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‘Mama doesn’t have the bosom to suckle from,’ decries Greek shipowner of green fuels

Regulations to cut shipping emissions before solutions are available said to be hurting competitiveness of European shipping

Resistance to zero-carbon targets and timelines dominate agenda at shipowners’ conference in Cyprus. Stephanos Angelakos later said his figure of speech comparing lack of green ship fuel to a lack of mothers’ milk was not intended to be tasteless, but to reflect that regulation had been put into effect before a solution was on offer

A GREEK shipowner compared the lack of available green and zero-carbon fuels for shipping to a mother’s inability to breastfeed her baby at a maritime conference in Cyprus, underscoring a siege-like mentality now pervading southern Europe’s maritime sector over decarbonisation.

Shipowner Stephanos Angelakos told the Cyprus Maritime conference that he, and others, could not move their business forward to become more efficient and sustainable because he was “waiting for mama”.

“We suckle on the bosom of mama. We don’t have any choice,” the chief executive of Angelakos (Hellas) said, comparing the supply of marine fuels to mothers’ milk.

“It may be green. It may not be green. The shipping fleet of today is constructed [to use] fossil fuels and the problem that we have to address is that not only does mama not have any green energy, mama doesn’t have the bosom to suckle from. We just have to wait.”

The emotive analogy was one of many scathing comments delivered by shipowners about sustainability and decarbonisation in shipping amid heavy criticism of regulators and scientists.

Angelakos, a fifth-generation shipowner, said on the conference sidelines that his metaphor was not intended to be tasteless, but to reflect that regulation came before solutions.

Others observed the remarks in English from somebody whose first language was Greek did not translate well.

Although the conflation of bunkering and breastfeeding was not to everybody’s taste, there was no doubt many agreed that the scale and enormity of current decarbonisation ambitions were impossible or even ridiculous.

Regulation to lower the carbon footprint of shipping was “just bullshit” Greek shipowner George Procopiou told delegates on day one to great applause.

Although some senior figures privately winced at what one described as a gauche and populist stance, Procopiou’s view was widely endorsed both on stage and off.

“A realistic target is important so that we can all have a road map and can understand and have a common purpose of where we want to go,” said Semiramis Paliou, chief executive of New York-listed Diana Shipping.

“It is very important also to have international and harmonised regulations in order to create a level playing field so that we do not feel that other people are taking advantage of arbitrage between the nations.”

But she also said that the culture within shipowners needed to change to better understand the goals behind sustainability.

She measured this as leaving the planet a better place for the children and grandchildren of those attending.

Others viewed sustainability in terms of burning fewer tonnes of fuel oil and other fossil fuels on their ships.

During the three-day event, many of the speakers doubled down on their disdain for regulation to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets amid widespread disbelief that zero-carbon or renewable fuels and the maritime technology to support them would never become available at scale.

There was not sufficient shipbuilding capacity at the world’s 300 shipyards to build enough ammonia- or methanol-ready ships to meet IMO greenhouse gas reduction targets, said Kenneth Tveter, head of green transition for Clarksons, the world’s biggest shipbroker.

Bandwagon rolling backwards 

The green “bandwagon” was rolling backwards, said Mark O’Neil, speaking as president of InterManager, representing the world’s independent shipmanagers.

“Is now the time to invest in all of this change?” he asked.

“Or should we rather be looking at the vessels we have… making them more carbon efficient, carbon efficient, environmentally friendly, but also hedging our bets for the future.”

Safe Bulkers chief executive Polys Hajioannou said he recently ordered two dual-fuel ships “to avoid penalties, not to make money”.

“The industry is not ready to reward the early movers, and it may take a number of years,” he said.

Emanuele Grimaldi, an Italian shipowner and president of the International Chamber of Shipping, painted an apocalyptic scenario should there be a mix of different emission trading systems across different countries in shipping.

From January 1, emissions from international shipping are incorporated into the EU27’s trading scheme, along with targets to reduce greenhouse gas intensity in fuels.

Should the regional emissions tax be copied and introduced by other jurisdictions “this will be a nightmare. This is a Babylon,” said Grimaldi.

“We have to pay here. We have to pay there. Increasing more all the taxes.”

The chamber is lobbying the International Maritime Organization to agree a mandatory “fund and reward” levy on marine fuels on an international basis. But a decision isn’t expected until 2025, and implementation will be several years down the road after that.

The EU27's own carbon pricing and technical emissions measures will be in place for at least four years before that, amid much concern among the Greek and Cypriot maritime sector.

Philippos Philis, president of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations, said governments in the EU27 weren’t ready for the huge influx of questions about the emissions trading system.

Others argued that the rules curbed their global competitiveness and risked losing business to China, which surpassed Greece as the biggest shipowning nation for the first time earlier this year.

“In spring this year, the whole industry was begging the IMO to please give us a clear path (to decarbonisation) and tell us what to do,” said Nikolaus Schües, president of global shipowners’ group BIMCO.

After the “initial euphoria” once an updated global strategy on greenhouse gas emissions agreed at the IMO last July, “the atmosphere has changed” he told conference attendees.

Many believed the milestones were too difficult, he said, and an air of greater optimism was needed.

Sour mood

Optimism was in short supply in Cyprus, despite a rallying cry from Anne Katrine Bjerregaard, from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping.

Having 5% to 7% of ships running on zero-carbon fuels within a decade was “a major challenge” she acknowledged, and greater collaboration was needed.

“Maybe it is time to consider what different consumer patterns and what regional production and so on will mean for us as an industry,” she said.

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