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Shipping needs fossil fuels for the foreseeable future – Mark O’Neil

Informa Markets Mark Oneil on the State of the Industry Panel at CMA Shipping 2023
Decarbonisation of shipping does not mean zero carbon or zero fossil fuels, according to Columbia Shipmanagement President and CEO Mark O’Neil.

Speaking at the State of the Industry keynote debate at CMA Shipping 2023 in Connecticut, O’Neil said that contemplating shipping without fossil fuel does not make for an intelligent debate.

“When the vast majority of this world will require fossil fuels, well beyond all of our lifetimes in this room, so we have to have a much more intelligent discussion,” said O’Neil.

Expanding on his comments, O’Neil said that technology may be developed to decarbonise fossil fuels and that carbon capture and storage could play a role.

Thomas Damsgaard, Head of Americans at Bimco said that the maritime industry will not decarbonise through a one-size-fits-all solution, with different fuels and technologies appropriate for various vessels and trades.

The industry is focused on alternatives to carbon right now said Damsgaard, but there are CO2 scrubber solutions which may prevent fossil fuels’ exit from the market.

“I don't think we have seen all the options in the market yet. There are technologies coming out of these measures being taken to decarbonise that have derived benefits we're not even aware of at this point in time. I believe carbon is still going to have a role, but what kind of role is a good question,” said Damsgaard.

Kostas Gkonis, Director & Secretary General at Intercargo added that shipping is a hard-to-abate sector with difficult challenges ahead which will necessitate developments well beyond the boundaries of shipping itself; individual solutions will not apply to all vessels.

O’Neil recalled a recent trip to a university where students and potential candidates asked many questions about Columbia’s ESG activities. “There wasn't any talk of decarbonisation as any intelligent talk, but there was a lot of talk about fossil fuels. This sort of hatred of fossil fuels and ignorance on the importance of fossil fuels to all of us for the future, that really was quite shocking.

“I think that is a debate that needs to be addressed because shipping needs fossil fuels for the foreseeable future as well as other industry sectors. And we really do need to educate people, particularly the up-and-coming generations  on the importance of fossil fuels.

“There is clearly now focus on carbon capture and being able to use fossil fuels in an environmentally friendly way. And I think we as an industry need to embrace that and start thinking along those lines rather than just being completely blinded by this latest buzzword of decarbonisation, and equating that with zero fossil fuel,” said O’Neil.