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Esben Poulsson has passed the baton of the ICS Presidency to Emanuele Grimaldi in a historical moment of unprecedented complexity. The energy crisis has raised operating costs and the ecological transition requires huge investments, while the pandemic drama has subjected seafarers to unprecedented sacrifices. In such a framework, what legacy has the outgoing president left to the new one? Grimaldi News asked this and more to ICS secretary general Guy Platten, who agreed to grant our magazine this exclusive interview.

“During his six-year tenure as ICS Chairman – said Guy Platten – Esben Poulsson led with purpose, and he leaves behind an industry more unified than ever before. Amongst other achievements Esben Poulsson leaves a legacy of an enhanced infrastructure within ICS that enables us to adapt to new challenges.

I have full faith that while at the helm, Mr Grimaldi will be an excellent ambassador of our organisation and will champion the shipping industry as we navigate new opportunities. As a long-time board member Mr Grimaldi understands the work we do and the challenges we face. He is in an excellent position to help us address the shipping industry’s most pressing issues, which include decarbonisation, safety, supporting our seafarers, digitalisation and diversity.

Mr Grimaldi’s passion for the shipping industry is clear and I and the whole ICS secretariat look forward to continuing our work with him during his time as chairman. At such an important time for our industry it is important that we represent the entire industry equally so that we can continue to grow and prosper sustainably."

The zero emissions target requires great commitment in research and industrial investments. What is the ICS’s vision to date?

As an industry we have put forward a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. There is no denying that this is a challenge, particularly when the alternative fuels for the industry to decarbonise are not available at the moment. The world’s renewable energy generation would need to increase up to 100% just to supply enough (net) zero carbon fuel to power the shipping industry alone.

Shipping must step up to play its part in the global journey to (net) zero, and our latest report Fuelling the Fourth Propulsion Revolution shows that innovation and opportunity will crucially go hand in hand. Up to 50% of these new low-carbon fuels could be transported by ships and shipping will play a fundamental role in delivering these fuels globally and act as an enabler for governments and industries to achieve their climate targets and enhance energy security.

Mr Grimaldi’s position as chairman has begun at an exciting time for the shipping industry. We welcomed him as new chairman during the week of our Shaping the Future of Shipping summit in June, where over 100 CEOs plus other industry representatives gathered to discuss tangible actions we can take to reach net zero. ICS along with partners will now take forward the proposed Clean Energy Marine Hubs (CEMH) which were a key outcome of the summit. The creation of global hubs at key ports around the world will provide the cross-sectoral and public-private platform to bring major players together, to share knowledge, collaborate, and importantly de-risk investments to take real-world action and create the necessary infrastructure in the most strategic locations to ensure we can work together not only to decarbonise our own industries but the world.

There are global talks on punitive taxation for the use of fossil fuels, although there are still no concretely usable alternatives. What will the ICS do against such a paradox?

At the moment there is clearly an issue for shipowners accessing and using alternative fuels, down to a combination of a lack of appropriate infrastructure, and being unable to access appropriate fuels. The maritime industry could transport up to 50% of new fuels globally, therefore it must have access to the same (net) zero carbon fuels they will be transporting to decarbonise.

The Shaping the Future of Shipping summit in June provided some clarity over the next steps the industry can take on its decarbonisation journey. Three key priorities that emerged from the day-long summit were the rapid prioritisation of research and development for alternative fuels and propulsion technologies, the urgent need to establish a global market based measure, and, vitally, the need for development and access to clean fuels, not only for shipping but for all the global transport industries. Finding solutions to these challenges presents an opportunity for all.

ICS will continue to work closely with member states at the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to ensure we have effective regulation, clear support for seafarers and continue to priorities safety for all.

The new president Grimaldi underlined the determination to place the safeguard of seafarers at the center of the ICS action, with their professionalism and their self-denial which has been put to such a severe test by the two-year pandemic. What concrete actions could the ICS team propose to its new head?

Mr Grimaldi is already doing a huge amount of work to help us safeguard seafarers. His passion for seafarer welfare is clear, and this is hugely important to ICS too. I was particularly inspired by Mr Grimaldi’s recent column for TradeWinds magazine, where he said that in his first year of presidency, he is making support of crew a priority.

