The U.S. Congress passed the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act into law in 1976. This created a 200-nautical-mile economic zone around the shores of the United States, within which the U.S. regulates fishery activity to protect various species of fish from being depleted.
On Aug. 1, 2012, 36 years later, the United States is taking another monumental step by establishing a 200-nautical-mile emission control area around these same shores. Ships operating inside this ECA will have to use a low sulfur fuel (maximum sulfur content of 1 percent). Use of lower sulfur fuels will clean up the air, reducing health risks for those living near seaports, coastal cities and beaches.
The reduction of sulfur emissions from ships is a positive step, but ocean carriers also must think about reducing our share of greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide. There are two options for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On the one hand, carriers can incrementally reduce fuel consumption through various operating change. Options range from simple, yet very effective, steps — for example, reducing the speed of vessels — to more strategic steps, such as designing more efficient hull shapes. On the other hand, we exponentially change the equation by shifting fuel sources from diesel fuels to cleaner products, such as liquefied natural gas. Carriers must pursue both strategies.
In the past three years, “eco steaming” has become a prevalent practice, while technical personnel are enhancing the fuel efficiency of existing fleets via energy saving innovations, such as rudder valves and fins, or exhaust gas economizers. At the same time, innovative carriers are tasking naval architects to develop the next generation of ships.
The maritime industry has seen more innovative-concept ships in recent years than ever before. It remains to be seen which designs will become reality. But it is certain a new frontier in shipping, and perhaps new industry leaders, will emerge.