than 11 months at sea. Half of the crew on-board didn’t want to stay there any longer.

Seafarers cooling off at sea. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
RONALD ALAN MADRIDSeafarers cooling off at sea. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

“Some of the Fijian crew were not willing to sign another extension because they wanted to get back home. Their families had been affected by a cyclone. And we were helping encourage and motivate that change to happen.”

However, direct complaints from seafarers are rare because in countries like the Philippines twice as many people are trained to go to sea than there are jobs.

“A sailor is going to be very reluctant to tell you how tough it is because he does not want the company perceiving him to be any kind of problem,” Ironside says.

Inside the ‘bureaucratic maze’

Thompson says some port regulations effectively make crew changes impossible despite the existence of a special crew change visa.

Ports like Auckland and Tauranga require people who fly into the country for a crew change to spend 14 days in isolation before they board a ship, but the special visas they’re issued only last for two or three days.

If seafarers tried to comply with this rule, their visas would expire before they could board the ship.

“So basically we’re telling the industry you cannot do crew changes in Auckland or Tauranga,” Thompson says.

One seafarer seeking medical treatment was allegedly passed from DHB to DHB. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
VINCENT DWIGHT D RAFILOne seafarer seeking medical treatment was allegedly passed from DHB to DHB. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

A spokesman for Maritime NZ says 1200 crew changes have ta place over the past five months.

“The Government has set out the steps to follow and requirements that need to be met for shore leave and crew changes to take place safely.

“As separate commercial entities, ports are legally entitled to determine who can transit through their property.”

Barcellona says he’s disappointed the Government has allowed local port authorities to add extra barriers to seafarers to crew changes and shore leave.

“There is little benefit to be had from the prevalence of unpredictable, port-by-port, ad-hoc rules. An effective crew change system requires transparency and consistency.”

A ‘privilege’

You get the sense of how important shore leave is to seafarers when you talk to people like Jason Arances, who spoke via email while his ship was at the Ports of Auckland.

“I’m a Filipino sir, and it so happen I live in the stunning country like yours, Philippines.”

A lot of seafarers are getting increasingly desperate to head home. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust.
TIM ISADAA lot of seafarers are getting increasingly desperate to head home. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust.

On his current ship he generally spends midnight onwards on ‘bridge watch’. His big social time will come after dinner when members of his crew swap stories, engage in a bit of karaoke, or play Call of Duty on their laptops.

“In port [to] have this privilege shore leave just to have this feeling in yourself being human that you’re back in society after spending long at sea … sip some local/foreign beer in the [Seafarers’ mission] house while playing billiards, ping pong, darts.”

Country manager for Swire Shipping, Brodie Stevens, says the welfare of seafarers is important to shipowners and there is a need for someone to take the lead in creating a clear set of rules and procedures for crew changes and shore leave across the country.

The inside of a cargo ship can often resemble a large industrial site. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers' Trust..
JOHN RUFO M. BONTILAOThe inside of a cargo ship can often resemble a large industrial site. Photo from the ‘Still at Sea’ photo competition run by the Seafarers’ Trust..

“I think this is the challenge that the industry has now is to try and get some clear demarcation of who is responsible for what and what is the correct procedure.”

“It would be hard to expect someone to stay on the ship till the end of Covid. That’s just nigh on impossible.”

Cutting costs

Mission to Seafarers Oceania regional director Lance Lukin argues the financial viability of shipping is another problem.

Sailors have been turning up on our shores with unpaid wages. A sign some firms are so cash-strapped they can’t pay their workers.

These same firms are debating whether they should focus on more profitable routes through Asia and Australia during the pandemic, leaving our country with even less shipping capacity.

Lukin argues things like the ease of crew changes will factor into these debates.

“Shipping companies are making the financial decision do we travel all the way to New Zealand or do we do a lot of shorter hauls in bigger markets?”

Container ships wait to dock at the Ports of Auckland.
ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFFContainer ships wait to dock at the Ports of Auckland.

