It’s January and inevitably thoughts turn to the year ahead and which themes are likely to dominate.
My thoughts turn to session nine of last November’s Tanker Shipping & Trade Conference where Intertanko marine director Dr Phil Belcher, Oman Shipping Company’s chief operating officer Capt David Stockley and Sovcomflot UK director Lord Nicholas Fairfax were invited to share their predictions for the tanker market in 2018.
Canvass any industry expert and the topic of cyber security will inevitably come up. And that’s understandable. Last year saw high profile incidents involving Maersk and BW and a spate of unreported incidents too. We as a company recognise its import and will be holding our third European Cyber Risk Management Summit in London.
All three gentlemen were agreed that we should not lose sight of the other security challenge: physical protection of the vessel and the crew. Vessel hijacking continues. Sadly, seafarers are still losing their lives at sea. Transiting West African waters remains challenging, especially off Nigeria. But by no means is the threat confined to one geographic area. The Sula Sea off the Philippines is a case in point. Readers will recall that it was little over a year ago that the small Vietnamese tanker, Giang Hai, was attacked with six crew members abducted and one killed. The year ahead will see new guidance on best management practices to reflect the resurgent threat.
Another vogue topic is autonomous vessels, a subject Lord Fairfax has been following for almost three decades. There is no question that advances in this direction are being made, however there was unanimity among the panellists that the social and employment implications must not be ignored. Or as Dr Belcher put it “It is important that in the excitement offered by the potential that these developments offer the industry tomorrow, that we do not lose sight of the importance of crew welfare today.” And while Lord Fairfax may have been following these developments for more than a generation, Dr Belcher felt the practicalities of tanker operations, and in particular mooring, means we are at least a generation away from having a truly autonomous global tanker fleet.
The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention might suggest that the topic will lack the prominence of previous years. On the contrary. The issue has just moved into a new phase. Expect continued discussions around cost, compliance and ballast water treatment-related detentions.
Regulations and compliance of course reared their head more widely in the discussions. Being at the sharp end, Capt Stockley had trenchant views on the cost and practicality of many… hoping that 2018 would see a “return to common sense” in these areas.
The year ahead will of course see greenhouse gas reduction debated at IMO. The industry has put in proposals to reduce them by 50% by 2050. What is likely to transpire, thought Dr Belcher, is a compromise between the Marshall Islands submission which talks about complete decarbonisation of the industry to one where we are still producing some carbon.
Timetabled regulation and debate falls into the category of ‘known knowns’ that the industry will face in the year ahead. But what of the known unknowns? Here Dr Belcher offered a measured, albeit sobering response. He acknowledged that the sector’s last major incident was Prestige back in 2002 and agreed that the current safety record is superlative. But history does have a tendency to repeat itself he added so the tanker industry must be vigilant and avoid any sort of complacency in the 12 months ahead.