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Many countries, particularly the so-called SIDS and LDCs (small island developing states and least-developed countries) could be left high and dry with limited maritime services if the latest short-term measures are approved, as expected, by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) today.

The Energy Efficiency for Existing Ships Index (EEXI) and Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII), that will calculate the annual emissions of each ship, could mean many vessels of all types will not be able to legally operate after January 2023, or within one-to-three years after that date, should their owners choose to optimise the efficiency of their vessels through technical improvements, in an attempt to comply with the new rules.

On Friday, delegates from SIDS and LDCs were at the IMO, angrily drawing a picture of what this could mean for them – many islands being heavily dependent on regular vessel calls by the very types of ship most at risk from the new rules: smaller and older and bringing fuel and other goods that drive their economies.

A study released in April by US classification society ABS revealed that up to 80% of the world’s shipping fleet may not meet the EEXI requirements  in January 2023.

Researchers for ABS’s Low Carbon Shipping Outlook (LCSO) analysed all the major vessel types, using data from the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), which was introduced in 2013 to measure the efficiency of new vessel designs for ships.

According to one of the LCSO authors, Georgios Plevrakis, by examining available EEDI data and calculating how many post-2013 ships would meet the EEXI regulations, researchers could gauge how many pre-EEDI ships would also be affected by the new rules.

He reckons as many as 80% of vessels currently operating would be at risk of falling foul of the new regulations. However, they allow a grace period of a year for data to be collected, and then another three years of consecutive failure to meet the rules before vessels would no longer allowed to trade. And the worst-polluting vessels will have one year to improve their efficiency.

With regards to containerships, Mr Plevrakis said: “Of a population of about 850-860 ships [that had EEDI calculations], around 200 don’t comply with EEXI levels, and this raises a flag. If 200 ships are non-compliant, then smaller [and older, pre-2013] containerships could also be non-compliant.”

Mr Plevrakis also pointed out that some of these vessels would eventually meet the requirements with engine power limitations (EPLs) imposed and energy-saving devices fitted. However, the CII is an operational measure that will track a vessel’s emissions on an annual basis, which could be more problematic.

The LCSO report says: “The combination of EEXI and CII creates a framework that will challenge shipowners and operators to act quickly and decisively to maintain a low-carbon fleet. As a one-time certification, the EEXI will serve as a filter to block older vessels that cannot be cost-effectively retrofitted with new technologies. The vessels that are compliant with the EEXI will then have to follow a trajectory for reducing their carbon intensity on an annual basis, until they reach the 2030 level required by IMO.”

According to Mr Plevrakis, CII will be calculated using the IMO’s fuel data collection system with statistics entered into an enhanced Ships Energy Efficiency Plan (SEEMP). Ships will then be rated from A to E, with vessels in category D being non-compliant and needing corrective measures. Three failures to comply and a ship will lose its licence to trade. Category E vessels, the worst polluters, will have one year to take corrective measures.

However, Mr Plevrakis agreed that the CII could “create a two-tier market for vessels and that enforcement [of the regulations] could be an issue”.

Part of the problem with the new regulations is that the calculations are made on a tonne-mile basis – the amount of fuel consumed to carry a tonne of cargo – making the larger and, in the case of container shipping, more modern vessels significantly more efficient. Options for improving the efficiency of vessels, particularly older tonnage, could be limited to slowing them down.

This could pose problems with liner shipping striving to meet weekly schedules already being hit by congestion issues. Slowing ships to meet environmental regulations could encourage operators to add tonnage to maintain schedules, pushing up demand for vessels in a regulatory regime that is limiting the availability of tonnage.

Mr Plevrakis added that, although the IMO emissions reduction rules, including EEDI and EEXI, did not take methane emissions into account – and the IMO calculations for emissions are “all tank to wake” – the use of LNG should be compliant with the EEXI and CII rules, particularly high-pressure power systems.

“Even if we look at the lifecycle emissions for LNG [‘well to wake’] we should still see carbon reductions due to operational optimisations and technological advances,” he explained.

If this is the case, the new rules could see further vessel orders for LNG-powered vessels, but with the air pollution from LNG estimated at being up to 80% more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, it could result in a negative impact on global warming.

The IMO’s fourth greenhouse gas study calculated that methane emissions from shipping had increased by 87% in 2018. Those calculations were before CMA CGM, which operates on the more polluting low-pressure LNG systems, had launched its fleet of LNG-powered vessels. The company has now ordered 44 more.

Overall, the number of ships operating on lower-carbon LNG is increasing, and the new regulations could encourage further switches to what is essentially another fossil fuel, rather than a zero-carbon alternative.

In addition, Mr Plevrakis points out, many operators have put in place retrofit projects to improve the efficiency of their vessels, but these have “not been assessed so that their contribution can be verified”.

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