The stress and strain is already leading to some mysterious injuries.

Ironside says one such case popped up recently on a ship sailing out of Sydney with an Indian national who found out his father was unwell back home.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but suffice to say, within the next day he had a severe injury to his hand and had to be returned back to Sydney where he was flown home.

“And really I don’t know what happened to that man, but your two alternatives are he either harmed himself. Or, he was so distraught by being away from home that he had an industrial accident because his mind wasn’t on the job.

“Either way it’s terrible.”

Making shipping cleaner – is LNG the answer?

in International Shipping News 01/12/2020

As the global maritime sector tries to switch to liquified natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel source, there have been questions about how clean it really is and what else can be done to reduce the industry’s pollutive impact on the environment.

Since Jan 1, rules by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – a United Nations body that governs shipping – came into force, capping the sulphur content of ships’ fuel at 0.5 per cent, down from 3.5 per cent previously.

This has driven the industry towards LNG, which emits virtually no sulphur.

“LNG has significant environmental advantages over traditional bunker fuels which are heavy fuel oils,” said Dr Victor Nian, a senior research fellow with the National University of Singapore’s Energy Studies Institute.

“LNG typically produces lower emissions of CO2 and virtually no nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) or sulphur oxides (SOx),” he explained.

The natural gas has also become a more cost-competitive choice compared to conventional marine fuels, noted maritime expert Yap Wei Yim from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Dr Nian added that since LNG is a cleaner fuel, it could lead to the need for less maintenance as well as possibly longer lifespans for engines and other equipment in the long term.

He noted, however, that it would cost several million dollars per ship to adapt existing vessels to use LNG instead of heavy fuel oil, so retrofitting ships remains a barrier.

Not many ships currently run on LNG.

Singapore, the world’s largest marine refuelling hub selling about 50 million tonnes of bunker fuel per year, has been developing the infrastructure to support the use of LNG.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) licensed two LNG bunker suppliers – Pavilion Gas, which is a subsidiary of Pavilion Energy, and FueLNG, a joint venture between Shell and Keppel Offshore and Marine – and is expected to issue more of such licences in future.

“This has to be seen in the context of Singapore’s role as a major hub port in the world. While Singapore is well known as the world’s busiest container transhipment port as well as major port in terms of cargo tonnage, a significant proportion of port calls made at Singapore involves bunkering operations,” said Dr Yap, previously the head of strategic planning at MPA.

“In fact, more than 70 per cent of vessel arrivals measured by tonnage involved taking bunker in Singapore,” he noted.

Dr Yap also pointed to the “multiplier effects” brought about by the bunkering sector which contributes to other activities in the maritime cluster as well as the wider Singapore economy.

“It is thus important to remain relevant and responsive to the needs of shipping lines and making LNG fuel available in the world’s busiest port-of-call by vessel arrivals becomes crucial,” he said.


Yet questions have been raised about how clean LNG truly is.

The life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would take into account upstream activities such as production, liquefaction and transport, said Dr Nian.

“In a typical well-to-wake approach, there are studies suggesting that LNG’s advantages in terms of air pollution are not as great when compared with other fuels with regard to overall GHG emissions,” he said.

He noted that there might only be a difference of about 12 per cent when comparing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions between LNG and other marine fuels.

Dr Nian attributes this to methane slip – or the emission of unburned methane gas – when adapting engines from heavy fuel oils to LNG, although he suggests that engines designed specifically for the natural gas could improve this.

According to the IMO’s fourth greenhouse gas study released in August, there was a 150 per cent increase in methane emissions between 2012 and 2018, attributed to leaky engines on an increasing number of LNG-driven vessels.

Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The IMO does not currently regulate methane emissions, although bodies such as the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) have called on it to do so.

There are uncertainties over what the “best” long-term option is in terms ensuring cleaner marine fuel, said Dr Nian.

He added that a viable short-term solution is the use of scrubbers – or exhaust gas cleaning systems which remove particulate matter as well as sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

The cost of installation, however, could go up to US$4 million per vessel. Maintenance costs are also a challenge, in addition to the problem of waste disposal, he said.

