Hydrogen, Plastics and Beach Cleanups

I must confess that the last two weeks of April were overwhelming when it came to fuel and decarbonization. Between the World Bank, American Bureau of Shipping, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) along with various podcasts and webinars, the report writers were cranked up. Perhaps it’s due to Earth Day, with a sprinkle of Biden and a dash of Kerry thrown in? With all the extra pandemic time, getting into the weeds can be revealing. The ABS (in a report written with collaborators from outside the business) confused millions with billions of tons moving in bulk trades, while the IMO (also in collaborative mode) stumbled on Liquid Nitrogen Gas (not), but who am I to quibble. I’ve lamented the fact of this type of consequence when discussing industry outreach- as one of my journo buddies noted in a phone chat that I had during the week, “…all the good subeditors are gone…”. Not that I was ever a fan of subeditors- they could have destroyed more than a few of my stories back in the day had I not intervened, but at least they knew about the finer points of the industry.

This is a roundabout way of getting to what caught my eye. The good ship Never Ever or whatever it’s called, seems to have gone into legal limbo, parked in the big lake adjacent to the Suez Canal, while the P & I and other insurance folks thrash it out with the local authorities. Insurance legalities, and discussions of General Average, are too dense for most readers to wade through. So, the readers of mainstream outlets (which have given the remaining shipping journos- quoted by the mainstreamers as experts, a moment of sunlight) have been treated to a spate of stories of containers being washed overboard.  Pictures of vessels with missing boxes leave a bit of inference to the viewer, who could imagine ships slogging their way through storms before limping into port (sans some boxes). Those remaining boxes, with stacks tipped over, actually leave very little to the imagination. But the mainstream media, in doing these stories, often seems to circle back to what happens when cargo (think plastic parts) escapes from the boxes and floats in the water.  As NPR, a well-known news outlet, wrote in an early April piece, it’s not clear if there are more boxes going in the water, or just more attention on container ships (fully loaded with “consumer goods”) in the wake of the Suez Canal incident. The weather is the same old weather -let’s leave global warming out of this for a minute, but the stacks of boxes are indeed higher. The answer, probably, is that both are true- more attention but also more boxes in the water.

The bigger theme, however, is how shipping can fight the good fight and spin a positive story. Before all the alternative fuel mania, when IMO2020 and discussions of scrubbers were still “a thing”,  a few ESG-minded listed companies were telling stories of their to clean up beaches efforts (sans state of the art technology, maybe with simple mechanical gathering kit). In between the same outfits now touting their fuel bona fides (which can get distracting for readers who struggle to understand the difference between green hydrogen versus blue ammonia), I hope that the stories of the low-tech beach cleanups don’t get lost in all the noise. Shipping suddenly has been given the attention of a wider audience- let’s not squander our chance to broadcast (yes, I know) a positive, albeit very low-tech message.