Government must ‘splash the cash’ for maritime

Maritime firms in Liverpool city region can lead the world in decarbonisation innovation but they must be backed with public investment. Tony McDonough reports

Maritime Exchange
Environment panel at the Maritime Exchange conference 2022. Picture by Tony McDonough


Maritime industry leaders are pushing for more Government backing to enable them to accelerate the decarbonisation of the sector.

Leaders of the £116bn UK maritime sector came together at Liverpool Town Hall for the Mersey Maritime Maritime Exchange conference. They discussed and debated the future of an industry that in Merseyside alone is worth £5bn a year.

Organised by Mersey Maritime and Maritime UK, the event saw a series of panel discussions, one of which was on the environment. Those on the panel expressed optimism and excitement at the prospect of world-leading projects and technology being developed here in the UK.

But this sense of opportunity was tempered by the frustration that Government was not yet committing the resources necessary to fulfil that potential.

In March the UK Government offered £206m of funding to accelerate research into and development of clean maritime technologies. The clean maritime competition is designed to encourage zero emission shipping technologies.

Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke acknowledged this was a lot more than had been offered previously. But he, along with Peter Aylott, maritime director at UK Chamber of Shipping, said this was still not enough for what was needed.

“We really need more infrastructure,” said Peter. “The money put forward so far will not be enough. The industry has to really come together in a valuable way. We cannot just sit and wait for the Government to act. We have to keep poking them.”

One of the most exciting projects discussed during the panel was the Bibby Marine WaveMaster Zero C project. Bibby Marine is a division of Bibby Line Group which has been trading in Liverpool for more than 200 years.

Kevin Brown, commercial and contracts leader at Bibby Marine, outlined how the project could be revolutionary in terms of its impact on ship propulsion. The company currently operates two service operation vessels (SOVs) which have both come into service in the last few years.

These SOVs are floating powerhouses that provide support for offshore facilities such as wind farms and gas and oil fields. They will carry up to 90 people for weeks at a time and they have very big power needs.

Each vessel generates 6-7 MW of power. In the course of a year both vessels will use enough energy to power 800 homes and 18m miles of car journeys. This adds up, said Kevin, to around 14,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

“For the past two years we have been looking at how we can make these vessels better,” said Kevin. “And we are also looking to create a new generation of cleaner vessels. We want to build the first zero carbon vessel in this sector.”

With grant funding from Government project, MarRI-UK, Bibby Marine, along with a number of industry partners such as shipbuilder Damen and Lloyds Register, has carried out research and development work as part of WaveMaster Zero C to look at a new generation of vessels that utilise alternative fuels.

These include hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), green methanol, all-electric, and hydrogen, gaseous / liquid. Kevin added: We passionately believe we can deliver this.

This sentiment was echoed later in the Exchange when Bibby Line chairman, Sir Michael Bibby, said it was critical the Government provided seed funding to turn the idea into reality. He said: “We need to be the leaders in this technology and we need to do it now.


WaveMaster Zero C
How a Bibby WaveMaster Zero C prototype could look
Ariel Edesess
Ariel Edesess, ESG lead at Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson. Picture by Tony McDonough


Also on the panel was Ariel Edesess, who is the ESG (environmental, social and governance) lead at Liverpool law firm Hill Dickinson. The practice is a recognised leader in the maritime legal sector.

She said the firm’s objective was not just to look at different ways of cutting its own emissions but also helping its clients “on their own net zero journeys”. She added: “This has been a learning curve for me. How do we help shipping companies navigate the new fuels when some may not even exist yet?”

Ariel stressed the importance of climate literacy. It wasn’t just about looking for ways to cut emissions, she explained, it was about understanding the issues and challenges and communicating those as widely as possible.

“Shipping transports 95% of our goods around the world. Yes we need to look at the engineering solutions but understanding the issue is also one of our biggest challenges. We have to look at this holistically.”

Joe Parsons, senior environmental consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, an engineering consultancy that specialises in working with maritime sector clients on major projects. He said: “There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about decarbonisation.

“I think people in the maritime sector do have a good grasp of the challenges. All the companies we work with are setting emissions targets. Government and policymakers are starting to drive change. Some people think they are not doing enough, but work is being done.

“Progress happens quickest when it includes multiple stakeholders. Finance is a big issue. There are so many different technologies and no one wants to invest heavily in what turns out to be the wrong one.

“There has to be zero emissions vessels in operation by 2030 and these have to be scaled up quickly by the 2040s. The whole sector needs to work together on this. Not just in the UK but across the world.”

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