Certain types of scrubbers release pollutants back into the sea after turning the sulphur dioxide into sulphuric acid, raising the ire of groups such as the ICCT.

The MPA has banned the use of such “open-loop” scrubbers within Singapore waters, and deemed their residues as toxic industrial waste.


Still, LNG looks to be the most competitive option right now in terms of price and environmental impact, said Dr Nian, although he noted that few ships today are able to run on LNG.

If major liners were to convert their ships or buy new ones that run on LNG, this could drive up its price, he said.

It also raises the question of whether there is enough natural gas to power the world’s shipping fleets, as well as the life cycle environmental impact of a wide-scale use of LNG.

There are other clean fuels in the works for shipping, including electrification, said Dr Nian, pointing to a seven-company Japanese consortium which earlier this year announced plans to develop zero-emissions electric tanker, as well as other alternatives such as biofuels.

Dr Yap pointed to other efforts aimed at making the maritime sector greener, such as the use of green building standards and eco-friendly construction methods in the development of new ports, as well as the use of monitoring systems to track greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of water and air.

Next year, MPA will launch its Maritime Singapore Decarbonisation Blueprint 2050, which will lay out plans on establishing the country as a sustainable maritime centre.

MPA and its partners will also set aside S$40 million under the Maritime GreenFuture Fund to be used for the research, test-bedding and adoption of low-carbon technologies.

Other observers said that LNG can be made even more eco-friendly.

In a blog post, energy research consultancy Wood Mackenzie pointed to “carbon-neutral” LNG, where carbon emissions associated with the upstream production liquefaction and transportation of the gas is offset through the purchase and use of carbon credits, which support reforestation or other renewable projects.

The firm noted that Pavilion Energy had issued a tender in March for 2 million metric tonnes per annum of LNG with specific criteria regarding its carbon footprint, which was won by Qatar Petroleum.

Ultimately, Singapore needs to evaluate whether the shipping industry here – including shipbuilding, maintenance, as well as the policy and regulatory infrastructure – can cope with a shift to LNG, said Dr Nian.

“Likewise, we also need to be aligned with the global industry movement towards LNG or other marine fuel to remain relevant as a major shipping hub,” he added.
Source: CNA

China to ease shortage of containers

in International Shipping News 07/12/2020

China will increase the supply of containers and tighten monitoring of the shipping market to further stabilize the rising logistics costs in international trade, a government official said.

Gao Feng, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, said during a news conference that shipments from China have played a vital role in stabilizing global supply chains and sustaining the global economy. However, some countries have been facing logistics issues due to the unequal distribution of containers, he said.

The Commerce Ministry will continue to work with related parties to provide more containers to the market, speed up the turnaround of containers, and help container manufacturers to expand productivity, the official said.

The China Container Industry Association said on Nov 27 that the surge in China’s exports and the low turnaround rate of containers from abroad have triggered an increased demand for containers of China origin since July. The association has urged the manufacturers of shipping containers to ramp up production and ease the shortage of containers.

Chinese container manufacturers have already extended the normal working hours from eight hours to 11 hours, and started making 300,000 twenty-foot equivalent units every month since September.

The association said that the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on production in countries around the world and the nearing of Christmas, a peak season for export of Chinese products to Europe and the United States, were part of the reasons for the shortage of containers.

According to the Shanghai Shipping Exchange, the average China Containerized Freight Index stood at 1,198 on Nov 27, up 4.6 percent on a weekly basis. The index tracks spot and contractual freight rates from Chinese container ports for 12 shipping routes across the globe, based on data from 22 international carriers.

Shanghai has handled 238,000 TEU containers through the railway-to-port model in the past 11 months, up 79 percent compared with the same period a year ago, China Railway Shanghai Group said on Wednesday. More than 30,000 containers were handled by this mode in September, a monthly record, it said.

