Michael Behrendt: German shipping industry as pioneer and forerunner for environmental protection

At the international “European Maritime Day” conference in May 2014, Alexander Dobrindt, the Federal Minister of Transport, acknowledged the responsibility “for the safety and the protection of the seas”. The president of the German Shipowners’ Association explains here how active environmental protection is practised by German shipping companies.

The ship is by far the most important means of transport for the international exchange of goods. More than 90 per cent of the goods that are traded be­­tween the continents are transported by ships. No other means of transport can make transporting goods as efficient and climate-friendly as a ship. A truck would have to be able to load 30 to 40 containers to have the energy balance of a modern ship. Therefore, the CO2 emission value of shipping is positive compared to other industries and transport carriers. Less than three per cent of the global CO2 emissions come from shipping.
Despite this positive result, the shipping industry is continuously working on further reducing the strain on climate and environment caused by maritime traffic. One year ago, another strong signal for this commitment was given: shipping is the only international sector to date to define binding reduction targets for the emission of greenhouse gases. Since 2013, an internationally binding Energy Efficiency Design Index, short EEDI, has applied to all new ships and has to be observed by all shipping companies. Its limit values will further de­­crease gradually in the coming years. Many ships of the comparatively young German commercial fleet are among the pioneers when it comes to complying with these standards and in part even exceed them. In fact, it was a German ship that received the world’s first EEDI certificate.

Every shipping company is continuously working on main­­taining a resource-saving and thereby environment-­friendly fleet, because this is what most effectively in­­creas­es their competitiveness in one of the toughest industries. In shipping, even efficiency increases equal­ling a few per­­cent points already leads to a distinct decline of energy consumption and thus emissions. From innovative rudder and hull shapes to especially economical machines to complex software – all possibilities are exhausted and in many cases the related and crucial know-how comes from German companies.


This example shows the close interconnection of shipping with the other sectors of the maritime economy in Germany – and therefore its overall economic import­ance for the location. German shipping companies em­­ploy around 95,000 people on land and at sea – that is more than, for example, the aerospace sector. The orders in German shipping secure the employment of another 285,000 people at shipyards and supplier businesses such as engineering as well as service companies. Con­­sumer spending by direct and indirect employees creates another 100,000 jobs. Therefore, German shipping com­­panies secure the employment of more than 480,000 people. Their contribution to the gross domestic product amounts to around 30 billion euros, of which more than four-fifths is generated in Germany. That cor­responds to 1.1 per cent of the German economic per­formance. The productivity per employee in German shipping is 116,000 euros and therefore twice as much as the overall average for all other industries in Germany.

With the maritime know-how of the location Germany behind it, German shipping with the world’s third largest commercial fleet promotes environmental protection – going beyond the decrease of CO2 emissions. The com­­panies concentrate on also significantly decreasing other emissions. The current internationally binding sulphur limit in ship fuel will decrease worldwide from currently 3.5 per cent to 0.5 per cent no later than 2025. This tightening signifies a big step on the way to a significantly cleaner worldwide shipping and will especially help the environment and the people living in coastal regions. Liquefied natural gas, or LNG for short, could develop as alternative fuel in the future. This fuel has the potential to reduce the emission of hazardous substances of a ship to almost zero.
Sustainable environmental protection also affects waste and sewage on board. The extensive regulations of the worldwide valid MARPOL Convention for the protection of marine environment were further tightened in 2013. Environmentally hazardous sewage and waste, especially plastic waste, may not be disposed of at sea. Controls in the harbours ensure compliance with the regulations. However, the biggest share of the waste, around 80 per cent, reaches the oceans from land and not from merchant ships. The remaining 20 per cent are mostly from fishing and recreational shipping to which the MARPOL Convention does not apply.

German shipping assumes great responsibility for the maritime environment. The seas are the basis of its business activities. Therefore, it will continue to be a pioneer and forerunner in environmental protection.

Der Diplom-Ingenieur ist seit 1979 Mitglied der Hamburgischen Schiffbau-Versuchs­­anstalt (HSVA), wo er seit mehr als 20 Jahren in den Abteilungen Propeller und Kavitation zunächst als Wissenschaftler, dann als Projektingenieur und zuletzt als Abtei­­lungsleiter tätig war. Themenschwerpunkte seiner Arbeit sind die Korrelation von Modell- und Endwertdaten bezüglich der Wirksamkeit von Schiffspropellern sowie die Entwicklung von Testeinrichtungen zum Verständnis der Kavitation. Er war maßgeblich für die Gestaltung des Kavitationstunnel-Projekts HYKAT und für den Betrieb der Anlage verantwortlich. Seit 2004 ist er Geschäftsführer der HSVA.