• Mare Greco

George Pateras: Our future will not exist if we do not take serious action to help our environment

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mrs. Travlou, Thank you for inviting me to speak at the conference again.

Let's refuture Shipping!

Let’s, but it depends who is tasked with the job of futuring our industry. If we convene a committee in order to be politically correct, we will probably avoid a disaster, but committees rarely solve real problems. So, who should be tasked with such a responsibility, an environmentalist, a politician, an entrepreneur, a scientist or the industry itself? Who would want to take on such a precarious task and go down in the annals of history as another fool who just simply got it wrong?

Early in the 19th century, there were about 200,000 horses in New York City, producing about 15 kilos of manure per horse per day or about 1 million tons of horse manure per year, plus all the associated flatulent methane. The Mayor, a forward-looking man, was happy and welcomed the gasoline powered car for environmental reasons and for the benefit to the health of New Yorkers. Sixty years down the road, we could not get rid of the gasoline car that was accused of causing brain damage to children, as well as a plethora of respiratory disorders to the residents of New York. But whenever we try to improve our environment, we often make catastrophic mistakes that only manifest themselves years later. Take the gasoline car. An American scientist, named Thomas Midgley Jr., discovered lead as an anti-knock additive for the internal combustion engine, and we all know the consequences of lead poisoning. We smartly, of course, corrected this by replacing our cars with lead-free engines and ignored the fact that the silver catalyst they use is carcinogenic. Incidentally, we could have replaced the lead with magnesium and avoided the colossal carbon footprint of renewing the world car fleet. That is what we use today for lead replacement fuel.

So, maybe the mad scientist should not be the one to re-future our industry. Sadly, in 1928, old Thomas Midgley Jr. also invented the miracle compound Freon, and we all know the devastating effect of carbon on our environment and the creation of the famous ozone hole. So, we will replace gasoline cars with electric cars and decide on how to dispose of the batteries sometime in the future. So, you see the problem, a pattern is forming. Will our re-futured children laugh at us at best, or despise us at worse with hindsight? Then, we let the politicians be influenced by our environmentalists on how to fix the future. No offence, your Excellency. But it has been so cold lately that we no longer call the damage that humans and animals are doing to our environment as global warming, we now call it climate change. We make unfounded sweeping statements such as, when the arctic ice melts, so many coastal regions will disappear under water just like the mythical city of Atlantis. Maybe somebody should tell them about Archimedes. The Arctic is floating, so really, please, nobody is going to go under water.

So, we took the first step in re-futuring shipping by reducing sulphur in marine fuels. Since the 1st of January 2020 vessels should consume VLSFO. That is actually a sound environmental policy but, as usual, loopholes were left open. If you fit a scrubber, you can still consume 3.5 sulphur fuel and instead of exhausting it into the air, you discharge it directly into the sea. Not what I call an environmentally-friendly solution, commercially sound but environmentally horse manure.

We tell the world that within the next decade, we will stop burning fossil fuel, so long chain hydrocarbons are moved to renewables. In the meantime, we went crazy about LNG, a short chain hydrocarbon, until we realised that it had a similar carbon footprint to liquid fuels. On the other hand, we demand that oil companies invest billions to produce straight-run low-sulphur fuel, which we will stop using in ten years’ time, and we will run our ships on what? Dilithium crystals as in the Starship Enterprise.

It is very sweet to read comments in various news reports that the panic over sufficient compliant fuel was overstated and everything is basically back to normal. Well, it is not! Our greatest fears have been materialised. Our Minister of Shipping John Plakiotakis warned the IMO on deaf ears. There is not sufficient compliant fuel to go around. As of the 28th of February, according to the IMO website, there were 205 cases of non-availability of compliant fuel and 2,041 cases of non-compliant fuel having to be removed from vessels. That was reported to the IMO. Our company has not yet reported. We receive unknown blends that will have unknown consequences to our engines and our environment, excessively high sludges, high pole point, high acid numbers, thousands of debunkerings already reported. But that difference is not the worst of it, and a new Finnish joint study, in conjunction with AMN and DNV GL, has suggested that new blends with a higher aromatic content, 70-90% as opposed to the higher paraffinic and traditional residual fuels, lead to higher black carbon, about 10-85%, a factor of 2.45 times more than DMA or marine gas oil. It has been shown that black carbon is the greatest cause of the melting icecaps, as it lowers the freezing point of the ice, rather similar to putting salt on our icy roads. So, we still have not decided who will re-future our industry. We, the industry, have managed without regulations to substantially reduce our absolute levels of CO2 emissions from 2008 levels. So, maybe the solution is to do everything by ourselves.

The industry is presently debating the benefits of speed over power reduction to reduce emissions. As an engineer and naval architect, I favour power limitations as opposed to speed limits, as it encourages innovative ship design, acknowledges the modern eco-vessel and benefits the operator who maintains his ship and hull, and propeller, correctly.

Our future will not exist if we do not take serious action to help our environment. It seems to me that each time we try to help, we tend to discover that we got it tragically wrong. We will all benefit from advancing technologies, such as the production of hydrogen from sea water using solar power. This needs to be developed as we have the proof of concept from last summer, but more money should be spent on super-conductivity at room temperature and revolutionize the battery. But we must all have a pet project, an environmental project, so that our re-futured children will look back at us and smile. Saving the environment can and should be done in small steps. I for one, have started switching off all my home appliances; I do not leave that little stand-by light on, that little red light. If a billion people did that in the world, how much better would our future be? But closer to home, what about looking out for our own country, our coastal seas, the huge amount of plastic flotsam that we see every day, and the huge biodiversity that exists in the Aegean? A prime example is the endangered Hellenic sperm whale that feeds and breeds in the Hellenic trench. Why not start getting ships to slow down when they are sailing over their feeding grounds, as our industry is required to do in so many other countries?

Ladies and gentlemen, will everything become autonomous? Will we have these conferences remotely from the comfort of our environmentally friendly home? Who knows? We live in exciting times. Let’s see how we end up re-futuring our industry. I will let you know in 50 years when we are all here to discuss the outcome of what we decide today. Thank you very much.

George D. Pateras, born in London, UK and the father of 3 adult children, is the Deputy Chairman, ContShips Management Inc. and since 2016 the Chairman of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping.

He studied Engineering and Economics and holds a BSc in Marine Engineering from Newcastle University, MS in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture from MIT and a PhD from Plymouth University.

He is a Board member of the Hellenic War Risks Association and the Bahamas Shipowners Association, Chairman of the Hellenic Shipping War Risks Insurance S.A., Vice Chairman, NATO, PBOS now TG(OS) (2000-) and permanent advisor (AMSCC) of the Hellenic Ministry of Defense.

Dr. Pateras has also served as the Chairman of the Bahamas Shipowners’ Association (2011-2015) and as a Board member of the Hellenic Seamen’s Pension Fund (1984-1993), Olympic Aviation (1991-1993), the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping (1986-2015), the Union of Greek Shipowners (1983-2004), HELMEPA (1996-1998), the BSA representative on International Chamber of Shipping (2011-2015) and Managing Director of Aegeus Shipping S.A. (1981-2018).

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