Minimum engine power guidelines could put seafarers at risk

The Marine Environment Protection Committee underway at IMO Headquarters in London. Credit: IMO


Plans to bring forward energy efficiency standards for ships that would introduce minimum engine power guidelines could put seafarers and ships at risk, according to delegates at this week’s IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).


Concerns were raised over the safety of minimum power guidelines to maintain manoeuvrability of ships while reducing power outlined in phase 3 of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI). Set out in three phases, the third was due to begin in 2025 but might be brought forward to 2022.


The EEDI is part of the IMO’s energy efficiency standard for ships to reduce international shipping’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions through improved ship design and operations. It is an index that indicates what the energy efficiency of a ship should be in terms of gCO2 (generated)/tonne.mile (cargo carried); calculated for a specific reference ship operational condition.


In phase 3 there are interim guidelines for minimum power as the IMO states that “one of the most effective ways of reducing a ship’s EEDI is to choose a smaller main engine or main propulsion motor for the ship”, therefore reducing the ship’s design speed.


The plan to bring forward phase 3 was called into question by delegates at the MEPC 71, led by the International Chamber of Shipping, who warned that without proper risk assessments the implementation of minimum power guidelines could put the safety of seafarers and ships at risk when manoeuvring in rough weather conditions.


The delegate from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said that several groups had expressed concerns about the “under-power of certain ships”, and that while in theory they supported the correspondent group’s decision to implement phase 3 ahead of schedule, it should only be done once the industry can be certain that there will be no “adverse impact on the safety of seafarers and ships”. 


He added, “New guidelines would need to be reviewed by MSC [Maritime Safety Committee] to analyse safety as opposed to environmental concerns. We believe that is the only responsible course of action for the committee.”


The ICS’s concerns were echoed by a number of delegates present at MEPC, including a representative from the country of Vanuatu who said that while he supported the environmental regulations, “the environment should not take precedence over and above the safety of seafarers. 


“Seafarers can face life-threatening conditions, such as rough seas in our local ports, and we want to ensure that their ships will be sufficiently powered to avoid loss of life, pollution, and wrecks in our waters. We would like no decision until safety is considered.”


However, the delegate from Belgium noted that reducing engine power was not necessarily the only way of attaining “ideal standards”. He suggested that the view from the IMO correspondence group should be considered before there is a need to introduce guidelines on minimum power with the early adoption of phase 3.


The chair stressed that the minimum power guidelines had previously been sent to MSC and that the correspondence group would carry out the review on the earlier implementation of phase 3 and the minimum guidelines on power and forward to MSC for review.


Contact Tanya Blake and follow her on Twitter @Tanya_Blake

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