AIS and environmental efficiency

Environmental responsibility is growing in importance in the maritime industry and at MarineTraffic we are passionate believers in the huge changes that transparency and big data can help deliver across the shipping industry. Last year, MarineTraffic became a founding member of the Global Industry Alliance (GIA) an IMO led initiative designed to support shipping and its related industries towards a low-carbon future.

We take a look at just some of the many initiatives taking place across the shipping industry, to improve and enhance environmental efficiency.

Regulatory change

The Ballast Water Management convention and the 2020 sulphur cap are just a few of the current hot topics surrounding regulatory change in the maritime sphere and over recent years, various controls have been introduced incrementally.

The IMO has adopted energy efficient measures that apply to all countries and are legally binding across the entire industry. A series of baselines have been established for the amount of fuel each ship type burns, depending on cargo capacity. Ships built in the future will have to beat this baseline and by 2025 all new ships will need to be at least 30% more efficient. Currently, vessels need to have an energy efficiency plan in place that looks at areas such as improved voyage planning, technical measures such as waste heat recovery systems and cleaning the underwater parts of the ship and propeller at regular intervals. These regulations make mandatory the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) a ratings system for new ships, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for existing vessels.

Similarly, the Environmental Ship Index (ESI) has been developed by the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP) as a voluntary system designed to improve the environmental performance of sea going vessels. The index gives a numerical representation of the environmental performance of ships by scoring NOX and SOX emissions

Greener technologies

The implementation of green technologies, give the potential to significantly reduce the fuel consumption and improve vessel efficiency. The new generation of slow speed two stroke engines improve vessel performance, reduce consumption and generate fewer emissions. The engines have long or super long stroke and drive a large-diameter propeller at lower revolutions, allowing the ship to run more efficiently and economically.

With the 2020 sulphur cap on the horizon there is also a push towards greener fuels. Dual fuel modern engines can run on LNG, which is currently the most viable and environmentally sound alternative to MDO, producing next to no emissions.

There are some interesting initiatives currently on trial, Maersk are in the process of installing Flettner Rotors on a tanker. Flettner Rotors were first trialled in 1924 and operate through a combination of wind power and a ‘spinning sail’ to generate thrust and drive the ships forward which consequently cuts fuel costs for owners and reduces pollution and carbon emissions. It will be interesting to see if more ships will adopt this technology in the run up to the sulphur cap regulations that will come in to effect in 2020.

On the opposite side of the equation, there are some fundamental changes that vessel owners and operators can make that require very little disruption, such as slow steaming – simply by reducing speed, vessels can considerably reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Basic decision such as, the right choice of hull coating, can seriously influence the efficiency of a vessel as well as its environmental impact. Global marine paints manufacturer, Hempel, explain that if fouling organisms, such as barnacles or biological slime, attach to a vessel’s hull, this creates extra drag meaning more fuel is needed to move the ship through the water which significantly increases fuel costs as well as CO2 emissions.


Cargo ship MarineTraffic
Ports can look to AIS to lead the way with operational change and MarineTraffic can play a significant role in optimising ship voyages.

Traffic Management

The Port of Rotterdam is an excellent example of how ports can take steps towards sustainability in shipping through a variety of initiatives. Using the ESI, the port rewards vessel owners who are ‘really green’ by giving them discounts on port dues. In 2016, the Port Authority issued almost three million Euros in discounts to vessels with high ESI scores.  Vessels arriving in Rotterdam with an ESI score of 31 points of more are rewarded with a 10 percent reduction on the gross tonnage of the port fees. If the vessel also has a good score on the ESI-NOx index, then the discount is doubled. The discounts can increase further for vessels that have been issued with a ‘Green Award’.  The Port is developing a system that harnesses the residual heat from port activities and transporting this via pipeline to local houses to potentially heat over 500,000 homes. Within the port, hybrid patrol vessels are used and they have also installed wind turbines within the port area and use various sources of energy including biomass, heat and steam.

Beyond these initiatives, ports can look to AIS to lead the way with operational change and MarineTraffic can play a significant role in optimising ship voyages. Our aim is to be more closely involved with how the ship interacts with a terminal, including planning and execution of nautical services.  We adopt a holistic approach of optimising the voyage from berth to berth, going beyond standard routeing services, which are currently available. Benefits are significant: lower fuel consumption, lower emissions, improved berth occupancy, tighter time windows for delivery of services. The overall financial and environmental impact concerns individual stakeholders and society in general.

The analysis of MarineTraffic AIS data can be used improve vessel optimisation as operators and owners have access to business intelligence that can improve efficiency, such as port congestion issues and the average speed of vessels – irregular speed patterns can result in higher fuel consumption and emissions.

It is estimated that around 400,000 ships around the globe are fitted with transponders. AIS can be a powerful source of information and by analysing the data received through MarineTraffic, shipping companies are able to create new environmental, strategic and economic benefits that allow them to take faster and smarter decisions.