The multimodal transportation of containers by railway and connecting ports is being promoted as more cost-effective, safer and more environment-friendly, the group said, predicting that more than 250,000 containers will be handled through this model this year.

The increased shipping through the new transport model is just one reflection of the rebound in the total container throughputs at ports across China since the country largely controlled the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Shanghai International Port Group, the total throughput of containers in Shanghai Port exceeded 40 million TEUs on Wednesday, marking the fourth consecutive year that the port broke the world record it set in 2017.

Nearly 15.5 million TEU containers were handled at the Tianjin Port from January to October, up 5.6 percent on a yearly basis, Tianjin Daily said in a recent report.

In southern China, the Guangzhou Port Group said it saw a container throughput of 15.8 million TEUs during the first nine months of the year, up by 1.5 percent on a yearly basis.

The surge in exports has also increased shipping rates, and containers in major freight lines have been booked up to 10 to 15 days before the shipping date, according to Guangzhou Daily.
Source: China Daily

Wallenius Marine develops world’s largest wind-powered vessel to slash shipping emissions

Swedish shipping company Wallenius Marine is developing a ship called Oceanbird, which could transport 7,000 cars and trucks across the Atlantic propelled only by the wind.

The concept, which is essentially an outsized sailboat, would be twice as high as the largest comparable vessel due to the five 80-metre-tall sails that protrude from its hull.

These purportedly would make it the world’s largest wind-powered vessel, capable of travelling across the ocean to the US at a speed of 10 knots and with a total journey time of 12 days.

Oceanbird will be the world's largest wind-powered vessel
Wallenius Marine claims that Oceanbird will be the world’s largest wind-powered vessel

According to Wallenius Marine, this is only four days longer than a carrier powered by fossil fuel while emitting 90 per cent less CO2 in the process.

Developed in collaboration with Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology and naval research institute SSPA, the Oceanbird project hopes to mitigate the environmental impact of maritime freight transport, which accounts for all but 10 per cent of trade in the whole world.

In 2018 alone, the shipping industry emitted 937 million tonnes of CO2, which is more than all of Germany. If it were a country, the sector would be the sixth-largest emitter in the world, just behind Japan.Related storyRolls-Royce touts remote-controlled cargo ship as “future of the maritime industry”

“We only have one planet and it’s important that we take responsibility and ensure that this planet will be a good place to live for future generations,” said Wallenius Marine’s COO Per Tunell.

“Shipping plays a very important role in today’s society but it’s also a large contributor to harmful emissions and that cannot continue, so we need to act.”

In order to try and rival the speed of an engine-powered ship, the Oceanbird would make use of wingsails rather than traditional fabric sails. These resemble solid fins made of steel and various composites, much like the wings of an airplane.

Wallenius Marine develops Oceanbird as world's largest wind-powered vessel
The ship is propelled forwards by five wingsails

“Airplane wings are asymmetrical in profile because they should only produce a lift upwards,” explained the ship’s naval architect Carl-Johan Söder.

“But our wings are symmetrical because we should be able to produce lift regardless of if you have wind coming in from the port tack [left side] or the starboard tack [right side of the ship]. The wings can rotate 360 degrees so you can optimise the angle depending on the wind direction relative to the ship.”

They are also telescopic, meaning they could be retracted to 60 metres in order to pass under bridges and mitigate turbulence caused by strong winds.

Wallenius Marine develops Oceanbird as world's largest wind-powered vessel
It could transport 7,000 vehicles

When the sails are at their tallest and propped up on the ship’s hull, they would reach up to 105 metres above the waterline. In comparison, a regular sailboat reaches only up to 30 to 35 metres into the air.

“No part of our sail is lower than 30 metres so we are using a piece of the atmospheric boundary layer above the ocean, where basically people have not been before,” said Jakob Kuttenkeuler, a professor in naval architecture at KTH.

“Airplanes are above and boats are below. So we’ve put quite a lot of effort into measuring the atmospheric boundary layer.”

