Making up the leeway: meeting the skills challenges of Net Zero in maritime
The maritime industry plays a vital role in global trade and transportation, and as the world progresses towards a greener future, the industry faces significant challenges in training and educating seafarers to effectively utilise developing, net-zero technologies aboard ships. The industry's transition to sustainable practices and the adoption of advanced technologies demands a skilled workforce that can operate, maintain, and repair these innovative systems.
When considering the challenges posed by Net Zero for training, education, and certification of seafarers, we must draw insight from education providers, ship operators, and technology manufacturers. Understanding the gaps now will allow us to meet the problems decarbonisation poses in the near future and highlight key areas for focus to ensure we can achieve what we need to over the coming years and decades.
Understanding the scope of technological advancement
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has mandated that global shipping must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and halve its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2050. This poses perhaps the biggest challenge the maritime industry has ever faced and includes:
- Reducing annual GHG emissions to 40% of 2008 levels by 2030.
- Emissions from international shipping should reach net zero on or around the year 2050.
- Uptake of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels and/or energy sources to represent at least 5%, striving for 10%, of the energy used by international shipping by 2030.
Meeting the IMO’s goals has trigged an unprecedented rate of technological advancement and yet, many believe that current targets, and the work being done to meet them, are still not ambitious enough to avert climate catastrophe. Regardless of your view, the maritime industry must solve the problems generated by new propulsion technologies rapidly and develop additional new technologies to meet its targets.
The UK shipping technology sector contributes around £4 billion to the UK economy and will be worth £13 billion annually by 2030. As the maritime industry moves towards Net Zero, shipowners and operators will be impacted by the requirement to change some, most, or all of their vessels and propulsion technology, and ensure that their seafarers have the skills to deal with these changes.
The adoption of net-zero technologies such as alternative fuels (methanol, ammonia, or hydrogen), electric propulsion, fuel cells, and even nuclear systems will require seafarers to acquire new skills and knowledge. This will require changes to the certification of seafarers who operate these new systems. However, continued uncertainty about industry direction plus the adoption rate that these technologies require poses a significant challenge for training and certification. The Standards for the Training and Certification of Watchkeepers (STCW) is heavily focused on conventional fossil fuel-based technologies and must adapt to encompass a wide variety of different powering and propulsion solutions in the future. Traditional training certification regimes can take time to adopt new developments, resulting in a widening gap between industry demands and seafarers’ skills.