By / February 20, 2013

Slow down, save fuel, pollute less…

Speed controls on shipping could save billions in lower ship fuel bills, cut air pollution and enable the shipping industry…

Fotolia © Lefteris Papaulakis

Speed controls on shipping could save billions in lower ship fuel bills, cut air pollution and enable the shipping industry to play a full part in tackling climate change according a report by CE Delft consultants. The shipping industry is urgently invited to take up the challenge of slow steaming. A recent guide by Marine Insight must help marine engineers to understand the importance of the issue and assist them with the smooth implementation of this not so new concept.


Fotolia © Lefteris Papaulakis
Fotolia © Lefteris Papaulakis

The report, ‘Regulated slow steaming in maritime transport’ by CE Delft, says that if global average maritime speeds were reduced by 10%, carbon dioxide savings would rise to 19%, even after the cost of building and operating new ships to make up for lost capacity was considered. These findings were already published in a study from 2009 by the Greek Laboratory for Maritime Transport on the basis of data going back to 2007: “Looking at these results, one can see that, as expected, faster ships (such as containerships) emit more (both in absolute levels and per tonne-km) than slower ships”.

Crisis already slowed down ships…

According to Bill Hemmings of Transport & Environment NGO sections of the shipping industry have slowed down for commercial reasons but industry refuses to consider this option as an environmental measure and wants to speed up again once the economic crisis is over even though slow steaming is cost free and flexibility options can be considered for the relatively small section of the market that needs to operate faster.  “The industry seems to be acting against its own interests on this one”.

The critical issue

International shipping accounts for around 3% of global CO2 emissions. Shipping emissions will grow as world trade grows and, together with aviation, are estimated to comprise 4% to 5.7% of global CO2 emissions in 2020 (UNEP) and some 10% to 32% in 2050 unless action is taken. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been discussing what to do since it was tasked with reducing emissions from international shipping by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

How it works

Slow steaming (also called economy speed or eco-speed) involves reducing the speed of the cargo ship from usual 20-24 knots to around 15 knots. Making the vessel operate at lower than average speed, cuts fuel consumption and lowers carbon emissions. The concept of slow steaming was first introduced by Maersk Lines, which after several trials, was later on implemented on its vessels. The idea was gradually accepted by several other shipping companies, who wanted to drive down the consumption of energy and fuel expenditure along with reducing their carbon foot prints. Slow steaming is now a universally accepted concept in the shipping industry.

According to the Marine industry guide the major benefits of slow steaming have been: higher fuel savings, reduction in carbon emissions (CO2, NOx and Sox), improved reliability and increased efficiency.

To learn more

A summary briefing of CE study is available here (T & E)

The Guide to Slow Steaming On Ships / Marine Insight (December 2012) (free ebook)

CO2 Emission Statistics for the World Commercial Fleet / Athens Laboratory of Maritime Transport (2009)

IMO Second IMO GHG Study 2009

UNEP The Emissions Gap Report 2012 – A UNEP Synthesis

Energy efficiency of ships: what are we talking about?

Investigation of appropriate control measures (abatement technologies) to reduce Black Carbon emissions from international shipping – Study Report (November 2012)

EP library summaries:

Shipping emissions: IMO best placed, EU committed (internal link)

Shipping can do more! (internal link)

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