Wallenius Marine develops Oceanbird as world's largest wind-powered vessel
Wallenius Marine hopes to build a fully functioning Oceanbird by 2024

Wallenius Marine attached sensors to its existing vessels in order to measure how the wind direction and velocity changes at such heights, in order to optimise both the wingsails as well as the fins at the bottom of the hull.

These can be moved against the direction of the wind, in order to prevent the boat from drifting off course.

For emergencies and manoeuvring in and out of ports, the ship would also be equipped with an auxiliary motor, which Wallenius Marine claim runs on clean energy.

Oceanbird will be the world's largest wind-powered vessel
Unlike the wings of an airplane, the wingsails are symmetrical

At the moment, the ship is still in the prototyping stage, with a seven-metre tall model set to be trialled in Stockholm’s harbour to gather data and optimise its performance and aerodynamics.

But the company says it could be taking orders from 2021 with the aim to deliver the first, complete vessel by the end of 2024.

Wallenius Marine develops Oceanbird as world's largest wind-powered vessel
The sails reach up to 80 metres high

Ireland’s B9 Shipping and French start-up Neoline have developed similar designs for cargo ships, which make use of tall fabric sails to harness wind power.

Neoline is already planning to establish a new shipping route between Saint-Nazaire in western France and the East Coast of the US by 2022 and has signed a development deal with Renault to look at using its ships to transport the manufacturer’s cars.

Another Swedish company, X Shore, has recently released an electric boat for private passenger travel in the hopes of bringing emission-free maritime travel to a broader market.

Top global traders push to cut shipping emissions

in International Shipping News 08/10/2020

Some of the world’s biggest commodities and energy players on Wednesday launched an initiative to cut and track emissions from the ships they charter as efforts intensify to reduce the maritime industry’s carbon footprint.

About 90% of world trade is transported by sea, and the UN shipping agency – the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050.

Carbon emissions from shipping rose in the six-year period to 2018 and accounted for 2.89% of the world’s CO2, the latest IMO-commissioned study showed, mounting pressure on the industry to bring levels down.

Under the Sea Cargo Charter, 17 companies, including agrigroups Cargill, ADM and Bunge, oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and Total and mining group Anglo American will publicly disclose annually whether their overall ship chartering activities are aligned with IMO 2050 goals.

“People buying voyage freight will start asking the question what emissions were actually tagged to this voyage and that is a question that was really not asked before,” Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s ocean transportation division, told Reuters.

“By creating the transparency, it becomes a topic in chartering decisions.”

Peter Lye, global head of shipping with Anglo American, said charterers signed up will be able to analyse the emissions associated with ocean freight in a methodical way.

Grahaeme Henderson, global head of Shell Shipping & Maritime, added: “Collaboration such as this, from across the sector, is vital to scale-up customer demand for low- or zero-emissions shipping.”

The initiative follows a parallel project, known as the Poseidon Principles, launched in 2019, where 18 of the world’s biggest industry lenders agreed to link the provision of shipping finance to cuts in CO2.

The other companies involved in the latest initiative, launched by the non-profit Global Maritime Forum, are COFCO International, Dow, Equinor, Gunvor Group, Klaveness Combination Carriers, Louis Dreyfus Company, Norden, Occidental, Torvald Klaveness, Trafigura and Ørsted.
Source: Reuters (Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Beirut explosion casts harsh light on international shipping rules

Murky story of a ship called the Rhosus, which began life as a Japanese dredger

Andrew North – August 10, 2020 18:00 JST – Nikkei Asian Review

Boris Prokoshev, right, captain of the cargo vessel Rhosus, and boatswain Boris Musinchak, pose next to a freight hold loaded with ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, in a summer 2014 photograph.    © Reuters

Andrew North has reported widely from across the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia. He is a regular commentator on Asian affairs.

This is the story of a ship that was built in Japan in 1986.