It is hard to exaggerate the impact of the pandemic on seafarers as well as shipowners. Unfortunately, during the height of the pandemic, 400,000 seafarers were affected by the crew change crisis, unable to return to shore or access ships due to travel restrictions imposed by national and local authorities. There was real concern for the welfare and safety of seafarers, and a real threat to the supply chain. Even Pope Francis voiced his concern and urged governments to address the crisis.

I am pleased to say that the industry now has regulations in place to improve access to onshore medical care, strengthen PPE requirements, and to make sure seafarers can continue to communicate with their loved ones. There is still more work to do in this area but this is a great start building on lessons learned from the pandemic. ICS has an important role at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to ensure seafarers are priorities for member states and we will continue to work closely with the IMO to ensure lessons are learned and member states are better prepared for future black swan events.

Safety at sea is still a hot topic. What challenges are looming on the ICS’s horizon?

Keeping seafarers safe at sea is one of the top priorities for ICS and the wider shipping industry. Increasing digitalization and emerging green technologies means that seafarers need to be supported to learn how to handle these. ICS pushed for the STCW Convention, which sets a global regulatory standard for seafarer training, to be reviewed. By doing this we can make sure all 2 million of our seafarers operating the world merchant fleet receive the same standard of training to cope with fast moving developments in technology. As well as this, in 2021, alongside the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the UN Global Compact, ICS launched a Just Transition Taskforce. This new initiative will support millions of seafarers through shipping’s green transition, equipping them with the knowledge needed to safely transport new fuels.

Unfortunately our seafarers and fleets continue to be at risk of piracy, but collaborative working allows us to address the issue and decrease the occurrence of attacks. For example, the Government of Nigeria and a coalition of global shipping stakeholders recently launched a new strategy to end piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea. The strategy establishes a mechanism to periodically assess the effectiveness of anti-piracy initiatives and commitments in the Gulf of Guinea. Targeted at all stakeholders operating in the region, it will identify areas of improvement and reinforcement in order to eliminate piracy.

To help address issues around safety at sea, ICS produces a comprehensive suite of publications that advise shipowners and crews on best practice when at sea, to empower them with the confidence and knowledge they need to carry out their jobs safely.

Do you fear a return to protectionism?

In this challenging time as an industry we must work together, not work in silos. ICS’s study Protectionism in Maritime Economies outlines the protectionist trade policies being implemented by governments worldwide. It demonstrates that if countries cut restrictive maritime trade policies it could help boost GDP by as much as 3.4% for national economies.

The Study demonstrates that no matter what their level of economic development, all national economies would benefit from liberalisation of maritime trade policies. To incentivise the necessary policy reforms, the Study has developed a new index on Protectionism in Maritime Economies, or PRIME Index.

ICS are committed to continuing conversations with all relevant organisations to encourage collaboration that benefits the whole industry. We are at a crucial point in time where we must extend our work beyond the shipping industry and connect with the likes of energy and planning ministries if we are to achieve our targets.

The war in Ukraine has re-polarized the world into two blocs, nullifying the total globalization that had been pursued for thirty years. In your opinion, what is the course that international shipping must follow in order to pursue its objectives of development ain this new framework?

As a global industry, shipping has been a key driving force behind globalisation. Shipping moves $14 trillion worth of trade each year and one bloc cannot work without the other (and vice-versa).

The war in Ukraine is undoubtedly having an impact on the industry and on the global supply chain, and importantly on the safety of our workers. Ukrainian and Russian seafarers make up 14.5% of the global maritime workforce and without them we would be in dire circumstances. As we look at the fallout from this conflict, we also see changing dynamics that will impact both shipowner and port operators. Trade flows, be that grain, oil or gas will be impacted in both the short term but also potentially in the longer term. Energy security is top of the agenda again and supply chains are in continued turmoil.

It is worth noting that many of the reasons behind the current slow movement of trade on a global scale are not a result of the shipping industry, but instead caused by supply chain disruptions resulting from regional lockdowns, international trade disruptions or by bottlenecks in international transportation.

Co-operation is key, and in a recent ICS report Shipping Policy Principles for Pandemic Recovery ICS outlined 10 calls-to-action governments can take to help in the post-pandemic recovery and also to keep global trade moving. This included striving for a forward looking, rules-based multilateral trading system based on global co-operation and promoting effective national co-ordination between government shipping ministries and non-maritime agencies, and raise awareness of the critical strategic importance of international shipping.
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