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Shipping - the environment and diversity - doing nothing is not an option

Photo: Seatrade Maritime Arsenio Dominguez, the IMO’s Secretary General elect
Arsenio Dominguez, the IMO’s Secretary General elect
Time is running down on shipping’s environmental calendar as global climate emergencies multiply and corporate environmental social governance (ESG) issues come under close scrutiny.

These were two of the principal messages from presentations on Tuesday at Informa Market’s head office in Blackfriars, London. Opening the morning session, the West of England P&I Club’s CEO, Tom Bowsher noted the significant damage that has already occurred and the pressing need for urgent action to reverse and support ocean health.

He introduced speaker Huw Gullick, Associate Director of the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Innovation, who reminded participants of the essential role of the world’s oceans in all of our lives today. Covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, the world’s seas are the basis for 95% of world trade, 95% of internet traffic, and make up 97% of the planet’s water.

Yet a staggering 77% of the ocean floor has not yet been mapped. In fact, Gullick said we know more about outer space then we do about the world’s seas.

He called for a new approach to gathering data, pointing out that more scientific knowledge is urgently needed. To prevent further damage, a rapid scaling up of initiatives is required and regulations that allow much faster action times.

Ships, he said, could be used as data gathering points to monitor ocean conditions and track changes. This, he said, is essential now as shipping undergoes an energy transition with more autonomy and a range of new fuels amongst its challenges.

Later in the day, a session led by WISTA assessed shipping’s environmental, social, governance (ESG) performance and the role of females in the global shipping sector. Nusrat Ghani, the UK’s Minister of State for Industry in the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office, declared that women make up just 4% of shipping’s workforce. Others suggested later the figure was actually even lower.


Arsenio Dominguez, the IMO’s Secretary General elect, admitted that the UN agency had not been sufficiently focused on gender diversity and inclusion as it should have been. One of his priorities, he said, would be able to look back at the end of his tenure and see a new generation of talented women engaged both within the IMO and across shipping more generally.

ESG issues were discussed at length. Greenwashing should be identified and weeded out, speakers declared. And companies should no longer be issuing reports on sustainability or corporate social responsibility, but on comprehensive ESG reports with updates on new technologies, diversity, inclusion, and collaboration in supply chain resilience with suppliers and customers.

Listen to an episode of the Seatrade Maritime Podcast on ESG and salvage

Perhaps one of the starkest observations, however, was this - despite the essential role that shipping plays in human life, there is very little at present to attract the next generation of young people, especially females, and the generation that has not even yet been born, into the vital business of shipping. The session was aptly named “The Time for Change is Now”.