The effect of climate change on marine transportation

A representative from Lloyd’s Register, Marcel LaRoche, focused on unpredictability in his presentation in his presentation at the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the World Maritime University in Malmö last week.


However according to Mr. LaRoche, increasing Arctic operation may give rise to a greater number of mariners operating with less experience in ice-infested waters.  Navigating in the Arctic may in fact be more of a human challenge than a technical challenge. Despite the rate of sea-ice loss through melting, navigation in the Arctic remains hazardous and in general there would be little infrastructure to support a ship that encounters problems in these remote areas.

There is also the complexity of a multi-layered regulatory regime where coastal states are not always party to all relevant conventions. There are today a some 22 regulations for navigating in winter conditions, involving 14 regulatory organisations and including 6 geographical sea areas – and that is in addition to other Acrtic Sea design requirements.


It was also said at the conference that as the Arctic ice cap shrinks from the effects of global warming, new shipping lanes may open in the future, both through the North West  and the North East Passages. Only some 10% of the North West Passage is charted waters and it will take some 10 years before it is properly explored, whereas the Russians have already covered the North East Passage quite well.


Longer shipping seasons with reduced ice intensity in those areas will lead to increasing resource exploration and extraction and serious considerations of northern routes for trans-polar shipping, he said. The escalating global demand for hydrocarbons and minerals, and pressure on ship operators to manage the soaring costs of shipping (such as canal transit costs and fuel costs) will probably lead to increased consideration of the northern routes if they become more easily navigable.


INTERTANKO’s Research & Projects Manager, Erik Ranheim, emphasised that it has been proven both in the Barents Sea (Norwegian Snow White) and with the Sakhalin project in eastern Russia, that the opening of new frontiers is both costly and time consuming.  He said that if new frontiers were opened, the development of new oil transportation would in practice be done by the big oil companies. Specialist operators would therefore be likely to show the way in such areas.


In connection with building ships fir for Arctic climate, former USCG Commandant and former head of ABS, Admiral Robert Kramek,  said that the design of a ship will eat up a tiny 5% of its capital cost, but will contribute 70% of the influence on its success in service. It is a point that not enough people think about as they rush to lays hands on a ship to fulfill a market need, focusing more on the price and the delivery date. If rather more time and effort was spent on this vital component, better ships would result, he said. Life-cycle design is also important, as there is no point in producing ships that will not last the course. Design today needs to be cradle to grave. Future designs, says Kramek, must take into account the “total environmental system”, which has to start at the conceptual stage of a ship and must be superimposed on the basic ship design and construction that will ultimately see the ship engineered and “fit for purpose”.


Contact: Erik Ranheim