The Big Maritime Things in 2018

So here we go, one more year astern, and what does the wake look like? It is a weird wake, but the possibilities also continue to be endless. Let’s call it a mixed bag, and therefore I provide these tidbits in no particular order.

  1. 1. Fuel Oil Contaminations

Early this year there was a rash of fuel oil contaminations involving over 100 ships. None of these contaminations resulted in a serious incident, but, combined, probably resulted in damages in the range of $50 million. Meanwhile the potential loss of the propulsion plant should always be considered to be a serious event. Someday, bad fuel will result in the loss of the plant and result in a stranding with an oil spill and then we will all wonder why we have not been able to keep fuel oil blenders from using ship operators as their waste product disposal guinea pigs.

  1. 2. Offshore Snake Oil

Marine technologies are always difficult to develop and therefore set-backs can occur. But the Ocean Cleanup Project concept was defective from day one and this money should have never been wasted on it. For some reason the money kept flowing and now reality struck. The CO2 produced in running these experiments, so far, is already a crime against humanity. This approach simply will not trap a reasonable amount of plastic and even in the very remote possibility that it will (after tons more of pointless CO2 emissions), it will be incredibly expensive to operate and will never, ever, be able to make any money. Let’s focus on prevention.

  1. 3. Offshore Wind

At a shore near you there will be offshore wind turbines. Block Island has them, and we will have them off New York and New Jersey in the next few years. Offshore wind is nothing new in Europe, but in my experience trends only become the standard once the US adopts them. The US is a little late to the game, but maritime, besides being the world’s logistics provider, now will also become a major sustainable energy generator.

  1. 3. Wave Energy Conversion

So why no wave energy electricity generation? Mostly because, up to now, the math has not worked out. Martin & Ottaway is working on SurfWEC the first approach that has economic potential for utility level power generation.

  1. 4. Fitzgerald (McCain) Collisions

It has been quiet on this matter. To date the US Navy has not explained to the American tax payer why at least 8 people assigned to navigate one of the most maneuverable ships on the oceans cannot avoid a large commercial vessel on a clear night. We have heard lame excuses, but it really comes down to knowing what it means to be a mariner. A mariner is inherently brainwashed to navigate his ship as safely and effectively as possible. There were no mariners in that wheelhouse. As long as the US Navy does not recognize that there were no mariners on that ship, the United States does not have a functional Navy. Was this wheelhouse an anomaly? Do the math; if, in a wheelhouse populated with eight bodies, there was not one mariner, then the odds of having a few good mariners on any Navy ship are depressingly low.

  1. 5. Bush and McCain

Did their passing also mark the passing of the last leaders with true US Navy culture? Please John Kerry, take good care of your health. Meanwhile, George Bush and John McCain; your service to us all is deeply appreciated.

  1. 6. Ethics

It feels like ethics in our culture continued to slip in 2018. What is ethics? Is it a culture that compels people to take responsibility for their actions? It is easy to notice a loss of ethics at the national or world level. So far, in maritime, I have not seen a negative shift in ethics, but with regard to the engineering profession I am worried. Too many engineers (see item 2 above), and, even worse, engineering professional organizations, do not make ethics the core issue of their profession. Professionals may not be able to force the world to behave ethically, but at least let’s set an example.

  1. 7. A Switch from Federal to State Level Innovation

In 2018 I have truly enjoyed the level of initiative by a number of US States in setting their own goals for the future instead of waiting for the Federal Government to take care of things. Many things can be achieved more effectively on a smaller scale anyway. And if an innovation turns out not to work, it is easier to scrap the experiment and try again. Go California, Go New York, Go New Jersey, and other states with “Can Do” spirit. Keep leading and experimenting with sustainability, education, healthcare and general fairness to all our citizens. The states that make the effort will be able to look back and once again take pride in doing the right thing as compared to states that simply look at the union as their personal cash cow and mutual dumping ground.

8. NYC Bridges

In the span (pun intended) of a few years, New York/New Jersey has completed three major crossing renovations. A new Tappan Zee bridge, a new Goethals Bridge and, my favorite, the Bayonne Bridge. These bridges were built in the first great road transportation explosion, and  served for almost 100 years. After a century of service, one after the other, needed to be redone. My very favorite project was the Bayonne Bridge. A true engineering feat. It kept the original span, but the road deck was raised 60 feet and the bridge was never completely closed during this upgrade. Othmar Ammann, the original designer, would have been delighted and proud as a peacock to see his span be able to serve for another century. If you are in New York City, try to make an effort to have somebody drive you across the Bayonne Bridge as slowly as possible. I think the view beats the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. (For the finicky reader, please note that the official spelling of this bridge, which until last year was New York City’s newest major span, changed from Verrazano to Verrazzano this year)

  1. 9. Maritime School Ship

It looks like it is happening. In some ways it is strange swiss army knife design to serve multiple customers, but that is how sausage is made. Once they are built, they will really be a great asset and will provide the improvement in maritime education infrastructure that we desperately need. The money is there, but please let’s not make a mess of the construction. From what I can see the procurement approach needs a reality check.

Illustration of the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel that will serve as SUNY Maritime College’s new training ship starting in 2022. Image Credit: SUNY Maritime College

  1. 10. Office Move

Catharsis can happen on large scales and small scales. On a smaller scale, in 2018 Martin & Ottaway moved its office for the first time in 23 years. Our move in 1995 changed our culture and outlook and resulted in new insights and lines of business. Hopefully our move this year will be just as beneficial to the company, its dedicated staff and our customers. Hope; it is a good thing.