Named the “Daifuku Maru No. 8,” maritime records show that it began life as a humble dredger, scooping up mud and rock from Japanese shipping lanes so that bigger craft wouldn’t hit the bottom. Then, in 2002, it was sold to South Korea and renamed. So began a journey around the world, during which the ship’s name, owner and the flag flying from its mast changed every few years.

What are known as “flags of convenience” (FoCs) provide a legal way for a shipping company from one country to reduce costs down by “renting” the flag of another country that has lighter labor rules and lower taxes. Many of these flags are run by smaller, and often poorer countries, ranging from Liberia to North Korea, even landlocked Mongolia and Bolivia. It earns these states valuable revenue, but it also provides a way for unscrupulous owners to conceal their identities while running substandard and polluting ships, as well as dodging the law and cheating their crews.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Japanese-built ship was passed between two Hong Kong companies who called it the “Zheng Long” but flagged it to Belize and then Panama, the tiny Central American state that has nearly 9,000 ships sailing under its flag. That’s around 16% of global shipping tonnage, more than any other country.

Once notorious for its lax rules, Panama now keeps closer tabs on who can fly its colors. So it was telling that when a Panamanian company bought the ship and converted it into a cargo freighter, it was reflagged to the Black Sea nation of Georgia — another country known for running a low-cost FoC regime.

There were still more identity changes to come. First, a Cyprus-based Russian business owner bought the freighter. But when it was sent to pick up a shipment from the Georgian port of Batumi in 2013, the Georgian flag had been replaced with the colors of Moldova, a country with no seaside coast but a reputation at the time for allowing its flag to be used for smuggling by Iranian vessels.

Showing its age, the now 30-year old ship had defects that included a hole in its hull requiring water to be pumped out to stop it sinking, but it set sail nonetheless. When the Russian owner didn’t pay wages, the crew walked out, forcing him to find another crew before sending the vessel out to Beirut to earn extra cash by taking on heavy machinery. When the ship’s decks buckled under the weight, inspectors were alerted and it was declared “unseaworthy.”

The former Japanese dredger was by then named the “Rhosus,” which the world now knows as the ship that carried the 2,700 tons of Georgian-made ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut port on August 4 with such deadly effect.A former Japanese dredger named the “Rhosus,” carried the 2,700 tons of Georgian-made ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut port on August 4, killing up to 158 people, and injuring more than 6,000.    © Reuters

In the aftermath of the disaster, the focus has rightly been on the failings of Lebanon’s dysfunctional government, as the explosive cargo was its responsibility once offloaded. But the murky story of the Rhosus also raises questions as to why an international system almost designed to avoid accountability is allowed to continue.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has been campaigning for an end to FoCs for decades. It lists 35 countries running flags of convenience, blaming the practice for low wages and abusive conditions among merchant navies, as well as the “floating coffins” on the world’s seas.

Some maritime experts argue that the story of the Rhosus shows that controls worked because the ship was eventually stopped in Beirut. According to Natasha Brown, spokesperson for the International Maritime Organization, the UN’s shipping regulation body, more and better inspections have led to a decline in serious incidents in the last seven years.

Japan, the US and Europe all operate a system of white, gray and black lists to classify flags by their record, with frequent inspections for poorer performers. “That makes it more difficult for an owner to keep using a blacklisted flag,” argues Luc Smulders, Secretary-General of the Paris MoU, the organization that oversees European inspections.

But such measures still don’t go far enough. Blacklisting doesn’t stop a ship from sailing, and there are plenty of ports beyond the reach of organized inspectors. Groups such as the ITF say that until there is a “genuine link between the flag a ship flies and the nationality or residence of its owners,” abuses will continue.

Moldova is a case in point. Seven years after the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus was stopped in Beirut, the country is on the official flag performance blacklist. But it continues to run a lightly-regulated shipping registry for all comers. You can do it all online with no mention of any physical checks. (The country’s ship registration agency did not respond to several requests for comment.)

With all that has since emerged about the Rhosus and its past, many have wondered how it was ever allowed to sail with so much explosive material on board. But as things stand, there is little to stop another ship with a shady past from setting sail today.