The Big Maritime Things In 2016

Last year I started this list with lots of space flight issues, but when I made my list this year I started with aircraft technology, and then immediately shifted to maritime in item 2. It has been a strange year and that is why I ended my list with a repeat and enlargement of item 8 on my 2015 list; devastating ignorance.

I wonder why I ended up having 13 items this year.

1.  The end of the Airbus 380 and the Boeing 747?

Without a doubt, the Boeing 747 was one of the big fascinations of my youth. The science magazines of my youth showed the PanAm cocktail lounge on the upper deck and one day I hoped to fly there. By the time that I rated first class, the lounge was long gone. However, I still consider the 747 upper deck business class window seat my all time favorite airplane seat.

Airbus wanted to rule the skies in size and they created the A380. It first flew in 2005 and this year it became evident that the A380 was a commercial failure with ultimately probably no more than 300 units produced (as compared to 1500 units over the 747’s life, 161 of which were delivered since 2006). The reasons for the failure are interesting, but Boeing’s half hearted effort at updating the 747 shows that the day of the very large conventional airplane is over.

There are interesting and complex systems reason for that, but, at this stage, let’s remember the A380 as a lesson in hubris and flawed system analysis.

2.  The end of mega container ships?

I commented on mega container ships in my 2012 and 2013 lists, but did it rather uncritically. However, today, the bloom is off the mega container carrier. Just because we can build it bigger, does not mean it makes more money (see item 1 above).

In container shipping the trend towards larger ships has resulted in overcapacity and underutilization of these large vessels as compared to full capacity use of smaller vessels. In effect, we have reduced system efficiencies in a rush towards larger unit efficiencies.

And what does that mean with regard to ever larger cruise vessel sizes? In January, I will be making a presentation for a joint SNAME ASME SAME meeting in Philadelphia on cruise ships and further ponder that question.

3.  Hanjin Bankruptcy

And when there is overcapacity, bankruptcies follow. Will there be more in 2017?

4.  Panama Canal

This was the first year for the enlarged Panama Canal. This canal allows much more efficient container transportation by now allowing container vessels in the 10,500 to 13,000 TEU range to transit the canal. The enlarged Panama Canal reduces demand on vessels that are too large to transit the Panama Canal and reduces fuel consumed per container. Let’s call it a new paradigm.

And congrats to the Panama Canal authority, this was a big and tough job and you did it.

Delays? The original canal was also delayed and this delay provided the mega container ships a few more months of income.

5.  Ballast Water Treatment system approvals

It happened towards the end of the year; the first few Ballast Water Treatment systems were finally approved by the USCG. Now ballast water treatment will become a reality for a lot of ships. In the next few years, thousands of vessels will need to be retrofitted. Give us a call if you need engineering or refit consulting services.

6.  Electronic Oil Record Books

We have promoted electronic vessel documentation and logs at least since 2012. There are very substantial advantages when documents can be reviewed ashore and when surveying can focus on ship and crew rather than paperwork. This year Liberia started an electronic oil record book effort and we are very eager to hear about the results in 2017.

7.  Electric propulsion

Batteries on ships have long been a complex subject. Until recently, battery use has focused on hybrid applications, but recent technical developments are starting to show that pure battery propulsion may be a very attractive solution especially for short and relatively slow speed ferry runs. We are particularly interested in better battery design and very high speed recharging systems using shore based battery banks. I see lots of interesting ferry stuff in the future, this is just one piece.

8.   LNG Pause?

If and when pure battery propulsion becomes more viable, it may displace LNG propulsion for certain applications. We have always argued that LNG is a transitional ship fuel, but will it actually ever become a dominant transitional ship fuel. Many ships are dual fuel capable, but how many are actually running on LNG?

9.   Energy Independence

During the second Presidential debate, in response to Donald Trump’s comment that energy is under siege by the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton mentioned that the US had achieved energy independence in 2016. Clinton’s comment was fact checked by Politifact and judged false. If you click on any link at all within this blog, click on this one. The link has a fascinating discussion and Clinton’s comment probably should be rated “mostly false” or “half true” by Politifact’s own standards (and this may indicate antiliberal Politifact bias since there is no rating on Trump’s original comment; weird).

This issue generated a fair amount of debate in our office and we arrived at an interesting result. There is no doubt that the US is still a net energy importer, but this trend is down and there is no reason to believe that this trend will go up unless foreign oil will become incredibly cheap and, at the same time, there is no drive to alternative energies within the United States.

Meanwhile, today, the US is in the energy catbird seat. We have plenty internal energy resources and, with a modest energy cost increase, could be completely energy independent (think fracking, shale oil and capped offshore wells) if we want to, but, by importing a relatively small percentage of our energy, the US can still influence foreign policy by switching between foreign producers at will. This has not been the case for this country in about 50 years, if not longer. So what is energy independence? Zero energy imports, or freedom to choose between energy suppliers?

10.  Solar Impulse

Yes it happened. A wonderful achievement, but maritime still rules, sort of. Now on to the next challenge for these intrepid adventurers.

11.  Autonomous Transportation

The possibilities are endless. Let’s think hard and achieve a net gain with it for all in 2017.

12.  Sandy Hook Bay National Marine Sanctuary

I announced this in the 2015 list as item 11. For a year we tried hard and at this stage did not succeed the way we envisioned. Maybe vision is the effort, not the envisioned result. So far net gains have been quite positive, maybe not an NMS, but better than December 2015. Thanks to those who tried with me. If it ain’t hard ……..

13.   False News (Devastating Ignorance Redux)

In the 2015 list as item 8, I mentioned we have to fight devastating ignorance.

Many fought, but we apparently did not fight hard enough. First Brexit and then it got really weird. Under item 9 I talked about Politifact. Is Politifact always right? Nobody is, but there are anecdotes and there are trends, and they are not the same.

Some things can be measured and tested, and we should pay attention to that.

Here are some stats:

Presidential Candidate A:

Presidential Candidate B:

This is not a political statement, it is data analysis. There is no time for politics among ship mates, we have to work together to keep the ship afloat, and that requires a strong connection with reality.

Best wishes for 2017. Be careful, be watchful, be safe.